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.

Do we really need a single new stadium in Sydney?

Are the current facilities really that outdated? 

We all know the answer to those two questions is NO.

In contrast the release of the latest Bureau of Health Information statistics 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.

In Cowra admissions at the hospital emergency department were actually down during winter but this was certainly not the norm throughout the state.

In this current political climate, though, it is impossible not to imagine just what a difference $2 billion could have made to our hospitals, schools and roads.

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 $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.