Rees' mini-Budget costs Northern Rivers $300m

THE Northern Rivers was savaged yesterday with families, farmers and motorists all paying the price for the State Government’s $1 billion budget black hole.

Among the hit-list items was the Centre for Tropical Horticulture at Alstonville, which will close with staff offered voluntary redundancies.

The long-anticipated Tintenbar to Ewingsdale Pacific Highway upgrade has been also deferred for at least two years, as were four water and sewerage programs needed across the region to keep up with the area’s growing population.

Premier Nathan Rees confirmed free school travel would be scrapped, slugging parents $45 a year for primary school students and $90 for high school students. The extra charge comes on top of the axing of the $50 Back to School Allowance to help families buy school books and uniforms.

“The mini-budget has been devastating for struggling families on the North Coast,’’ Ballina MP Don Page said yesterday.

“It is disgraceful the money the Rees Labor Government saves with the student transport subsidy cut is around the same amount they are to spend on the V8 Supercar race in Sydney.’’

The NSW Business Council also attacked the mini-budget as an ‘absolute disgrace’.

Other cuts include the North Coast fuel subsidy of up to 8.35 cents a litre from next July, and deferment for a year of the $40 million tourism strategy.

Lismore MP Thomas George said the abolition of the fuel subsidy would hurt small and medium-sized businesses.

At Alstonville, staff at the Horticultural Centre were told of the impending closure late yesterday afternoon. It is one of eight research facilities slated to close as the Department of Primary Industry adopts a new structure, rather than a district one. Primary Minister Industries Ian Macdonald refused to release details of the number of job losses from the restructuring.

Treasurer Eric Roozendaal said the mini-budget was ‘strong medicine’ and that everyone would get their dose.

However, as the Government tries to save $3.3 billion over the next four years, while raising $3.6 billion in revenue, local politicians say, once again, regional areas are paying a higher cost.

“I give this mini-budget a triple F rating. It fully fails families,” Clarence MP Steve Cansdell said.

Want to know more?
NSW 2008 mini-Budget: what it means to you
NSW announces $3.3bn in budget cuts
$44m fuel subsidy scrapped for Northern Rivers
Parents counting the cost of axed bus travel

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