The 2023/2024 Labor Budget forecasts a 4.2 billion dollar surplus and presents a diverse suite of measures influenced by the cost-of-living crisis, Australia’s defence and security capabilities, and issues with oth Medicare and the NDIS. The Budget also claims that inflation has now peaked and while elevated, is expected to fall to 31.4% per cent in 2023-24 and return to the target band in 2024-25.
Woroni attended the budget lockup to analyse issues of education, welfare, housing, climate and defence, and explore what this budget means for you.
UNIVERSITIES AND HIGHER EDUCATION
Overall, this budget continues the trend of previous years with limited direct investment in universities and little support for university students. The biggest investment in higher education in the Budget is the delivery of $128.5 million to fund 4,000 Commonwealth supported places in science, technology and engineering and mathematics and management courses to support the implementation of the Australia, United Kingdom and United States (AUKUS) nuclear submarine program. Of these places, 800 will be allocated to South Australian universities, whilst the remaining places will be allocated across the country via a competitive selection process. An additional $1.1 million over two years will be provided to the Department of Education to support the development and delivery of education, skills and training initiatives for the nuclear-powered submarine programs.
The Department of Education told Woroni it was unsure about scholarships but that they may continue to be considered by the Department of Defence, and that the criteria are a “work in progress” but the consideration of pre-existing related courses may be considered. It is unclear, but this may open up the ANU’s nuclear physics programs to Defence scholarships. Many student groups, including ANUSA, have recently criticised AUKUS and any scholarships it produces.
For international students, the government is granting two more years of post-study work rights and has reinstated but increased the work hour cap for international student visa holders to 48 hours per fortnight from 40 hours. Further, the government will invest $31.6 million over two years to trial enhanced training arrangements to support international medical students working in rural and remote locations.
The government has also provided $18.7 million over four years to extend and expand existing higher education student support programs. This includes $17.7 million in additional funding to the Higher Education Disability Support Program to enable providers to better support students with disabilities to access and succeed in higher education. This aims to help purchase equipment and modify teaching materials and delivery.
The Department of Education confirmed that this did not include requisite online delivery options, as many disabled students have called for, but that the funding will help provide “reasonable adjustments.”
The last investment in higher education was $36.9 million over five years provided to the Department of Education to optimise the Tertiary Collection of Student Information System which aims to improve the data quality, analytic support, and security of tertiary student loan records.
A notable absence in this year’s budget was a lack of additional measures for First Nations students in higher education despite the government’s claim that, “initiatives that support better educational outcomes for First Nations people, is a key priority under the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.”
More reforms are likely in June and later this year when the government reveals the outcome of the Universities Accord. However, for now, the Jobs Ready Graduate Package remains untouched.
The government claims that a combination of health measures will all contribute to a patient-centred and sustainable healthcare system. This includes reform of bulk-billing, the NDIS, medication distribution by pharmacies, an investment in mental health, and the release of a 10-year National Action Plan for LGBTQIA+ health and wellbeing.
The government will provide $5.7 billion over 5 years as an initial investment to provide better access and more affordable care for patients. The aim of this investment is to improve the quality and accessibility of multidisciplinary primary care, modernise Australia’s digital health records, improve the financial sustainability of general practices, ease pressure on hospitals, and grow and up-skill Australia’s health workforce.
Over five years, $3.5 billion will be invested to address the decline in general practitioners’ bulk billing of patients on low incomes, and children. This funding will triple the bulk-billing incentive benefits for consultations for Commonwealth concession card holders and patients aged under 16 years of age. It also expands bulk-billing for telehealth sessions.
$25.4 million will establish a homelessness support program and $15.3 million will help create a PHN Multicultural access program, both with the aim of increase access to primary care services. $492 million over two years will assist in modernising My Health Record by creating a National Repository platform to allow for more secure data sharing of pathology and diagnostic information.
Given the extremely low rate of bulk-billing across the ACT it is unclear how long it will take for these incentives to be implemented in GP clinics, or the number of GP clinics that will take up the option to bulk-bill. It is also unclear if access to specialised healthcare – a dire situation in Canberra – will improve.
The government will provide $556.2 million over 5 years to strengthen Australia’s mental health and suicide prevention system. Students have some of the worst mental health outcomes in the country, so this may provide much-needed assistance.
