OPINION PIECE: This Budget is every bit as bad as last year - maybe worse, Thursday 21 May 2015

 

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THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY


THIS BUDGET IS EVERY BIT AS BAD AS LAST YEAR - MAYBE WORSE

I was in beautiful warm Darwin this week, talking about the announcements Labor recently made about teaching coding, the digital literacy of the 21st Century, to our kids.

The parents I was talking to were excited about the way we’re proposing to prepare Australian kids for the jobs of the future.

But then someone said something that floored me: “you must be really pleased,” he said, “that you’ve won the fight with the Abbott Government, and they’ve dumped all that unfair stuff from last year’s Budget.”

I wish!

The talk this week about the 2015 Budget being softer than the 2014 Budget misses one important point: nearly all the cruel cuts and broken promises of last year are still there.

Still in the 2015 Budget are measures that will leave an average family $6000 worse off; $80 billion in cuts to schools and hospitals; $100,000 uni degrees; a $5 increase to the costs of medicines; cuts to the ABC and SBS; cuts to Community Legal Services; cuts to homelessness and domestic violence programs - and so many more.

There are only two things that were proposed last year that have actually been reversed by the Government in this Budget.  The first is the change to the indexation rate of pensions. The Government has finally accepted that Labor will keep blocking these cuts to pensions. They’ve tried to pass them through the Parliament, but so far we’ve stopped them. That means the plan to make pensioners $80 a week worse off has been shelved – for now.

But the Government gives with one hand and takes away with the other.  Pensioners still face an increase in the retirement age to 70, and Tony Abbott has stood by his $1.3 billion cut to pensioner concessions; funding for aged care has been slashed by $100 million, including a $20 million cut to dementia initiatives, building on the axing of the $16 a day dementia supplement in 2014.  The Government is also still planning to cut the $900 a year seniors supplement.

The same goes for health care. The second thing Labor has managed to block is the GP tax: the $7 co-payment you would have paid when going to see the doctor.  Instead, the Government is freezing Medicare benefits for 4 years.  That’s a 4 year pay freeze to doctors’ salaries – unless they start to charge their patients.  The Australian Medical Association says doctors may be forced to add an $8 charge to whatever you’re paying to see the doctor now.  That is, a GP co-payment by stealth.

And the hospital cuts, preventive health cuts, and cuts to Medicare Locals in last year’s Budget have been added to this Budget with $500 million cut from programs for drug and alcohol abuse treatment, sexual health, and another huge cut to dental services – this time kids' dental and veterans' dental.

The 2015 Budget is not kinder than the 2014 Budget, because most of the same old cuts from last year are still there, plus more.

The $3.5 billion extra childcare funding follows the Liberals cutting $1 billion after coming to Government.  And the Government says there will only be extra money if they can cut $5.5 billion from Family Tax Benefit and $1 billion from Paid Parental Leave.

There is a tax cut for small business – Labor proposed a similar tax cut in 2012 for all businesses, something which the Liberals, including Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey, voted against.

The small business instant asset write off that Joe Hockey spruiked on Budget night is pretty much the same in design as the Labor scheme that Joe got rid of last year.

And as we all know, the Abbott Government has been saying since they came to office that Australia has a debt and deficit emergency.

But the 2015 Abbott Budget doubles the deficit from just 12 months ago.  And debt for next year is up $40 billion since last year’s Budget. There are 17 new taxes and charges, and tax as a share of our economy has not been higher since the Howard years. Unemployment reaches a 14 year high, and stays there longer than the Government was predicting just last year.  On most economic measures that the Government says count, this Budget is worse than Australia faced during the height of the Global Financial Crisis. Debt is up, the deficit is up, taxes are up, unemployment is up and growth is slower than it should be.  While the rest of the world is recovering from the Global Financial Crisis, Australia is going backwards.

So sure, I’m happy that for the moment we’ve managed to block the pension cuts and the GP tax, and we'll keep fighting against $100,000 degrees.

But when you read the fine print, this Budget is every bit as bad as last year.  Maybe worse.

This article was originally published in MAMAMIA