Our say | Just think what an extra $2 billion could do

The NSW Government’s’ extraordinary decision to spend more than $2 billion pulling down and rebuilding two Sydney sporting stadiums is political manna from heaven for its opponents.

Not a week will go by between now and the end of this folly without someone pointing out how the $2 billion could have been better spent.

Today, health will be the focus.

The release of the latest Bureau of Health Information statistics on Wednesday highlights again the need to constantly review and replenish the state’s health budget.

This year the state came through a record influenza season in winter, putting greater than usual pressure on already stretched emergency departments.

Hospital staff across the state did a remarkable job treating thousands of flu patients.

Here in Bathurst alone, an extra 709 people presented at the emergency department for treatment from July to September, compared to the same period last year.

That made a total of 6863 people at the Bathurst ED in the three-month winter period, with the flu outbreak responsible for much of the one-off hike.

It was a scenario repeated across the state.

In this current political climate, though, it is impossible not to imagine just what a difference $2 billion could have made – to both this year’s figures and into the future.

Sports Minister Stuart Ayres has tried over the past week or so to deflect criticism of the stadium rebuild by comparing the $2 billion to the overall spending on health and education over the same period.

Of course, he misses the point – and so do any of his colleagues who would happily swallow such rhetoric.

The spending Mr Ayres refers to is for all health and education – including a huge wages bill. It cannot be fairly compared to a capital works program that will deliver, essentially, nothing new for the state.

But the government would not receive a word of criticism if directed that that $2 billion to building new hospitals or new schools to ease the strain that now exists.

At the same time it could have silenced an opposition that would not dare speak out against boosting health and education spending, and not left every voter outside of Sydney feeling like the state government was ignoring their needs.

As it is, the stadium decision is both bad policy and bad politics.