Sydney life
The NSW treasurer says families will get help with soaring living costs in the budget. Image by Jane Dempster/AAP PHOTOS
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Cost-of-living focus in NSW budget as dam project axed

September 13, 2023

Cost of living relief and childcare payments will form the centrepiece of the upcoming NSW budget but pressure is building on Labor to reveal how much it will cost to extend the life of an ageing coal-fired power plant.

Measures to address housing affordability and provide cost-of-living relief are also expected to be front and centre as the government promises to rebuild essential services and reduce debt.

“It will be a responsible budget, a Labor budget, and include investment in essential services so that we can provide world-class transport, hospitals and schools for the people of this state,” NSW Premier Chris Minns said.

The government has flagged multiple coalition-initiated projects will be axed, including raising the Wyangala Dam wall, as it attempts to fund public-sector pay rises and increased spending on health and education.

The former coalition government spent $74 million on two business cases for the dam project, near Cowra in the state’s central-west.

Water Minister Rose Jackson said multiple reviews recommended it not go ahead because of financial and environmental impacts. 

“Robust investigations show that while raising the wall by 10m is technically feasible, it could cause substantial and irreversible environmental impacts,” she said.

“The other major issue is the billions of dollars to build the dam wall. 

“We have a responsibility to taxpayers to only fund infrastructure projects that provide maximum bang for the buck and, in this case, the capital costs are too high, and the benefits are too low.”

Treasurer Daniel Mookhey said NSW families would get a budget that delivered help with soaring living costs.

That included addressing a housing supply crisis and fast-rising rents.

“You can expect a housing strategy that is designed to help people own their homes and equally to assist those who are renting in next week’s budget,” he said.

“We aren’t going to pretend that this can be fixed straight away.”

The government on Wednesday announced a $500-a-year subsidy for parents of three-year-olds in childcare, intended to ease cost of living and get more women into work.

Mr Minns said the boost to individual household budgets was small, but could be the difference between a parent choosing whether or not to return to work.

“I’m certainly not coming to you today to suggest that $500 will make a massive difference when there’s a cost of living crisis in Australia,” he said.

“It’s what we can do right now given the state of the budget.”

Opposition education spokeswoman Sarah Mitchell said the lack of detail was concerning.

“There are a lot of questions coming out of the preliminary remarks from the minister and the premier in relation to education in the budget,” Ms Mitchell said.

“We’ll certainly be looking closely at this next week.”

The government previously announced it would extend the life of the Eraring coal-fired power station past 2025 to help deal with forecast challenges in electricity reliability.

But the treasurer refused to be drawn on whether the budget would include details about how long Eraring would remain open. 

He pointed to the nearly $2 billion set aside to help the state transition to a grid powered by renewable energy.

Mr Mookhey said the investment would help safeguard energy reliability and insisted the plant would not be open “a day longer” than needed.