It’s roughly 500 kilometres as the crow flies from Coolamon to Cobar.
Both places are a world away from the gleaming office towers of the Sydney CBD and, as with 97 per cent of NSW, they share one very big problem — water, or lack of it.
When I was in Cobar last week — and also Bourke, Lightning Ridge and then Wagga Wagga just a few days ago — the strain of drought wasn’t just evident in the land.
It was written on the faces of everyone I met, as they grapple with the worst crisis in almost two decades.
The drought’s impact is being felt in our cities too. The inconvenience of water restrictions might pale in comparison with the trials our farmers face but it’s a reality check for households all the same.
Drought is also weighing on our economy — one of several challenges that have emerged more sharply in the past 12 months, including the falling housing market and easing national and global economic conditions.
After a period of exceptional growth in NSW — which delivered record low unemployment, about 600,000 new jobs and powered the nation — these emerging economic headwinds have budget consequences too.
Since the 2017 Budget, declining stamp duty has reduced NSW revenue by more than $10 billion. While this has been offset to some extent by GST, in April the Commonwealth slashed its forecasts, reducing our state’s projected GST revenue to 2021-22 by $2.3 billion. Lower revenue doesn’t change government’s responsibility to deliver the services and infrastructure our communities rely on.
Our kids still need great schools and great teachers, we need more hospitals and more nurses, better transport and better roads for growing communities.
Families need less pressure on their hip-pockets to meet the rising cost of living, and the people doing it toughest right now, like our drought-stricken farmers, need all the help they can get.
On top of all that, our newly re-elected government has a long list of election commitments that we are looking to deliver.
These are the challenges we have been working through as we prepare the 2019-20 NSW Budget.
The temptation for any government in challenging times is to go for the easy options — hike taxes and charges to fill any financial holes.
On the eastern seaboard, Labor states have clearly chosen to go down that path, increasing taxes while allowing their bureaucracies to bloat.
Here in NSW, the Liberals and Nationals believe that is the wrong approach.
It might provide a short-term sugar hit to plug budget holes — but it burdens families, households and businesses with extra costs and causes long-term pain for the economy.
For our government, the first priority will always be to make better use of the resources we already have, cut waste, make government’s back office more efficient, and find savings for taxpayers.
That’s exactly what our budget will do, building on two terms of strong financial management to make sensible savings across the public service back-office, and redirecting those savings into the services and support that make the biggest difference to people’s lives in NSW.
Because of our responsible fiscal strategy, the budget is able to do even more to help our drought-ravaged communities, increasing drought support funding by more than $350 million — over and above the $1.5 billion already committed at the election.
We are boosting the numbers of teachers, nurses, doctors, police and other frontline workers by almost 15,000 over the next four years — shifting resources to where they matter most.
While other states are hiking taxes and charges, NSW will proudly beat a different path — a path that puts working families first.
Our budget will not introduce a single new tax.
We won’t slug households to cover costs or drag our economy down. In fact, we’ll do the opposite, reducing the tax burden so we can give back more to the people of our state.
We will continue to cut payroll tax, saving about 40,000 businesses a total of more than $880 million over four years, so they can employ more staff and increase workers’ wages.
And we will increase our total cost of living savings for families, doubling the number of Active Kids vouchers, supporting solar power packages on family homes, and continuing tax relief for first homebuyers.
In this way, the 2019-20 NSW Budget will again demonstrate where our government’s priorities lie: with the working men and women of our state and the people who employ them; with the families striving to get ahead; and with the farmers and communities of regional NSW.
It’s a budget that gets on with the job we were elected to do — weathering the storms to keep delivering for the people of our great state.