1. The higher education sector will experience cuts
There were no surprises in the 2017 Federal Budget when it came to higher education funding, with the Coalition Government having already released their Higher Education Reform Package the week prior to budget night. $2.8 billion will be cut from higher education funding and students are being asked to pay more for their degrees, with a 7.5 per cent increase in fees by 2021. In addition, students will have to start paying back their HECS debt when they are earning $42,000, rather than $55,000. However, Commonwealth Supported Places will be introduced for other university sub-bachelor programs such as diplomas, advanced diplomas and associated degree courses.
2. The government is tackling the housing crisis
After ongoing debate early this year, the government has announced that first-home buyers will indeed have the option of sacrificing part of their superannuation in order to buy a house, from 1 July 2018. The government has titled this ‘The First Home Super Savers Scheme’. Those taking advantage of the scheme will be limited to use $15,000 a year and $30,000 in total from their superannuation. Many have criticised the Coalition Government’s refusal to touch negative gearing.
3. Regional mental health services will be getting more funding
The government claims it will use $9.1 million to improve access to mental health services in regional, rural and remote areas over the next four years. They will do this via telehealth, which refers to using information and communication technologies to overcome a patient’s distance. $15 million will also be provided to support mental health research programs.
In addition, Lifeline will be able to strengthen its suicide prevention services with a further $2.1 million increase in funding.
4. The Medicare freeze is thawing
The freeze on the indexation of the Medicare Benefits Schedule will be lifted. This means that a range of health services, including those accessed by university students, will continue to be subsidised by the government. They government will also be reintroducing bulk billing for diagnostic imaging and pathology services. There will be a 0.5 per cent increase on the Medicare levy for those who earn over $20,000.
5. Centrelink will be drug testing some welfare recipients
Beginning on 1 January next year, people who claim Centrelink payments, including students on Youth Allowance, may be drug tested. Those who test positive for drug use, including marijuana, will be given a welfare card that limits their payments for up to two years. 5,000 people per year will be randomly drug tested in three undetermined locations around Australia. Those selected will not be informed that they are taking a drug test. Centrelink with send them a letter requesting a compulsory meeting.
Results will be drawn from saliva, urine and hair follicle tests. If a person tests positive twice, they will be referred to a medical professional.
6. A new demerit system could leave some without welfare
Centrelink will also introduce a demerit point system for all payments. People receiving payments will begin with no points on their ‘Personal Responsibility Phase’ log, a system similar to a drivers license demerit point scheme. Points will be accumulated if a person misses a Centrelink meeting or interview without providing a satisfactory excuse, along with other requirements.
If four demerit points are accumulated in six months, a person enters a three strike ‘Intense Compliance Phase’. One strike equals a 50 per cent reduction of fortnightly payments, two strikes equals 100 per cent of fortnightly payments taken away for that fortnight, and a third strike cancels payments for one month.
This will save the government $632 million over five years.
7. Climate change didn’t get a mention
Environmentalists and scientists have expressed concerns over the Budget’s lack of action on climate change. The National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, which received $50 million in 2008 and $9 million in 2014, was given only $600 000 to share with CSIRO. From 2018, funding for the facility will cease. The Government did devote $30 million to research on the impacts of fracking, and an equity investment of up to $110 million for a solar thermal project in Port Augusta. The Government has not mentioned providing any funds for improving the water quality of the Great Barrier Reef.
8. The government is still obsessed with the plebiscite
The same-sex marriage plebiscite is still on the Government’s agenda. The Coalition will set aside $170 million for the plebiscite “as soon as the necessary legislation is enacted by the Parliament”.
The Coalition is standing firm on their stance that the only way Australia will see same-sex marriage enacted is through a plebiscite, a proposal which was swiftly knocked back by the Senate last year.