Although the 2018 budget has been portrayed as one which seeks to shore up electoral support for the government in the context of an impending election, there is not a great deal of additional money being promised for expenditure programs in non-metropolitan Australia.
There is a continuation of the Building Better Regions Fund, the Stronger Communities Program, the Roads to Recovery Program, the Black Spots Program, the Bridges Renewal Program and the National Highway Upgrade Program. However, there are no major increases in funding for these programs in the 2018-19 financial year.
There have been a number of major infrastructure projects announced and these will be very much welcome in the affected regions; however, the majority of the big-ticket items in this area are targeted at congestion-busting in greater metropolitan regions.
The most significant new item is the Roads of Strategic Importance initiative aimed at upgrading key freight routes and getting products to market in a more cost-effective manner, and this is also backed up by the commencement of construction of the Inland Rail project from Melbourne to Brisbane.
Announcements of which projects will be funded as part of a number of the continuing programs mentioned above (e.g. the Building Better Regions Fund) will be forthcoming later in the financial year and so it is not possible as yet to provide a detailed analysis of which regions are net losers or net winners. However, in aggregate it is difficult not to conclude that since the balance of power in the federal arena has shifted away from a handful of regional politicians the infrastructure budget spend has become more geographically neutral.