The government will provide:
- $260.2 million to extend Commonwealth Psychosocial supports for people with severe mental illness who are not in the National Disability Insurance Scheme;
- $91.3 million over 5 years for additional psychology placements, including 500 post-graduate placements, 500 one-year internships, and 2,000 supervisor training sessions as well as a redesign of the psychology higher education pathway;
- $8.7 million for the continuation of current digital mental health services and to maintain the Head-to-Health website; and
- $6.9 million over two years to continue child and youth mental health supports, including supporting digital work, study and student mentoring.
10-year National Action Plan for LGBTIQA+ Health and Wellbeing
The government will also provide $900,000 over two years to develop a 10-year National Action Plan to support the health and wellbeing of the LGBTQIA+ community and establish a LGBTIQA+ Health Advisory Group. This will help improve the health outcomes of, and address the health disparities experienced by, LGBTQIA+ Australians.
New reforms will mean that the cost of medication will halve for over 6 million Australians with prescriptions for 300 common Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS) medicines. This will save patients an estimated $1.6 billion over 4 years. National Immunisation Program Vaccines will also be available through pharmacies at no cost to patients.
The list of PBS medications eligible in the scheme will be released shortly.
Bill Shorten, the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, has announced $732.9 million to improve the effectiveness and sustainability of the NDIS. This aims to uplift the capability, capacity, and systems to better support participants. Key parts include the implementation of a lifetime approach to plans, strengthening the support for independent living, increasing support for individual management of plans, and better transparency and flexibility.
COST OF LIVING
Housing + Renting
The government has introduced a number of methods in regard to renting or housing, including expanding the eligibility of the Home Guarantee Scheme to allow any 2 eligible people to be joint applicants for a guarantee beyond spouses and de facto partners. The government has also announced it will provide $2.7 billion over 5 years to increase the maximum rates of the Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) allowances by 15 per cent to help address rental affordability challenges.
The government will also provide $2.7 million for the delivery of priority housing measures. It aims to support measures that save on household energy bills including a $3 billion investment into electricity bill relief to households and small businesses.
Protesters across the ANU yesterday called for housing reforms, arguing that affordable housing was a human right. It is yet to be seen if Labor’s housing reforms are sufficient to address the ongoing housing crisis. Some have criticised the Housing Future Fund as insufficient and a means to make profits while providing inadequate housing.
The base rate of Youth Allowance, Parenting Payment, Austudy, ABSTUDY, Disability Support Pension (Youth), JobSeeker and Special Benefits will all increase by $40 per fortnight. This is far below the longstanding claim of the National Union of Students and other advocacy groups that the government should raise JobSeeker by $88 a day, and doesn’t even meet the recommendation of Labor’s own advisory committee.
The government has also supported a wage increase for Australian low-paid workers with the Fair Work Commission decision giving rise to a minimum $40 per week increase for full-time workers on the national minimum and award wages.
No changes were made to the minimum wage for part-time and casual workers. However, the Treasury claims that they do not want to see wages go backwards and that the current wage growth is the strongest in 10 years. For now, this leaves out a majority of university students who do work part-time or casual.
The government has announced a $40 billion ambition to make Australia a renewable energy superpower. Labor asserts that all Australians will have “an opportunity to benefit from economic opportunities presented by this net zero transformation.” Investments included $23 billion to growing and modernising our electricity grid and $17 billion committed to capturing opportunities in hydrogen, critical minerals, upstream industries and realising the low emissions industry growth opportunities in our regions.
The Hydrogen Headstart program and Murray-Darling Basin Authority will receive $2 billion and $103.7 million respectively. This will assist to update science to enable the Basin to adapt to the impacts of climate change and provide support for the investment in renewable hydrogen production.
The Treasurer Jim Chalmers did not mention the Stage 3 tax cuts once in his speech, a policy that will cost Australians $243 billion. For this much money, university could be free for everyone, or the government could triple spending on infrastructure, or raise JobSeeker to a sustainable level.
Labor claims this budget will not increase inflation, which is likely to prove true because corporate profits are the main driver of current inflation, not consumption.
While cost-of-living received more support than seen in previous Coalition government budgets, the measures are below what many experts have called for. It remains to be seen how effective they will be.
Students can expect some changes to university funding later this year in the Universities Accord.
We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and emerging. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.