A NEW stroke unit and a fast-tracking of a new PET scanner and second radiotherapy unit in Lismore are among the highlights of a NSW Budget that appears to have largely bypassed the Northern Rivers.

Despite the Government claiming it delivered NSW’s biggest-ever health spend, yesterday’s Budget, the last before the March State election, failed to mention the long-awaited Stage Three re-development for the Lismore Base Hospital and took only small steps towards upgrading the last local sections of the Pacific Highway.

The Woodburn to Ballina highway upgrade attracted $10 million in funding for ‘planning and preconstruction work’. The Ewingsdale to Tintenbar section attracted a more promising $85 million for the same purpose. However, both projects were left off the four-year plan included in the budget papers.

Ballina MP Don Page said the Ewingsdale to Tintenbar funding would likely be dominated by acquisition of expensive properties needed for the new road. However, he said the $85 million was enough that it could also include some construction work.

Lismore MP Thomas George was disappointed Stage Three of the Base Hospital redevelopment had again been left off the spending list, lashing the Budget as one aimed at shoring up support for Labor in Newcastle, Wollongong and Western Sydney ahead of the election.

Mr George welcomed a drop in stamp duty for houses worth up to $600,000 that were bought off the plan – but again said that appeared to be aimed at appeasing voters in the Western Sydney mortgage belt.

“It’s certainly a Budget for Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong and for those areas of Sydney where they are looking to consolidate,” he said.

Clarence MP Steve Cansdell said the Government had been able to find $152 million to upgrade the Sydney Opera House forecourt, but not a cent towards restoring the Casino-Murwillumbah rail line.

“All in all, the best thing that can be said about this Budget is that it is hopefully Labor’s last for a long time,” Mr Cansdell said.

Mr Page noted funding had been found for the planned new ambulance station at Byron Bay, although the location of the new station was stillbeing debated.

He said $24 million allocated to finishing the Als-tonville bypass had act-ually come from the Federal Government and $115 million allocated to the joint Federal/State-funded Ballina bypass fit within the $640 milliontotal budgeted for the project.

Mr Page welcomed the $597,000 set aside for upgrading Ballina TAFE, along with $400,000 for small community projects across the electorate.

However, he said he was disappointed a planned upgrade of Ballina Hospital and the Byron Shire Central Hospital failed to rate a mention.

Ironically, some of the biggest bang for the Northern Rivers came from some of the fewest bucks.

North Coast Area Health Service chief executive Chris Crawford said a $3.3 million entry – made up mostly of Federal money – in the Budget papers meant the Lismore Base Hospital’s new cancer unit would get its second linear accelerator within the next year, instead of the next four years, as previously expected.

It was understood that similar injections would allow the PET scanner promised by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last month to be installed within two years.

Another big, but relatively inexpensive, result for the region was a new stroke unit for the Base Hospital.

The exact cost of the unit was not spelled out in the Budget papers, but a similar unit opened at Coffs Harbour in March had cost about $300,000.

Health Minister and Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt said the Government was pumping $4.4 billion into health facilities across regional NSW.

“The Government is building a better, stronger and more sustainable health system that will allow people to receive care in the best possible setting whether that is in the community, the hospital or in their home,” she said.

However, the Australian Medical Association said the Government’s record health spend would leave the State’s hospitals in a worse position, because it didn’t match the increased cost of providing health services.

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