It appears we simply cannot have a State or Federal Budget in South Australia without talking about the “North-South Corridor”, a major road project in Adelaide’s west, so let’s get that out of the way first. Essentially, the update in October 2022 is that there is no update because no new funding has been allocated to the plan. This is despite fears from the South Australian government that the project, which the Federal government had previously agreed to fund on a 50/50 basis, could incur a substantial cost blowout.
The final stage of the project was already going to be a sizeable undertaking, costing around $10 billion to update around 10 km of road. Now it seems that even this $1 million per metre (!) price tag may well prove an underestimation, and questions are being asked about the Federal Government’s willingness to boost its contribution in response.
It’s not all bad news when it comes to revenue in South Australia, though. The Budget shows that GST contributions to the state are set to increase by nearly $1.5 billion above what was previously predicted over the forward estimates. This will be welcome news for the SA Treasurer, Stephen Mullighan, who will be looking for sources of revenue to shore up the state’s coffers in coming years, because difficulty looms on the horizon.
While GST contributions are up in the short-term, this may well change once the states complete their transition to a new GST distribution system in 2026-27, and the Federal Government’s “no worse off” guarantee is revoked. This might sound like it’s a long way away, but this is the time for a serious conversation about revenue in South Australia, and about how we can set ourselves up to deliver the services on which we all rely in the long term.
On the environment, it is intriguing to note that the Budget has allocated “significant funding” to recover water for the environment under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. As the state at the very end of the river system, this should be welcome news for South Australians. But it is also fair to ask: just how much does this “significant funding” actually represent?
Well, it’s a secret! The quantity of funding has been deemed “not for publication due to commercial sensitivities”, which makes the plan for this new bucket of money about as clear as the water in the mighty River Murray itself. However, as voluntary buybacks of entitlements from willing sellers are the cheapest and most efficient way of recovering water, it is likely that they will play a role in this approach.
It is also encouraging to see that $22 million has been set aside in this Budget to update the science to ensure the impacts of climate change are accounted for in managing the Murray-Darling Basin.
Finally, the Federal government will provide $14.7 million over four years to support the protection of Australia’s cultural and First Nations heritage sites. This announcement could be significant for South Australia on multiple fronts. It will support an ongoing application for sections of the Flinders Ranges to be added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list—but it is also worth considering whether it could assist the pursuit of World Heritage listing for another iconic South Australian site: the Great Australian Bight. A clear majority of South Australians would certainly support such a move.