Renewables, environment and women: What we know about the 2022-23 NSW budget

nsw budget

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet. Source: AAP/Dan Himbrechts.

The NSW government has announced funding for a number of programs in advance of its June 21 budget, covering a range of key, broad ranging issues, including funding for renewable energy, bushfire management, the SES and a fast rail.

The government has also unveiled a number of initiatives to help women get back to work, while also investing in female-led startups and providing fee-free TAFE courses. It will also be making changes to the paid parental leave scheme, while investing in childcare.

Here’s what we know so far and what we can expect in the 2022-23 budget.

$1.2 billion for renewable energy and a boost for EV chargers

The state government has committed $1.2 billion to fast-track development of renewable energy zones over the next 10 years, with the aim of phasing out existing power stations. 

Treasurer and Minister for Energy Matt Kean says this will provide cheap and clean energy to homes and businesses in NSW. 

“This is the state’s largest ever investment in infrastructure for renewable energy and is expected to help create 2700 direct construction jobs across the State,” Kean said in a statement. 

He added that the increase in energy prices are due to the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and unplanned outages at coal-fired power stations.

“Fast-tracking the construction of renewable energy is the best way to reduce our exposure to these risks and take advantage of cleaner, cheaper power sources,” he said. 

The government also announced a $128 million Energy Bill Buster program, in which eligible households can receive up to 10 years of rebates upfront to contribute towards solar or home appliance upgrades. Up to 1 million NSW households will be eligible, helping them save $600 per year.

The government will also be allocating a further $38 million to boost the state’s Electric Vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. The funding will be part of the government’s strategy to make “NSW the easiest and most affordable place to buy  and use an EV in Australia”.

The investment includes $10 million to co-fund 500 kerbside charging points, $10 million to make EV charging electric upgrades possible in medium and large apartment buildings with more than 100 car parking spaces. Around $18 million will also go towards grants to accelerate the fast EV charging rollout at stations.

“This funding will help communities stay connected and help holidaymakers hit the road to enjoy weekend trips as NSW motorists gear up for the next era of driving,” Kean said.

$500 million for fast rail connecting Sydney to Central Coast and Newcastle

The government also committed $500 million for a fast rail project which will cut travel time between Sydney and Newcastle to one hour, Sydney and Gosford to 25 minutes, and Sydney to Wollongong to 45 minutes. 

“We’re committed to a rail network that helps shape our state’s growth for the next century, starting with improvements to cut delays and lay the foundations for making faster travel times a reality,” NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said in a statement. 

Kean says the project will create tens of thousands and jobs and boost the economy. 

The funding comes as part of the government’s six cities vision, which aims to better connect NSW cities. 

Funding for bushfire management and bushfire inquiry action

The NSW government has committed $598 million to boost fire management in national parks, with 250 permanent jobs and critical infrastructure upgrades in the books. 

The government has also allotted $93.7 million to deliver the Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, with the aim to prepare for the impacts of climate change and attract new investment opportunities. 

“This funding will help us translate cutting-edge science into real-world solutions to protect communities from the impacts of climate change,” Kean said.

Minister for Environment James Griffin added that the funding will secure 250 permanent jobs for firefighting and conservation roles, while also ensuring infrastructure and fleet updates. 

$27.7 million will also go towards upgrading the radio network, while $4.5 million will be allocated to upgrade the NPWS fleet over four years. 

Another $312.5 million has been allocated over the next four years to complete the recommendations made in the NSW Bushfire Inquiry, of which $191 million will go towards the Rural Fire Services for hazard reduction works, maintenance of strategic fire trails and the procurement of a new fleet. 

“This investment will go a long way to ensuring the more than 1.3 million properties on bush fire prone land in our state are better prepared for future fire seasons,” Perrottet said. 

Kean says the investment takes the NSW government spending to a total of “$830 million in bushfire-proofing our state”.

Future-proofing the NSW SES with $132 million

The NSW State Emergency Service (SES) will receive a funding boost of $132 million, and will include $58.7 million to upgrade 18 critical point unit facilities across the state.

According to the Premier, this will ensure the SES has the necessary resources to respond to natural disasters.

“As part of this $132.7 million investment, the NSW government is ramping up the SES’s presence in the Northern Rivers, with a new Incident Control Centre to be built and staffed in Lismore,” he said.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW Paul Toole added that “the new facilities and additional staff will help boost the SES’s capability to handle severe weather events particularly in flood prone areas like the Northern Rivers, and to ensure these communities are better prepared”.

$10 million for women-led startups, grants for women to return to work and free TAFE courses

Despite around one-third of NSW small businesses being owned by women, female-led startups received only 5% of venture capital funding in Australia last year.

To help rectify this, the government has announced a $10 million VC fund named after Carla Zampatti, which will invest in early stage women-led startups. 

“This fund will unleash a new wave of female entrepreneurs, providing women with more opportunities to finance their startups and take their businesses to the next level,” Kean said.

The government will also invest $32 million to encourage women to return to work. It will offer grants up to $5000 to overcome financial obstacles that prevent women from returning to work. The grant will provide funding to cover a new wardrobe, technology and training. It will also provide tailored support from a Return to Work Coordinator. 

