Do Labor's infrastructure plans benefit all regions?

LABOR'S 10-year infrastructure plan promises to dedicate $1.576 billion to building regional NSW, but only $486 million will be spent outside the Hunter and Illawarra regions.

It has pledged $810 million to the Hunter and $280 million to Illawarra, leaving the rest of regional NSW to share in $48.6 million a year over a decade.

The Opposition has been quick to indicate its $1.576 billion guarantee for the regions is only part of the deal, with areas outside major cities sharing one-third of its overall $10 billion infrastructure spend, through funding for the arts, health, transport and the like.

But it has not outlined whether the extra money will be more evenly distributed, or if it would fund the already-costed $177 million construction of the second Clarence River crossing in Grafton.

As it stands, the regions home to about one-third of the state's population look set to share in less than 5% of its total infrastructure spend.

Shadow Treasurer Michael Daley would not comment on the Grafton Bridge's likely future, but said announcements were coming soon.

"To say Labor has scrapped or canned any projects is a lie," he said.

"Over the election campaign, Labor will be allocating our infrastructure funds to projects."

Labor has avoided the sale, or "99-year lease" as the coalition prefers to call it, of the state's "poles and wires" electricity assets in funding its plan.

Instead, it has opted to follow the coalition's 2013 precedent and push back tax cuts for businesses to source half the money required.

The other half will come from funds gained through the leasing of the state's ports - an coalition move Labor vehemently opposed.

Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis has been the government's most vocal critic of the plan in recent days.

"Half the money is coming from deferring business tax cuts. It means businesses will never employ anyone," Mr Gulaptis said.

"It doesn't do one thing to alleviate high unemployment in regional areas.

"The second half comes from utilising the Restart NSW funds.

"That is absolute hypocrisy - Restart comes from the leasing of the ports.

"They don't want to make the hard decisions but they're happy to take the money.

"There is every chance the Grafton Bridge will be scrapped and not included on their list of projects.

"How could it be? They only have $486 million to spend and if you take away the cost of building the bridge, there's hardly anything left."

Whether the bridge will be paid for using some of the $2 billion earmarked for road upgrades remains to be seen.

Mr Daley said Labor would invest in vital Northern Rivers works "without blackmailing communities".

"Our commitments are 100% unconditional. Not a cent relies on the blackmail of electricity privatisation," he said.

"Our electricity assets last year returned $1.7 billion to the State Budget.

"Mike Baird's plan would terminate this stream - that's money the North Coast would lose every year, end of story."

As for deferring business tax cuts driving up unemployment, Mr Daley said a growing jobs crisis was only inflamed by the LNP's TAFE cuts and fee increases.

"In 2011, the Coalition's flagship promise was to create 40,000 regional jobs," he said.

"They've broken that promise - in fact 22,800 jobs have disappeared from regional NSW since the Coalition came to office."

- APN NEWSDESK



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