The federal budget delivered by Treasurer Jim Chalmers on May 9 has been billed as a “cost of living” budget. Yet the paltry relief handed out to those living on welfare is overshadowed by cuts to vital services — notably the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and a failure to raise Medicare rebates across the board.
Chalmers said the budget “provides cost-of-living relief that is responsible and affordable and prioritises those most in need”. There are some modest additional payments for those on welfare (amounting to less than $3 a day in most cases) and the Parenting Payment to single parents has been extended until their youngest child turns 14.
But its $14.6 billion cost-of-living plan is dwarfed by the $74.3 billion it will rip from NDIS over the next 10 years.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on April 27 that the government would restrict the annual growth of NDIS to 8% by 2026, down from the current 14% per year.
At the time, Albanese estimated that the “reboot” would save the federal budget $50 billion over 10 years. He failed to explain how the cuts to NDIS funding growth would be achieved.
The announcement also seems to cut across guarantees offered by minister in charge Bill Shorten. Shorten told the National Press Club on April 18: “The NDIS has literally changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Australians … and it saved a disability system from collapse. The truth is that NDIS is the difference between a life and a living death for many vulnerable Australians.”
Labor’s attitude to NDIS has rapidly hardened and its cutting blades have been sharpened. Between Albanese’s “reboot” announcement and the budget, the amount Labor intends to “save” in NDIS funding has grown from $50 billion in 10 years to more than $74 billion — an additional cut of almost 50% in just 12 days!
Labor’s threat to slash-and-burn NDIS funding gives the lie to Chalmers’ claim that the budget would offer “more help for some of the most vulnerable in our community”.
Exactly how Labor intends to “save” $74 billion over 10 years in NDIS funding was not spelt out in the budget papers. But there is speculation that eligibility for NDIS funding will be significantly restricted.
Exactly what people — or which disabilities — will no longer be eligible is unclear.
However The Australian, together with former Coalition NDIS Minister Linda Reynolds, are running a concerted attack on neurodiverse people, arguing that too many children with autism are being allowed to enter (and remain) on the scheme.
They want the abandoned “independent assessments” gimmick to be revived to restrict NDIS access and reduce the size of NDIS plans.
The decision to cut more than $74 billion from NDIS over the next 10 years also makes a mockery of Labor’s much-vaunted NDIS Review, headed by Professor Bruce Bonyhady (inaugural Chair of the National Disability Insurance Agency) and Lisa Paul. The Review is not expected to report its findings in September.
“The community have been blindsided by this decision,” Australian Greens disability spokesperson Jordon Steele-John said on May 10. He said people expected more from Labor “which promised to co-design decisions with the disability community”. He said Labor had broken a commitment “to co-design” the NDIS and “has pre-empted the findings of the NDIS review”.
Medicare: no longer universal
Chalmers said on budget night that “one of the things that makes this the best country in the world is our shared belief that every Australian should be able to access affordable, reliable healthcare”.
But bulk billing rates for GPs (where the patient pays no gap for a consultation) are plummeting. Estimates are that less than half (42.7%) of GP visits are now bulk billed, with the average out-of-pocket cost of a standard consultation being $40.25.
Labor’s response is to commit $3.5 billion to increase financial incentives for GPs to bulk bill: but only for children or those with a concession card.
For the majority of patients, rebates will not increase in real terms. Already, a significant number of GPs are saying that the incentives on offer are too little to encourage them to return to bulk billing, even for children.
Ten years ago, 82.4% of GP visits were bulk billed. Nine years of the Coalition reduced bulk billing rates by almost half. Labor’s tinkering will not restore universal access: it may simply slow the decline at best.
Submarines and gas exports
Labor will raise military spending from 2.04% to 2.3% of gross domestic product over the next 10 years as part of its commitment to the US strategy to militarily encircle China.
While it offered only $14.6 billion for cost-of-living relief, the government will spend $19 billion on AUKUS submarines, long-range missiles and other weapons over the next 10 years. An additional $30.5 billion has been confirmed for the five years between 2027–28 and 2032–33.
At the same time as it spends big on the military, Labor is refusing to force resource companies to pay their fair share of tax.
Canberra has sought to only marginally increase the tax charged on oil and gas companies’ super profits (the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax – PRRT) with gas exports, which is ballooning in response to the war in Ukraine. However, the increased tax take is only expected to be $2.4 billion over five years.
At the same time, profits for Woodside Petroleum (responsible for the Scarborough gas field off the coast of Western Australia), just one of the major gas exporters helping cook the planet, increased by a massive 228% in just one year between 2021 and 2022 to $9.6 billion!
While it promises relief and opportunity, Labor’s budget primarily delivers for the very big end of town at the expense of those living with disability, in particular.
The big pay-off for the wealthy will come next year, when the Stage 3 tax cuts drop. However, in the meantime, they may enjoy the fruits of their inflated dividends: largely untaxed.
[Graham Matthews is a member of the Socialist Alliance.]