“Female-dominated industries and workers were hit hard by the pandemic and it highlighted the importance of women to the long-term health of our economy. Now, more than ever, we need to support women to get into, and return to, the workforce,” Kean said.

The government also announced $15 million over the next four years for free TAFE courses and professional advice.

Among the initiatives announced is $3.5 million for fee-free TAFE NSW Women in Business courses, $5 million to provide dedicated services to women-led small businesses through the Business Connect program and $4.5 million for the Services NSW for Business program, which will provide targeted support for women-led small businesses.

“The Women in Business TAFE program will provide women in every corner of NSW with access to fee-free online training on how to start or build a business,” Minister for Skills and Training Alister Henskens said.

Support for female firefighters and women in construction

Female firefighters will see new bathrooms and change rooms as part of a $50 million investment in Fire and Rescue NSW stations across the state. Currently women make up only 10% of the professional firefighting frontline workforce, with the Treasurer saying he hoped this would encourage more women to enter the profession.

“We want to break down the barriers — big and small — that are stopping women from joining industries that in the past have been dominated by men,” Kean said.

The government also wants to see more women in construction, with $20.2 announced towards breaking cultural barriers that stop women from entering the industry. The government hopes the funding would see a triple increase in female participation, with women currently making up only 5% of the construction workforce.

“Increasing the number of women in the construction industry is essential to lower the gender pay gap and ensure we have the skilled workforce required to deliver the Government’s record $110.4 billion infrastructure pipeline,” the Treasurer said.

Funding for a Respect@Work Taskforce

In a bid to stop sexual harassment in workplaces, the government will be allocating $4.8 million for a Respect@Work Taskforce, following Kate Jenkins’ Respect@Work Report. The taskforce will provide employers guidance on keeping workplaces safe and free from sexual harassment.

“The taskforce will monitor and work with employers across the state to ensure that they are complying with their responsibilities to keep their female employees safe,” Minister for Women’s Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence Natalie Ward.

“Safety for women at work is every employer’s responsibility. This taskforce will ensure this responsibility is front of mind.”

Strategic fund of $106.7 million to make access to biodiversity credits easier

The NSW government also intends to make it easier to secure biodiversity credits with a new Biodiversity Credits Supply Fund, which will receive $106.7 million. The government hopes the fund will support economic activity and boost the market for NSW biodiversity offset credits.

“This $106.7 million investment over three years by the NSW government will enable more than $200 million of biodiversity credits to be bought and resold,” Kean said,

“The fund will ensure there’s a strong pipeline of biodiversity offset credits ready to roll out when needed, and link those credits with the proponents that need them,” Environment Minister James Griffin said.

Changes to parental leave scheme, $5 billion for childcare and more support

The NSW government will no longer distinguish between “primary” or “secondary” carers for public sector workers, with both mothers and fathers entitled to at least 14 weeks of paid parental leave. 

An additional two weeks ‘bonus leave’ will be offered if paid parental leave entitlements were shared more equitably between partners. 

Minister for Women Bronnie Taylor said: “These changes to our parental leave offerings will encourage more equal sharing of caring responsibilities right from the start of a child’s life.” 

Perrottet added that only 12% of men take paid primary parental leave in Australia, and says the new scheme would support “all parents to spend more precious days with their newborn children…[and] form bonds that last a lifetime”.

In a boost to parents, the government will also be investing up to $5 billion over 10 years to expand access to high quality, affordable child care. The scheme could potentially see families saving from $3900 to $7800 a year.

The investment will be made through the Affordable and Accessible Childcare and Economic Participation Fund. It will provide grants to childcare services, enabling the expansion of infrastructure and establishment of new centers. It will also target areas with a shortage or limited access to childcare services.

Kean says investment in childcare would improve female workforce participation, improve women’s economic opportunities and close the gender pay gap.

“This once in a generation scheme will mean women no longer need to choose between work or caring for their children,” Taylor added.

A further $37.9 million will also be invested in before and after school care services, with $16.2 million going towards transport grants to connect students to a service and $20.2 million for before and after school care options in areas with no current services.

“Great before and after school care services deliver an essential service to communities and young children, providing a safe place to play and socialise,” Minister for Education and Early Learning Sarah Mitchell.

Pre-school costs are also set to come down with the government’s $1.4 billion investment over a period four years, which will see all NSW families eligible for fee relief.

From January 1, 2023, all NSW families will be eligible for up to $4000 per year in fee relief for 3, 4 and 5-year-olds attending a community or mobile preschool.

Families will also be eligible for fee relief up to $2000 if they have 4 and 5-year-olds attending preschool in long day care. Families with children in the Department of Education preschools will also receive up to 5 days a fortnight of affordable preschool fee relief.

Around $64.1 million will also be allocated for a two-year pilot to support more 3-year-olds attending preschool in long day care services.

The government has also announced $376.5 million for the Brighter Beginnings package. The package includes $111.2 million for health and development checks to children in NSW preschool settings and $98.7 million to expand the number of Aboriginal Child and Family Centres, among other initiatives.

“Almost half of all 4-year-old children do not get their recommended health and development checks, so making these available in every NSW early childhood service will open the door to brighter futures for thousands of children,” Mitchell said.

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