Far west NSW slipping, state budget shows

Andrew Drummond
·2-min read

NSW's 'far west' boasts the state's largest geographical footprint but has a slowly-shrinking population as other regional areas record growth and attract greater government spending.

Regional NSW communities are "at the centre" of Tuesday's 2020/21 budget, the Liberal-Nationals government says.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet noted hard-hitting challenges had taken a toll on NSW, but especially rural areas.

"The worst drought on record was followed by the worst bushfire catastrophe on record. Then, when the drought broke, the rains brought localised flooding," he said.

In an area labelled the Far West in budget papers - and taking in the local government areas of Bourke, Broken Hill, Brewarrina, Cobar, Walgett, Central Darling, Wentworth and Balranald - population in 2019 dropped by about 500 to 43,500.

A spending snapshot for the region showed just over $70 million specifically allocated for the current financial year, across the areas of health, transport, planning and shared regional projects. It will also benefit from cross-regional expenditure.

In the New England and North West region, where population grew fractionally to 187,200 in 2019, there was more than $112 million earmarked for road and rail construction alone.

"Today's budget announces an unprecedented $8.7 billion in 2020/21 for regional transport and roads to improve our road network across the state," Deputy Premier John Barilaro said in a statement.

"We are investing more than $900 million to build and upgrade regional hospitals and healthcare facilities across the state, delivering improved services for families in rural and remote areas and more than $650 million on regional schools."

Mr Perrottet said regional NSW had benefited from intra-state travel following the worst of the coronavirus.

"The bush has never been busier - you can't get a hotel room in regional NSW."

MAJOR REGIONAL SPENDING IN NSW BUDGET 2020/21

* $8.7 billion for regional roads and transport

* $4.5 billion drought assistance and water security

* $4.4 billion bushfire recovery

* $900 million for regional hospitals and healthcare facilities

* $1.8 billion for more than 90 regional projects

* $650 million for regional school infrastructure