Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke has welcomed the NSW Budget handed down today which has a strong focus on regional NSW.

“This Budget demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is a Government which has its focus fixed on the entire state of NSW,” she said.

“The Hon Dominic Perrottet gave a fantastic speech which dispelled any notions that regional NSW has to play second fiddle to metropolitan NSW.

Ms Cooke said this people’s Budget has an emphasis on health and education, which was a significant highlight for the Cootamundra electorate, as were the announcements on infrastructure investment.

“We need to make sure we look after everybody in our communities, and so I welcome the announcement of $25 billion being poured into our health system,” she said.

“As well as the $8 billion being committed to capital investment over the next four years, we will see a huge boost to medical staffing, with the addition of 950 nurses and midwives, 300 medical practitioners and 120 allied health professionals.

“Construction of new ambulance stations is in progress at Cootamundra, Cowra and Grenfell as part of the 122.1 million Rural Ambulance Infrastructure Reconfiguration Program.

“In addition, we will see a record $2.1 billion to help people living with mental illness, their families and carers, which will include early intervention and community mental health teams as well as community-based services and supports,” she said.

The $200 million investment in preschool access will ensure access to all children in NSW to attend two years of preschool, saving families on average $825 a year, Ms Cooke said.

“It’s so important that children get the best possible start to life and so I’m delighted that our little ones will be able to get their early learning and development off to a flying start,” Ms Cooke said.

“As children move through the education system, they will benefit from unprecedented investment in air conditioning in their classrooms, as well as from this year’s funding of 900 extra full-time equivalent teaching positions in NSW government schools.

“The maintenance of schools will also receive a $160 million spend which comes as part of a record $747 million investment over four years,” she added.

The Budget promises $8.8 million for seniors, with $600,000 going to the Liveable Communities Grants program which supports older people and helps them stay engaged in their communities.

“This is such a vital program because it enables councils, businesses and non-government organisations to help older people remain active, independent and healthy, which is incredibly important,” Ms Cooke said.

“There is also $500,000 for the popular Tech Savvy Seniors program which, as contact with loved ones is made more challenging by long distances, means we can all use modern gadgets to ensure we keep in touch with Nanna or Pop across the state or across Australia.”

Roads and rail infrastructure investment continues strongly, with $9.1 billion being allocated to help grow freight and transport links.

“We will see $19.5 million for vital upgrades to the Gocup Road through Gundagai and Tumut, while the Bridges for the Bush program will see $6.7 million for the Lignum Creek Bridge.

“The Junee to Griffith rail line is seeing a $60 million investment, a big win for the Cootamundra electorate,” she said.

Vulnerable children and families, those at risk of homelessness and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault will receive better protection and support under this Budget, with $6.8 billion being invested in the FACS cluster.

“We will see improved outreach, early intervention and tenancy support, as well as a $59 million boost to the child protection frontline which will see more caseworkers and continue the Adoption Taskforce’s record-breaking work in finalising adoptions,” she said.

“Our wonderful caseworkers are seeing more than 15,000 additional children reported at risk of significant harm – it is vital we support them in their work.”

The reduction in payroll tax is part of a raft of measures aimed at helping small businesses grow across the electorate.

“Small businesses make up almost 98 per cent of all NSW businesses and employ nearly half of the state’s workforce, so measures such as the lifting of the payroll tax threshold up from $750,000 to a new level of $1 million means life becomes easier for small business owners,” Ms Cooke said.

“This increase means 5000 businesses will not have to pay the tax, as well as leading to a saving in administrative costs of $50 million statewide.

“The Easy to do Business program is receiving $37 million, slashing red tape and making it much easier for new businesses to get up and running, and the program is extending its focus from cafes, restaurants and small bars to now include the housing construction sector, helping more builders get in the game.

“Of course, a growing business needs skilled staff, which is why it’s exciting to see the $285 million package to deliver 1000,000 free apprenticeships – we will see $764.8 million for skills development and training programs including through TAFE and other registered training providers.

“I’m thrilled 100,000 apprenticeships will be fee free, and with funding allocated for Connected Learning Centres in Grenfell and Narrandera this will make a huge difference ensuring TAFE is accessible to our students on the ground.

“We will see improved links between schools and industry through the investment of $13.9 million over four years into the Regional Industry Education Partnerships program, while businesses will be able to take advantage of the $13.5 million in 2018-19 for Skills for Business, a program which gives small businesses and their staff access to free TAFE NSW training and qualifications,” she added.

The Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund Bill will ensure the $4.154 billion in proceeds from the Snowy Hydro Scheme transaction with the Commonwealth Government will be used to fund projects in regional NSW.

“Today’s Budget includes $40 million for scoping studies into potential projects which may be supported by the Fund and I cannot wait to see what big-picture visions emerge from this investment,” Ms Cooke said.

“I am so proud and so excited to be a part of this NSW Government which has consistently invested in the regions, and I will always fight to get the people of the Cootamundra electorate their fair share.

“That has always been my promise and I will stick to it doggedly,” she added.