Words || Gabrielle Edwards
The 2019 Australian Federal Budget was formally released on the 2nd April. This budget outlines estimated Government expenditure for the next four financial years, it predicts the future economic outlook for Australia and is a useful indicator of the Government’s social and political priorities. But the budget will only be passed if the Coalition is re-elected.
The Government describes their focus with this budget as “building a stronger economy and securing a better future for all Australians” to be achieved through creating jobs, lowering taxes and improving essential services such as schools, hospitals and transport. This has come with the Coalition declaring “we have finally fixed the budget”, with a predicted $7.1 million surplus expected next year, after a $4.2 billion deficit this financial year.
So with the upcoming election looming, let’s breakdown where our tax dollary doos are heading off to.
For us students, university funding will continue to increase from $17.7 billion this year to $20 billion by 2024. $93.7 million worth of scholarships over four years has been set aside for students who want to study at regional campuses or TAFE. Though, a focus has been set on vocational studies with a set $525 million skills package.
For those looking to start an apprenticeship, programs generating 80,000 opportunities have been designed to combat skill shortages and connect workers with industry. A $4,000 incentive will be provided to businesses to encourage them to hire apprentices in industries including baking, carpentry and plumbing. These apprentices will also receive $2,000 when they reach specific milestones in their career.
On another front, there has been no raise to newstart or youth allowances. Despite the national unemployment rate remaining at 4% and youth unemployment at 11% over the last year, newstart hasn’t been lifted for over 25 years. Social security payments are about to be fully automated with departments increasing data sharing to minimise overpayments to welfare recipients, expecting to save $2.1 billion over five years. The cashless welfare card has also been expanded to cover more than 35,000 people. Though, the Government remains firm that payments won’t be cut, just administered correctly.
The Government’s spending on recreation and culture for the next financial year is estimated to be $3.8 billion, less than one percent of government expenditure. This would include a measure for the Funding for Australian Film and Television Content and the National Broadcasters to contribute to producing and distributing Australian media. ABC and SBS are also receiving roughly $4 billion collectively over the next four years, an increase of $73.3 million from the previous budgets with regional news coverage being heavily promoted. Furthermore, $30.9 million has been committed to support the Australian music industry including a $2.25 million grant program supporting live music venues and a $2.1 million mentoring program for female musicians.
In a response to demands for prevention of climate change, the budget allocates $3.5 billion over 15 years for a Climate Solutions Package, delivering on Australia’s 2030 climate commitments. An additional $2 billion is assigned to build on Tony Abbott’s Emissions Reduction Fund to “expand investment in low-cost abatement”. Over four years, the Environment Restoration Fund will be established and assigned $100 million to protect endangered species, particularly those species affected by environmental issues impacting their habitats.
Regarding refugees and asylum seekers, the budget includes only $23 million for regional processing on Christmas island over the next two years. No money has been set aside for detention facilitates on Christmas island beyond July 2020, suggesting the government wishes to close down the detention centre and transform them into a “contingency setting”. Refugees will now also have to wait 12 months before accessing unemployment services, saving the Government $77 million over four years.
Further changes have also been proposed to minimise the amount of migrants entering the country, with a reduction in the annual migrant cap of 120,000 places over four years.
Cancer services have been dedicated $70.8 billion over the next seven years including $45.5 million for cancer treatment centres to be established in regional Australia. Out-of-pocket costs for scans such as ultrasounds and x-rays have been reduced, along with the costs for some medications. In particular, $32.6 million is dedicated to reduce the cost of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI scans), benefiting 14,000 breast cancer patients per year.
A grant program to improve the lives of those living with chronic disease will be funded for $17.2 million over five years. For medical research, a $5 billion ten-year investment plan has been promised with an additional $10 million funding for Lowitja Institute, supporting Indigenous health researchers
A $1.1 billion healthcare plan has promised to strengthen medicare and end a freeze on the rebate for GP visits in July, a year ahead of schedule, similarly promised by Labour. This allows for a decrease in out-of-pocket medical costs, meaning lower fees for visiting your GP. Therefore, bulk-billing GPs who agree to charge patients the Medicare schedule fee are reimbursed by the government with no additional cost to the patient. Additionally, the income threshold for paying the medicare levy will slightly raise. This would be a raise of $3,471 for a dependent student.
To address increasing mental health concerns amongst Australians, the budget has set aside $737 million to address these issues. Headspace in particular is slated to get $373 million over the next few years to build additional centres, reduce wait times and improve its youth services. $5.2 million has also been delegated in response to high rates of suicide within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The budget revealed a $1.6 billion underspend on the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) meaning spending in the next financial year will decrease by $3 billion, a $6.5 billion decrease over two years. Instead, $525 million funding for a Royal Commission to “examine violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of people with a disability” has been set, as promoted by the Greens. This would mark the most money a government has ever spent on a royal commission.
$100 billion has been dedicated to improving roads and rail over the next decade. This would include a $2 billion fast rail from Melbourne to Geelong being built, featuring the fastest train in Australia. An additional $7 billion has been assigned to fund NSW transport projects including the Western Sydney North South Rail Link, Elizabeth Drive Overpass and a new rail line between St Mary’s and Badgery’s Creek (Sydney’s new airport location). Greater car parking spaces at train stations are also intended to be built, requiring $500 million, in an attempt to take tens of thousands of cars off the road.
On Small Businesses
One of the most significant areas covered in the budget regards tax relief, with a total of $158 billion tax cuts in store for small businesses and low to middle-income earners in particular. Those earning between $48,000 and $90,000 will receive a tax offset of up to $1,080 at the end of the financial year. Small businesses earning less than $50 million have an immediate drop to 25.7% tax, and a future drop to 25% in 2021-2022. Additionally, the Government are setting aside $1 billion over four years for the Australian Tax Office to crack down on multinational tax avoidance, expecting to get a $3.6 billion return.
As the election is nearly upon us, learning the impact of these budget changes to you and fellow Australians is incredibly important. So please, continue your research and make an informed choice when voting!