HE may have been in town to open the new Ron Finemore Transport freight facility, but Premier Barry O’Farrell yesterday closed down discussion over many of the current issues concerning taxpayers.
Mr O’Farrell emphasised the government’s focus on boosting employment and economic growth of the state - a message that appeared to be at odds with recent cuts to public sector jobs.
When questioned about TAFE cuts which have left local arts students concerned about how they will pay for their courses, Mr O’Farrell said TAFE was designed to equip people with skills that would lead to employment - but he would not say if his comments applied to arts students.
“What I want to ensure is that we have a TAFE system in NSW that provides to employers like Ron Finemore Transport people that are skilled who will have jobs and people who will help contribute to the state’s economic growth,” he said.
He also watered down criticism about health cuts saying the government’s $1 billion investment in hospitals this year made a mockery of comments the government was shifting its focus away from health to infrastructure.
Mr O’Farrell would not say if he supported the Macquarie pipeline project - following in the footsteps of local member Andrew Gee - saying he would leave it up to the department handling the project’s approval to consider.
“Ultimately what we want to do is put in place the infrastructure that is going to support regional and state economies because without jobs people have no future,” he said.
He was uncertain whether the $18.2 million in state funds allocated to the project would be available for other water security options if the pipeline was not approved.
“I have a reasonable good memory and span of the issues that cover the state, but I wouldn’t like to mislead anyone,” he said.
When questioned about the 24-hour helicopter retrieval service Mr O’Farell said he would leave it up to Health Minister Jillian Skinner to make an announcement when the report into its viability is finalised later in the year.
The failure of the regional relocation scheme to entice Sydneysiders to regional areas with a $7000 grant was also downplayed by Mr O’Farrell who was confident this year’s uptake of the scheme would be bigger.
Only 700 people applied for the grant in its first year.
Mr O’Farrell said the leftover money allocated would go towards continuing the scheme.
He would not say if the government had considered opening up the scheme to first home buyers and renters instead of restricting it to home owners who sell their Sydney residence when they relocate.
He also denied the inadequacy of roads connecting Sydney to regional areas, such as the Bells Line, was behind the failure of the scheme.
“I think the issue was that the scheme came into operation last year and wasn’t well enough known,” he said.
“That’s been addressed by the Deputy Premier so there is more publicity around it.”
Mr O’Farrell denied regional NSW had been left out of Infrastructure NSW’s 20-year strategy for the state - released last week- despite the plan only recommending $9 billion of spending for regional areas compared to $21 billion for Sydney.
He cited the $150 million Bridges for the Bush program as an example of where the government had directed funding to regional areas.
“It will result in 8000 fewer truck movements,” he said.
“That’s good for local communities wherever they are.”
Mr O’Farrell deflected all other questions about the report’s recommendations including a corridor for the Bells Line, the future of the XPT or the region’s water infrastructure.
“We’ll make a comprehensive response to all the recommendations in the Infrastructure NSW report by the end of this year,” he said.