WORDS | Emma Vlatko
On Tuesday the 13th of May, Australia’s Treasurer, Joe Hockey, delivered his first budget speech. For a long time the government had been warning Australians that this budget would bring “pain with a purpose.” Indeed, as far back as 2012, Hockey has been preparing the country for “equally shared” fiscal pain, most notably in his speech, “The End of the Age of Entitlement.”
On the morning of the budget, the Prime Minister Tony Abbott concluded a press conference by attempting to reassure the public. He said that, “if you’re looking for the national interests you will be cheered.”
For all this talk of “sharing the pain,” one thing is resoundingly clear. Students and the Australian youth are among the hardest hit.
From January 2016, university fees will be uncapped and government funding for universities will be lowered by 20%. The ramifications of this are obvious – higher university course fees.
Although Education Minister Christopher Pyne did not follow through on his threat to privatise HECS debts, the loans schemes have been subjected to a few changes. For all new students, HECS debts will no longer be increased in line with inflation. Instead, it will be increased in line with the Australian Government 10 year bond rate, a maximum of six per cent a year. Of this extra money raised however, institutions will need to pay $1 out of every $5 to a new Commonwealth Scholarship scheme to support disadvantaged students.
FEE-HELP will be available to students studying diplomas, post-graduate courses, or who are studying at private institutions. The 25 per cent loan fee applied to FEE-HELP will also be abolished.
Finally, students will be required to pay of their loans off sooner. The minimum income threshold for students to begin repaying their debts will be lowered by 10 per cent, bringing the threshold down to 90 per cent of the average weekly income.
Unfortunately, this budget will affect young people in more ways than just their education.
In an interview with Sarah Ferguson on ABC’s 7.30 program, Joe Hockey stated that what he wanted was for every “unemployed person to get a job.” Indeed, welfare has been a key issue for a government who is keen to end “the age of entitlement” and to begin the “age of opportunity.”
As such, the age of eligibility for the Newstart payments will rise from 22 to 25. Those under 25 seeking welfare payments will instead receive the lower-valued “youth allowance,” receiving roughly $100 a fortnight less in payments.
Furthemore, those under 30 seeking Newstart benefits will have to join a six month waiting list. Once on the program, recipients will go through six month on and off payments, a system that Hockey believes will encourage those able, to go and get jobs. Jobseekers on “work for the dole schemes” will now have to do 25 hours of work a week in order to receive benefits.
For those arts students seeking a career in film and television, think again. Public broadcasters, the ABC and SBS, will face a one per cent cut each year for the next four years, the equivalent of roughly $43.5 million. The Australia Network will also be cut. Overall, $87.1 million will be cut from arts programs, including the Australia Council and Screen Australia.
A large justification for these cuts was that so more money could be put into infrastructure, $11.6 billion more to be precise. But whilst the government has plans for new roads, airports and building programs, Australia’s digital upgrade has all but been put on hold. The government will cap it’s NBN investment to $29.5 billion, almost $10 billion less than Labor’s estimated costs. The budget confirmed that the government will seek out private investors for the remainder of the needed costs.
If you think the doctor can give you some relief from all this pain Hockey promised, you’re wrong. Those visiting a GP will now be required to pay a $7 co-payment.
All in all, it seems that when Hockey talks about a national building budget, he forgot to consider Australia’s young, sick and poor.