ADELAIDE — The state Liberal government's first formal budget on August 25 continues the strategy of generating savings through public sector job cuts and reforms previously outlined in May by the Audit Commission.
The budget papers, however, are short on specifics. The language of reform and targeted savings hides a severe erosion of basic living standards for many people.
The centrepiece, $150 million for economic development, contains little more than subsidies for big business and is funded through direct cuts to service sectors such as education and health.
Premier Dean Brown announced that $50 million would be added to the economic development grant specifically aimed at job creation. Again, most of this goes to business as handouts.
The budget papers boast that the shedding of jobs is now "on target". A further 10,500 positions will be shed from the public service by 1999.
Talk of privatisation and cutbacks in government areas has driven some workers to take targeted separation packages. However, the state government is now talking of direct sackings.
Health has its budget cut by $35 million. According to the Australian Nursing Federation, this represents a reduction from 57.8% of total budget outlays in 1992-93 to 49% in this financial year. Up to 1000 staff will go over the next three years.
Hospitals that manage to return patients to the community within a limited time will be rewarded with more cash. However, at the same time, the Royal District Nursing Service and Domiciliary Care are to be restructured to achieve further savings. These are the services that require increases if early discharge is to be implemented effectively. Waiting times for these services can already be several weeks, and people requiring home assistance can wait up to 12 months.
Further savings are being made from the pockets of country pensioners, who will no longer receive free ambulance services. Dental cover for the majority of secondary students will now attract a charge.
The South Australian Institute of Teachers (SAIT) was "bitterly disappointed at the disregard for education". Class sizes at all levels of schooling will increase; another 40 schools will be closed and 422 teachers retrenched in a $22 million funding cut.
SAIT says these changes will mean:
- classes up to 35 in primary and lower secondary school;
- reduced subject choices;
- less attention for individual students;
- increased behavioural management problems.
As many as 20,000 primary and secondary students will lose public transport concessions (as well as school fee subsidies). Some groups which have previously qualified automatically, such as Aboriginal families, will now be means-tested.
It has also been revealed that the government is considering increasing public transport fares and has not ruled out distance-based fares.
While slashing public transport, the budget allocates over $292 million for major road works and highways.
Women representatives from the trade union and community sector met and concluded that the budget demonstrated little appreciation of women's needs. Women still generally take primary responsibility for family care and are also the majority of workers in the service sector.
Almost $1.5 million has been cut from the performing arts budget, and money is being channelled from performers and performances and toward buildings. The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance sees these measures as costing technicians and performers their jobs.
The police get an extra $20 million, which will be spent putting 100 more police on the road. Some prisons will be expanded to cater for the estimated 40% growth in the prison population by the year 2000.
While the budget has been widely condemned by trade union leaders and the South Australian Council of Social Services, it was applauded by the South Australian Employers Chamber.
The executive director of SACOSS called it "a corporate welfare budget which lacks a coherent social justice strategy and has adopted a rather simplistic cost cutting approach".
Campaigns are being organised in response to the budget. SAIT has called a public meeting and rally for September 3. The Coalition for Better Health is sponsoring a public meeting on September 8, 7pm, Pilgrim Hall, 12 Flinders St, Adelaide. A coalition of groups is planning a "Defending Community Services" campaign, to be launched on September 28, 7pm, Box Factory Community Centre, 59 Regent St, Adelaide.