Joe Hockey may have been hoping that his spin about a "dull" budget would lull the public into a stupor, but the budget is anything but dull if you're a woman, a parent, pregnant, a student, a pensioner, on welfare, need legal aid or are unemployed.
The government faced significant, organised, public opposition to its 2014 budget measures, many of which failed to pass in the Senate. It was forced to back down on a number of policies, however it is under increasing economic pressure to get its neoliberal agenda through.
The government has dropped the Medicare co-payment and the plan to index pensions to CPI in this budget. Back with a vengeance, however, are plans to deregulate university fees and to cut 20% from Commonwealth Supported Places. The age threshold for Newstart Allowance has also been raised to 25.
The proposed changes to childcare rebates will introduce a workforce activity test for parents to qualify for the full rebate, which is an attack on sole parents (mostly women) and those on the dole.
Approximately half of new mothers will lose access to the full funding available under the existing paid parental scheme from July 2016. Women who have paid parental leave clauses in their enterprise agreements, are being accused of “double-dipping” — or at worst of “rorting” their legal entitlement.
The government’s proposed cuts to family tax benefits mean that benefits will cease once a child turns six - at present they cut out at age 16. The budget also fails to address the crisis in the supply of childcare places, but is proposing a “nanny” scheme!
There have been no increases in funding for legal assistance services in the budget, “despite unprecedented levels of demand”, according to The National Association of Community Legal Centres.
The subsidies to small businesses intended to “improve productivity” are targeting those least likely to employ people, according to The Australia Institute’s Richard Dennis.
The proposal to recover unpaid taxes by large multinational companies is a political sleight of hand — on paper it could claw back billions of dollars, but is more likely just spin from a government uncommitted to seriously addressing big corporate tax avoidance.
The environment was another big loser in this year’s budget. In answer to the Senate blocking the closure of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Authority these two bodies are now being starved out. The Climate Change Authority was the only body to receive “new” funding in this budget but this was to fund the completion of a review into whether Australia should have an emissions trading scheme as part of a deal to pass the government's Direct Action Emissions Reduction Fund!
The new Work for the Dole scheme requires that job seekers under the age of 30 complete 25 hours per week of work for the dole or another “approved activity” for six months each year. The 2014 proposal for a 6-month waiting time for unemployment benefits for young people leaving school has been abandoned in favour of a one-month waiting time. A month without any income won’t be a problem for young people needing new clothes to look for work, or to pay rent or pay for food and transport, will it?
While the government avoided the unpopular move of increasing the GST, it has been extended to imported “intangibles”, such as streamed movies. The government may have abandoned its attempt to index all pensions to inflation for now, but it has chosen to target the eligibility criteria, which will affect roughly 300,000 pensioners.
Tony Shepherd was the Chairperson of the Audit Commission — the body formed by Abbott soon after his election to develop a plan to slash and burn public spending. Shepherd is also former Chair of the Business Council of Australia. When interviewed on budget night, he told the ABC’s Lateline program: "I think it's a political budget. I think it's — it has gone a bit soft. There's no doubt at all about that; it's gone a little bit soft."
When asked if there was anything in the budget for big business, Shepherd's response was that the budget was "more of a status quo." He then added. "I think we expect all reform to come through the budget process, but, you know, I think reform is far wider than just the budget."
Shepherd is correct. The government is relying on its ability to push through other aspects of its 2014 budget agenda through administrative means, when legislative measures have failed, such as the freeze on the indexation of Medicare rebates announced on March 3 this year (which will “save” $1.3bn over 4 years) and through the Medicare Benefits Schedule Review, “charged with weeding out low-value, ineffective and overpriced procedures and tests”, which will report later this year.
The government also intends to use the outcomes of the Productivity Commission, Award Modernisation process, the Trade Union Royal Commission as well as legislation to amend the Fair Work laws, to further drive their attacks on working people.