Budget Speech by the Financial Secretary (8)

Transport Infrastructure

153. The Government adopts the "infrastructure-led" and "capacity-creating" planning principles in taking forward transport infrastructure projects, with a view to unleashing the development potential of areas along transport corridors and meeting transport and logistics demand arising from long-term development in a forward-looking manner while fostering better connectivity with other GBA cities. According to the preliminary recommendations in the Strategic Studies on Railways and Major Roads beyond 2030, the Government plans to build three strategic railways and three major roads. In order to formulate Hong Kong's future Major Transport Infrastructure Development Blueprint in the fourth quarter of this year, the Government is now consulting the public for their views on the above recommendations.

Application of Innovation and Technology in the Construction Industry

154. Hong Kong people have always been proud of our infrastructure, which is one of the keys to maintaining the city's competitiveness. To further strengthen the advantages of our construction industry, we will promote the extensive application of advanced technologies in the construction industry to improve construction methods and materials.

Building Testing and Research Institute

155. I have earmarked $30 million for the Development Bureau (DEVB) to conduct a study on establishing the Building Testing and Research Institute and to carry out related planning and preliminary design. Apart from R&D activities for innovative materials, construction methods and technologies, the centre will also devise standards, conduct testing and provide accreditation to spearhead innovation in the construction industry and attract R&D talent to Hong Kong. The centre will also capitalise on Hong Kong's unique advantages to provide a platform for our country's construction standards and related products to align with those in the international market.

Advanced Construction Industrial Building

156. I have also earmarked $30 million for conducting a study on the construction of the first advanced construction industry building at a site of about three hectares in Tsing Yi, carrying out planning and preliminary design work as well as advising on its mode of operation. The conceptual idea is to provide space for operators to set up steel reinforcement bar prefabrication yards, processing sites for Multi-trade Integrated Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MiMEP), and other advanced manufacturing yards in the multi-storey building.

Modular Integrated Construction Supply Chain

157. To implement the new initiatives announced in the 2022 Policy Address, I have earmarked $15 million for studying and putting in place measures to strengthen the supply chain of the Modular Integrated Construction (MiC) modules. The scope of study will cover areas such as the manufacturing, transportation, storage and accreditation of MiC modules. We will also explore the provision of manufacturing and storage sites in the Northern Metropolis, and ways to enhance collaboration with the GBA and optimise the MiC supply chain.

Governing for the People

Building a Liveable City

Green City

158. Hong Kong is making vigorous efforts to achieve carbon neutrality before 2050 and reduce its carbon emission by 50 per cent before 2035 as compared with the level in 2005. To strengthen co-ordination and promote deep decarbonisation, the EEB has set up the Office of Climate Change and Carbon Neutrality in January this year. A Council for Carbon Neutrality and Sustainable Development will also be formed to advise on decarbonisation strategies.

Green Tech Fund

159. In the past few Budgets, I allocated resources in support of efforts to address climate change. Last year, I injected an additional funding of $200 million into the GTF, doubling the provision to $400 million. The GTF received overwhelming responses from applicants, and 22 projects from local universities, designated public research institutes and private enterprises have been approved. These research projects involve technologies for the cell storage and generation of hydrogen fuel; manufacturing of biochar-enhanced construction materials; and air cleaning system for reducing roadside air pollution.

New Energy Transport

160. The Government has set the target of introducing about 700 electric buses and 3 000 electric taxis by end-2027. We will earmark $200 million under the New Energy Transport Fund for progressively commencing trials of hydrogen fuel cell electric double-deck buses and heavy vehicles within this year in collaboration with franchised bus companies and other stakeholders to fully assess their operational feasibility under local circumstances. We have also set aside $350 million to provide subsidies to four in-harbour ferry operators for the construction and trials of electric ferries and the related charging facilities, with a view to testing the technical and commercial viability of using electric ferries in Hong Kong. The trials are expected to commence in 2024.

161. Moreover, the Government will put in place a loan scheme with 100% guarantee for the taxi trade as an incentive for taxi owners to replace their existing taxis with battery electric taxis. It is estimated that the proposed measure will involve a loan guarantee of about $6.4 billion. The details of the scheme will be announced in due course.

Food Waste Reduction

162. Food waste accounts for 30 per cent of municipal solid waste disposed of at landfills. In 2023-24, we will allocate an additional funding of $62 million to gradually expand the scope of food waste collection to cover more public and private premises, including food establishments, markets, hotels, large shopping malls, etc. The food waste collection trial scheme for public rental housing estates will also be extended to cover a total of 100 blocks, involving about 150 000 residents. Through these measures, we can not only reduce the volume of odorous food waste disposed of at landfills, but also deliver the food waste to the Organic Resources Recovery Centre for conversion into renewable energy.

Countryside Conservation

163. In the next two to three years, the AFCD will gradually enhance facilities in country parks and explore ideas such as providing treetop adventure, repairing wartime relics and turning them into open museums. As at end-2022, 33 projects involving a total grant of $165 million have been approved under the Countryside Conservation Funding Scheme to support non-profit making organisations in carrying out countryside conservation and revitalisation projects at different levels ranging from natural environment or ecological habitats, non-graded built heritage to cultural and historic assets.


