Regional NSW to receive $1 billion for drought relief, tourism and roads

HELPING HAND: $1 billion for regional NSW: Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner. Photo: JAMES BRICKWOOD

HELPING HAND: $1 billion for regional NSW: Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner. Photo: JAMES BRICKWOOD

REGIONAL NSW will receive $1 billion to combat drought, boost tourism and build roads in next week’s state budget.

It includes $110 million for a new tourism infrastructure fund for towns to upgrade airports, develop cruise facilities and build “rail trails” - disused railways that are turned into paths for walking, cycling and horse riding.

NSW Nationals leader Andrew Stoner announced the measures at the party’s annual conference in Queanbeyan on Friday.

Mr Stoner told the conference the past few weeks “have been tough”, following divisive debate within the Nationals over privatising the state’s “poles and wires” electricity assets.

Last year’s Nationals state conference voted against the sale, making it official party policy. However the Nationals party room agreed to support the partial sale this week, on the condition that regional provider Essential Energy be excluded from the plan. It followed concern over job losses, price hikes and service disruptions.

“The debate over the future ownership of the state’s poles and wires has been … difficult and emotional. But it was a debate we could no longer ignore,” Mr Stoner said.

“The parliamentary party … was asked to put aside self-interest and personal ambition and make an important decision.”

Regional NSW will receive $6 billion from a purported $20 billion to be reaped from the sale, if the Coalition is returned at the March election.

Mr Stoner said the funds would “make a difference to the people we represent … we want to leave a legacy of prosperity and improved standards of living for regional people.”

Next week’s budget measures will respond to drought that has struck the state’s north and west. Some $325 million will be allocated to a regional water security fund introduced earlier this year, to build dams and pipelines.

“Water security remains a critical issue for our people,” Mr Stoner said.

“By developing and improving water infrastructure now we can help secure good quality, reliable water supplies and prepare communities for drier conditions in the future.”

Part of the money will be used to build a proposed new dam on the Belubula River in the Central West, which Mr Stoner claimed would come “without adverse environmental outcomes”.

Otherwise known as the Needle’s Gap Dam, it would be the first dam built in western NSW for almost 30 years.

Mr Stoner said the tourism funding would help create jobs and boost the state’s economy.

One of the first projects likely to be funded is a rail trail between Casino and Murwillumbah, which would “become a major tourist attraction that will draw tens of thousands of visitors,” Mr Stoner said.

A further $50 million will be used for a new freight productivity program in Western NSW. This would fund sealing, widening and other upgrades to major truck corridors, so farmers can get their produce “from paddock to plate”.

Monaro MP John Barilaro also announced $50 million for the Queanbeyan bypass, jointly funded by the state and federal governments.

It involves a new 4.6 kilometre two–lane single carriageway that would address the city’s growing population, take trucks off the main street and put Queanbeyan “in the economic fast lane”, Mr Barilaro said.

Projects making up the rest of the $1 billion will be revealed in the budget next week.

Over the next two days, Nationals Party delegates at the state conference will debate motions ranging from procedural to outlandish. They include forcing welfare recipients to be tested for illicit drugs before receiving payments, a reduction in daylight savings to four months, and the relocation of NSW Parliament from Sydney to a regional city.

Delegates will also consider calls for “last drinks” and lockout provisions in force for central Sydney venues to be extended across NSW on a trial basis.

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