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Well I suppose it is incumbent upon me as the author here at a blog that is mostly about Australian politics to say something about last night’s budget. Up front I have to say that I have not read the original document or even watched the speech on the TV. I had other priorities last night. So instead I am going to respond to the summary written by the Guardian with what I think about the specifics enunciated there.
As leaked, it hits around 400,000 high-income earners with a three-year $3.1bn deficit levy and reaps a further $2.2bn by increasing petrol taxes in line with inflation.
The former will undoubtedly upset my more “economically dry” friends but I doubt that they will notice it beyond its existence as a line item from their accountants, most will not even notice unless they are obsessive about the amount of tax they pay. A rise in the tax on petrol will undoubtedly be noticed initially but soon forgotten by most people simply because the price of fuel has become so volatile anyway. Up here it jumped by nearly 20 cents a litre at Easter so I think this will soon become part of the economic background noise in our lives.
But the budget-night surprise was that much of the cash raised from cuts to benefits and tax rises is spent on the Coalition’s own priorities rather than on improving the budget bottom line, including a new $20bn medical research fund – to become the biggest in the world within six years – the Direct Action greenhouse emissions reduction fund and about $5bn in new roads funding.
Why that should surprise anyone is beyond me, Even in tough times a government wants to be seen to be capable of economic multitasking. That said who could complain about more money for medical research? Readers will recall that I would personally ditch, in its entirety, the Direct Action climate policy but in the absence of heeding my advice lets hope that there is the sort of secondary benefits from the spending that I have previously postulated, although I do remain sceptical that the scheme will deliver much for the nation.As a confirmed petrol head I welcome improvements to the road network and I also welcome the economic stimulus that the expenditure will bring.
Although the treasurer, Joe Hockey, said the aim of the pain was “budget repair” – a national effort in which Australians “fix the budget together” – he is not promising a surplus in the four years of the forward estimates, with a deficit of $2.8bn forecast for 2017-18: unemployment remains at 6% or higher for the next three, growth is almost unchanged and business investment is weakening.
Lets be thankful for that! I don’t think that I am alone in hoping that we never again see the false hope of a quick return to surplus trotted out in every one of Wayne Swan’s budgets .
Hockey conceded the government “could have gone harder” in paying down deficits, but said “it would have detracted from growth”.
Well we all know that its a balancing act between the need to pay down debt and not kill the economy in the process.
He denied his budget was the start of an “age of austerity”, saying he was in fact ushering in a new “age of opportunity”.
No surprise in trying to change the way that the budget will be perceived.
But for unemployed people under 30, this “age of opportunity” means waiting six months to get the dole, then receiving a payment only for six months and only if they work for it, and then losing the payment again for the next six months, during which a potential employers may get a wage subsidy.
Well this is a great deal tougher than I expected and I can see some individuals could very well suffer severe hardship under such a regime. On the other hand it will clearly incentivise those in this demographic to both accept any work that they can get and to try harder to please their employers to avoid losing their jobs in the first place. I can’t see how it could work in remote indigenous communities that have bugger all jobs though.
For sick people it means paying $7 for every visit to the doctor and every medical test – $5 of which will be invested in a new “medical research future fund” and $2 will be kept by the doctor or test provider, in part to help them waive the payment in cases of “genuine need”. The co-payment will stop after 10 medical payments for concession holders and children. The co-payment for medicines will also increase by $5.
Which means that those sick with concession cards will mostly still be able to see a doctor for free as they do now but I am less than impressed by the increase in co-payment for prescriptions which will almost double with the $5 increase. No more coffee shop stop for me when I get my drugs then 😦
Hockey said the aim of the health changes was to “get the nation to invest in its own healthcare … and for people to accept personal responsibility for their own physical health.”
Most of us do this anyway
For students the new era means paying back a greater proportion of the cost of a degree, and this cost potentially rising as the higher education sector is deregulated – although government loans will be available for a wider range of courses.
I have repeatedly argued that tertiary education is rather over rated and if it is going to cost those who benefit from it more than they will certainly chose their courses with greater care and a consideration of its benefit to their future career. The important thing to keep in mind though is the generous and universal loans scheme means that greater costs will not restrict anyone from doing the course of their dreams no matter what their background may be.
For single-income families it means losing up to $73 per week a child in family tax benefit B payments once the bread winner earns more than $100,000 (rather than the current $150,000) and losing the payment when the youngest child turns six, rather than 18.
Who could object to cutting this? Anyone on 100K a year does not need this kind of benefit at all.
And government payments including family tax benefit, Medicare rebates and private health insurance rebates will be frozen, as will eligibility thresholds for receiving them – instead of rising in line with inflation – an idea Tony Abbott derided as “class warfare” when it was tentatively tried by the former Labor government.
Likewise a reasonable move.
Many disability pensioners under 35 will be “reassessed” and those with “some work capacity” forced to seek employment.
As I have suggested elsewhere this is a largely symbolic matter and that the vast majority of those DSP recipients who will be re-accessed will in fact found to still be compliant with the eligibility criteria which are pretty hard to meet anyway. As for work well it has to be there and suitable for the disabled and I have my doubts that many in this cohort will be able to find work.
But clearly hesitant to break an election promise that no changes would be made to the pension, the government has delayed paring back aged pensions until after the next federal poll.
What the government takes to the next poll will be judged by the people.
It is then proposing major changes – linking pension increases to inflation rather than average earnings, which will see their buying power decline over time compared with current arrangements, freezing the threshold for assets and income a pensioner can hold even though their value will rise over time, reducing the amount a pensioner can earn from their assets.
It seems to me that this is a reasonable change that brings the aged pension into line with the indexation of other government benefits. As for changes to the assets valuation well I’m undecided on that one.
The pension age will rise to 70 by 2035, but addressing criticism that older people often find it hard to get a job the government is offering a new wage subsidy to employers taking on a worker over 50 who has been unemployed for more than six months.
The subsidy will undoubtedly be welcomed by both small business and older job seekers and is to may mind far more significant than a raising of the pension age in twenty years time.
As I predicted in my last post this budget is not the horror that the pundits were suggesting it would be. Its certainly not perfect in every aspect and only time will tell if the assumptions and expectations that are at its heart will be correct. However one thing we can be sure of is that it has to be better than any of the flights of fantasy delivered by Wayne Swan that were inevitably entirely made of tat hope and bullshit. All big picture instruments like the federal budget are going to be like the curates egg “good in parts” and at this one will be no exception there certainly are some parts that are a bit off smelling but on the whole its seems to be quite reasonable given the mess that we inherited from Labor.