Following the delivery of the Federal Budget on March 23, the Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, responded to the with Labor’s Budget Reply two days following, focusing on improving aged care, making childcare affordable, and strengthening Medicare. Echoing the Government’s budget, however, was the lack of specific announcements for students and universities.
Several large spending initiatives were announced, with the largest being a 2.5 billion dollar investment in aged care, including mandated wage increases and funding the presence of a registered nurse at care facilities. In the area of scientific entrepreneurship, like in last year’s Budget in Reply, the Labor party promised to establish a National Reconstruction Fund, with the goal of commercialising entrepreneurship and producing more goods in Australia.
Infrastructure priorities included investment in road and rail, as well as specific mention of high-speed broadband. Although a promise of “more university places” was cited, no specific announcements were made as to how this would be achieved or funded. More broadly within education, Labor committed to funding 465,000 fee-free TAFE places, and the creation of the Jobs and Skills Australia body.
In response to the cost of living measures announced in the Coalition budget, the Opposition Leader criticised “one-off handouts” he claimed “had all the sincerity of a fake tan.” The Opposition did not announce any specific policies on cost of living relief in their reply, despite highlighting stagnant wage growth and economic challenges caused by the pandemic.
In contrast to the government, the Opposition also committed to the establishment of a National Anti-Corruption Commission, as well as restating the desire to implement all recommendations contained in the Jenkins Respect@Work report. Additionally, Labor continued their policy of releasing a Women’s Budget Statement, a report detailing the gendered impacts of policies contained in the budget and budget in reply.
The Opposition Leader touched lightly on the issues around the environment and disaster relief for Australians in the reply. A major point being the “Powering Australia Plan”, aiming to invest in “cheap, renewable energy” and creating “604,000 new jobs by 2030” through building new infrastructure using renewable energy.
The Opposition proposes to transform the country into a “renewable energy superpower” and become more “self-reliant by revitalising Australian manufacturing and power that manufacturing with Australian made renewable energy.” No other proposals on climate action were presented, however it was hinted that the Labor Party would take onboard advice for better climate action.
In response to the impacts of the natural disasters that have affected Australians, the Opposition proposed a Disaster Ready Fund; a plan to mitigate the impact of natural disasters by investing up to $200 million per year on disaster prevention and resilience.
In the lead up to the Budget in Reply, NUS Education Officer Luc Pelez commented that the reply will most likely “not be the ambitious reply that we have been pushing for, but it might be better.” Luc hoped that the budget reply would have “movement for the issues facing students” and more broadly desired for students to be more recognised in the reply.
In addition to the Budget in Reply, Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers has proposed his intention for a second budget in 2022 if the Labor Party is elected to “correct” the Liberal Party’s 2022 budget. The Opposition Leader has hinted that it will target “rebuilding communities impacted by flood and fire, the costs of living pressures, and make public health and family budgets more secure and resilient.”
Albanese’s budget reply speech demonstrates Labor’s focus on education, childcare, renewable energy and infrastructure. If the Labor Party is elected, stay tuned for a second budget later in the year.
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