Public Healthcare Services

164. The Government has been devoting a lot of resources on healthcare, of which the 2023-24 estimate reaches $104.4 billion, accounting for about 19 percent of the Government recurrent expenditure. We will continue to enhance public healthcare services. The HA will strengthen a series of services, such as enhancing clinical services for diseases including cancer, increasing public hospital beds, operating theatre sessions, etc. Besides, the HA is continuing its rollout of measures to reduce the waiting time for specialist out-patient services, which include streamlining referral arrangements for cross-specialty cases, setting up integrated clinics to provide multi-disciplinary support, etc. The HA will also introduce a new service for drug collection and delivery by phases, and further promote tele-consultation services.

Primary Healthcare

165. Primary healthcare is an integral part of the entire healthcare system, accounting for about 20% of the expenditure on public healthcare. To balance healthcare resources and the over-concentration of pressure in public hospitals, the Government put forward the Primary Healthcare Blueprint (the Blueprint) at the end of last year, under which a series of key reform initiatives for enhancing Hong Kong's primary healthcare services are set out, and prevention-oriented, community-based, family centric, and early detection and intervention strategies are adopted. The vision of the Blueprint is to improve the overall health of the general public by providing coherent and comprehensive healthcare services and establishing a sustainable healthcare system.

166. As introduced in the Blueprint, the Government will launch the Chronic Disease Co-Care Pilot Scheme and enhancement measures to the Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme. The Government will announce the details in the third quarter of this year. I will set aside sufficient financial resources for the schemes.

Development of Chinese Medicine

167. Since the official launch of the Chinese Medicine Development Fund in 2019, more than 10 funding schemes have been rolled out to benefit various practitioners and organisations in the Chinese medicine sector. The fund supports the holistic development of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong on all fronts, with its funding scope covering talent nurturing, facility and quality enhancement, registration of proprietary Chinese medicines as well as promotion and research of Chinese medicine. The fund has also played a crucial role amid the epidemic in supporting community Chinese medicine practitioners to provide telemedicine consultation and rehabilitation treatment for discharged patients and recovered persons.

168. I plan to inject an additional amount of $500 million into the fund starting from this financial year to support the commissioning of large-scale training, research and publicity projects on strategic themes and to take forward more capacity building programmes for the sector, which include making preparations for Hong Kong's first Chinese medicine hospital which is expected to commence services in 2025 and strengthening the role of Chinese medicine in the primary healthcare system.

Tobacco Control Policies

169. Smoking is hazardous to health. Increasing tobacco duty is recognised internationally as the most effective means to reduce tobacco use. It has been over 10 years since the last substantial increase in tobacco duty and its policy effect has been diluted gradually by inflation and various other factors. At present, tobacco duty accounts for about 62 per cent of the retail price of cigarettes in Hong Kong, far lower than the rate of 75 per cent recommended by the World Health Organization.

170. To safeguard public health, I propose to increase the duty on cigarettes by 60 cents per stick with immediate effect. Duties on other tobacco products will also be increased by the same proportion. A rise in cigarette price will increase the incentive of smokers to reduce or quit smoking. Our target is to bring the smoking prevalence rate down from the current 9.5 per cent to 7.8 per cent. With this target in mind, we will continue to review the overall effectiveness of tobacco control measures, and in parallel step up efforts to promote smoking cessation as well as law enforcement against illicit cigarettes.

Youth Development

171. Young people are the future of Hong Kong. The Government attaches importance to youth development and strives to let the younger generation see opportunities for upward mobility. The Government released at the end of last year the Youth Development Blueprint, which outlines the overall vision and guiding principles for its future youth development work.  A range of concrete actions and measures on youth development are put forward, with a view to supporting young people in preparing for the future, fulfilling dreams, achieving whole-person development and contributing to society. The Government will progressively implement these measures.

Promote Urban Sports

172. In recent years, both the Olympic Games and the Youth Olympic Games have introduced a range of urban sports that are popular among the youth. The Government will promote urban sports in collaboration with the sports community, schools and other sectors. The Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau is examining the conversion of some underutilised floors of the Kwun Chung Municipal Services Building into an urban sports centre, so as to provide a suitable venue for activities such as sport climbing and skateboarding.  

Vocational and Professional Education and Training

173. Vocational and professional education and training (VPET) has always been providing diversified and flexible education pathways for young people with different aspirations and abilities. Starting from the 2023/24 academic year, the Vocational Training Council will launch a two-year pilot project enabling secondary school students to have an early exposure to VPET and helping them explore their interests. The Government will launch the Diploma of Applied Education Programme on a regular basis in the same academic year in place of the existing Diploma Yi Jin Programme, and will continue to review the implementation of the Pilot Project on the Development of Applied Degree Programmes and proactively explore the launch of more programmes, so as to further enhance the VPET progression pathway at the post-secondary education level.

(To be continued.)

Ends/Wednesday, February 22, 2023
Issued at HKT 12:44