SA state budget 2018: Treasurer Rob Lucas promises more jobs, lower costs, better services

Long time coming: Treasurer Rob Lucas presents South Australia's 2018 budget at the Intercontinental Hotel in Adelaide. Photo: Peri Strathearn.
Long time coming: Treasurer Rob Lucas presents South Australia's 2018 budget at the Intercontinental Hotel in Adelaide. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

More jobs, lower costs and better services: those are the promises of Rob Lucas' first budget as state Treasurer in 16 years.

He said country South Australia could expect better health, aged care, education and emergency services.

"Our investment over the next four years will not only clean up the enormous financial mess left to us by Labor, but ensure families and businesses living and working in the country are supported with better infrastructure from hospitals and schools to better roads and recreational facilities," he said in a statement.

In his budget speech to Parliament, Mr Lucas said he would emphasise the critical importance of regional SA, "rather than thinking that the boundaries of our state end at the toll gate and Elizabeth".

The government would also focus on lowering the cost of doing business, or spending money on initiatives which would help whole industries or districts, rather than "picking winners" – single businesses which deserved to be subsidised on their own.

But he acknowledged that 2018-19 would be a "transition year" because the state election in March had pushed the budget back by four months, reducing the time available for him to right the ship.

He disputed claims by the Labor Opposition that the state's finances were left in a healthy state at the election in March, describing the surpluses predicted by his predecessor, Tom Koutsantonis, as "fictional".

Among the measures included in the budget are:

More jobs

  • 20,800 new apprenticeships and traineeships over the next four years ($202.6 million)
  • Three more targeted industry attraction funds to replace about 30 existing programs, including $150 million over 10 years for the Regional Growth Fund
  • Funding for Regional Development Australia boards ($12 million over four years)
  • New trade offices to promote South Australian exports to the United States, Japan, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates ($12.8 million over five years)

Lower costs

  • Reductions in the Emergency Services Levy over the next four years ($360 million)
  • Exemptions from payroll tax for 3200 small businesses from January 1
  • Land tax relief for 50,000 people with properties worth more than $450,000 ($95.9 million)
  • No more volunteer screening fees

Better services

  • $730 million in forecast savings to health will no longer be required
  • A regional roads and infrastructure fund ($315 million over four years), paid for by setting aside 30 per cent of mining royalties; $200 million will go to duplification of the Joy Baluch Bridge in Port Augusta, $88.5 million to the Port Wakefield bypass and Augusta Highway widening and $14.6 million to the Penola bypass
  • Capital works in the country health system ($140 million over 10 years), funding to address a shortage of GPs and health care professionals in regional areas ($20 million over four years)
  • Battery systems for 40,000 households ($100 million), more grid-scale storage ($50 million), an interconnector to New South Wales and other measures to reduce the cost of supplying power
  • $146.4 million for the national redress scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse
  • Reduced waiting times for elective surgery and more colonoscopies ($40 million over two years), regional chemotherapy services ($6.9 million) and grants for health and wellbeing initiatives in country towns ($1 million)
  • 40 crisis accomodation beds, a 24-hour crisis hotline and other domestic violence programs ($11.9 million)
  • $10 million over three years to fix mobile black spots; Primary Industries and Regional Development Minister Tim Whetstone said doing so was "crucial to the growth of our state; will contribute to improved productivity, improved safety; and will enhance the reputation of the state's key tourist destinations"
  • Eight more firefighting aircraft and a new aerial base at Clare for the Country Fire Service, reducing the need to direct aircraft away from the Adelaide Hills ($2.3 million per year over four years); plus backup power generators for CFS stations and incident control centres ($5 million over two years)
  • Funding for planning for the transition of year 7s to high schools, languages in schools, anti-bullying, truancy and substance abuse programs, more breakfast programs and a "literacy guarantee"

But Housing Trust tenants will be among those who will not greet the budget with enthusiasm.

Rents will rise by up to $10 per week for those on moderate incomes, plus those in bedsit cottage flats and one-bedroom cottage flats, until they reach 30 per cent and 25 per cent of assessable household income, respectively.

"There are people who, when they first moved into a Housing Trust home, would have needed it but are now on more moderate incomes and capable of paying more of a market-based rent," Mr Lucas said.

“What’s a fair rent to be paid for a taxpayer-subsidised roof over your head?

“I’m sure there’ll be concern and/or opposition from groups that represent Housing Trust tenants … They’re not easy decisions, they’re very difficult in some cases and they do have impacts.”

Firearms licence fees will go up for both dealers and individuals.

A second round of Fund My Neighbourhood has been cancelled; Mr Lucas said it was not a program the Liberal Party had committed to.

"If we want to find money to spend elsewhere, we have to make the hard decisions," he said.

Several TAFE campuses and Service SA branches will close.

Also cancelled are the laptops in schools program and a regional youth traineeship program in local government.

A controversial measure which will increase the fees paid by GPs for using public health facilities will apply only to those employed at public hospitals, and will affect only a handful of health services in the country.

This story Treasurer Rob Lucas promises more jobs, lower costs, better services in 2018 SA budget first appeared on The Murray Valley Standard.