Labor’s first budget presents a conservative suite of measures heavily influenced by the pressures of inflation and the global threat of recession – with very little offered to university students.
Woroni entered the budget lockup to bring you analysis, from spending on education to housing and climate change, on what this budget means for you.
Universities and Higher Education
Overall, the budget continues the trend of previous years with limited direct investment for universities. The implementation of fee-free TAFE places, costing $1 billion, and restriction of employment schemes to vocational education, prioritises TAFE spending over university spending.
The Labor government has preserved the previous changes employed in the Job Ready Graduates Scheme, including the removals of HECS-HELP loans for students failing 50 percent of courses, and changed funding brackets for subjects.
Students will no longer benefit from paying their university fees upfront, as the government cuts the 10 percent discount offered on upfront payment of HECS-HELP loans. This measure saves $144.1 million.
Labor’s election policy of funding 20,000 additional university places for low-SES, rural and regional, first-in-family, students with a disability, and First Nations students is actualised in the budget, at a cost of $485.5 million. These places will be available in “areas of skill shortage,” such as education, nursing and engineering.
Bursaries of up to $40,000 will be offered to First Nations students and students who achieve an ATAR above 80 who elect to study teaching, in an aim to encourage high-achievers to enter the education sector.
The previously announced Australian Universities Accord, which aims to bring stakeholders together to solve structural issues in the sector, has been allocated $2.7 million in funding. Budget papers identify this Accord as “a panel of eminent Australians” of the university sector.
The new Startup Year project will offer Two thousand income-contingent loans to final-year undergraduates and postgraduate students each year, to allow for participation in one-year start-up entrepreneurship programs. This measure is set to begin in July 2023, and remains in the consultation stage, with little details of specific offerings. It will cost $15.4 million.
The Treasury confirmed to Woroni that the government’s plan to make one in ten jobs on major federally funded projects an apprentice, trainee, or paid cadet will exclude university students.
Sexual Assault and Harassment
After the publishing of the Respect@Work report the government has announced $83.5 million to provide “evidence-based, age-appropriate respectful relationships education” in Australian schools.
While the funding is universally available, the program is not mandatory, and schools are not obliged to offer the education. This measure does not encompass consent education at a university level.
As part of a suite of announcements for the prevention of violence against women and children, the government has increased funding for family, domestic, and sexual violence services for temporary visa holders by $12.6 million. Importantly, this measure extends to international students in Australia.
The Australian Human Rights Commission received $10.5 million to implement recommendations of the Respect@Work report, including $2.6 million to implement a disclosure process for historic incidents of sexual assault. This measure specifically identifies the provision of support to victim-survivors and identification of potential systemic reform.
Office for Youth
The government has committed $10.5 million to the establishment of an Office for Youth. Alongside the creation of this Office, funding has been allocated to the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition (AYAC), the peak advocacy body for young people, for the creation of five youth advisory groups, and consultation with young people. This policy aims “to enable Young Australians to influence the policies and programs that affect them.”
Housing and Social Services
One of the largest announcements in the budget was the Housing Accord, an agreement between federal and state governments and industry to construct one million affordable homes.
The Accord highlighted issues with the current rental market, identifying that only 0.9 percent of national rental properties are currently vacant – a reality students face every year when attempting to find housing in an increasingly competitive market.
However, the Accord has little to offer students – it fully funds just 20,000 of the promised houses, and partially funds a further 30,000 – with no policies for the rental market.
The increase in affordable housing available may have the flow-on effect of freeing up rental availability, but this remains to be seen in a scheme that only begins in 2024.
Requests by student groups such as the National Union of Students for the expansion of Youth Allowance to those under 22, a change in the test of independence, and an increase in the rate itself, were ignored, with no changes to the program.
Mental health spending has once again not targeted university students, with major announcements limited to:
– $200 million in mental health and wellbeing services for school-aged students to overcome the effects of the pandemic.
– $15.1 million to provide small business owners with six fully-funded telehealth sessions with Beyond Blue. Recipients of these sessions do not need a referral from a GP or a Mental Health Care Plan.
– $23.5 million for Headspace, with three new in-person centres in NSW and Victoria, and two new satellite centres in remote NSW and Queensland.
– $13 million in mental health services for flood-affected areas.
The funding for Headspace is the only youth-specific mental health measures announced in the budget.
There was no mention of an extension of the current COVID-19 Mental Health Care Plan sessions, which entitle patients to access 20 sessions instead of the previously offered 10. This scheme is set to expire on 31 December this year, with extension subject to further government consideration.
The election promise of 50 urgent care centres comes at a cost of $235 million. These centres will offer care to patients with urgent health care concerns at no cost out-of-pocket, increasing access to bulk-billed health services. It is unclear how many of these will be in Canberra.
The $560 million for community sector organisations was broken down into the following areas:
Large allocations to social services and Indigenous Australians may include organisations that service students. Education organisations, however, were allocated only 1 percent of the communal pool.
The budget featured large spending announcements on the climate, with $20 billion spent on “rewiring the nation” to expand the electricity grid and integratie renewable technologies and storage capacity. Other large spends included $1.9 billion on decarbonising regional industries and increasing relevant training and jobs, and $345 million dedicated to tax cuts for electric vehicles.
In a win for students in rentals, $102.2 million was committed to the creation of community solar banks targeted at Australians living in apartment, rentals, and households unable to access rooftop solar. A further $224.3 million was committed to the deployment of 400 community batteries for other households.
This budget was also the first since the Abbott government to include analysis specifying the fiscal risks of, and spending on, climate change in the budget.
Alongside the budget, the Labor government this week joined the US commitment to cutting methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030, a move the Liberals described as a “tax on cows.”
In his budget speech, the Treasurer acknowledged that real wage growth was unlikely to restart until 2024. This means that even if wages are growing, the moderating force of inflation means the average paycheck is worth the same or less, until 2024.
The budget includes creating APS Hubs in Darwin, Newcastle, Launceston and Townsville, with the aim of offering APS internships and graduate positions in regional areas. These internships may be undertaken by vocational education and university students.
The National Work Experience Program, and the Youth Jobs PaTH internships have been axed.
Treasurer Jim Chalmer’s speech emphasised the need to invest in Australia’s future as we face inevitable economic downturns. The investments touted focus on solutions over the next three to four years. It remains to be seen if, as Labor establishes its governance and the Universities Accord comes to fruition, the government will move to invest in one of the largest components of Australia’s future: university students.
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