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Budget cuts spell disaster for the vulnerable

By Tristan Ewins - posted Friday, 16 May 2014

The Government of Tony Abbott has proposed a Budget that makes a mockery of his claim to ‘spread the burden’ of ‘reform’ fairly.   The Budget has also made a mockery of the government’s claim to ‘credibility’ regarding its mandate – and the extreme violation of that which is now going on before our eyes.   Massive cuts to health, education and welfare fly in the face of the Government’s pre-election commitments.

We will now go through some of the most alarming aspects of that Budget drawing on the observations from ‘The Age’ and the “Herald-Sun” .

Health:  The Abbott Government is imposing an additional $7 charge for each GP visit, and an extra $5 for those needing pathology services. (eg: blood tests)   For those with no option but to regularly visit the doctor, and have blood tests taken, this could add up to $120 extra a year.  An awful lot if you’ve just been forced onto Newstart, or had all support payments withdrawn!  


Indeed, in  ‘The Age’ Ross Gittins argues health austerity may lead the ‘poor sick’ to delay seeking help until their conditions become acute.  And for those who do not care about anything without a dollar sign attached to it – this could cost the Budget and the economy over the longer run.

The rationale of providing a disincentive for ‘spurious’ visits to the GP is also very doubtful given the already-widespread application of co-payments;  and it is open to question whether pathology services are used ‘spuriously’ in any case.   If the government had balanced these changes with increases to pensions and progressive reform of the tax mix the policy may have sidestepped its otherwise regressive and counter-productive consequences.  But the opposite is now the case.

Education:  In higher education university fees will be deregulated leading to a ‘two tiered’ system at best. ‘Elite’ universities will be free to charge whatever they like – with the very real possibility of $100,000 or even $200,000 degrees. This ‘user pays’ aspect will also be applied to make up for an average 20% cut in Federal Higher Education funding supporting the cost of degrees. 

Abbott and Pyne argue there will be scholarships; but the reality will be a quality of education  generally dependent on the depth of a students’ pockets – rather than merit.  (as a consequence of the prohibitive cost)   Arguably ‘equal opportunity’ should involve extra and widespread subsidies and quotas for students with disadvantaged backgrounds.  And an understanding of education as ‘a social good’ beyond labour market requirements.

Student Loan repayment thresholds will fall regressively and interest rates on loans will sit around about 6 per cent.   For someone whose life is disrupted by disability, for instance, (or perhaps parenthood) university debts could easily spiral out of control.  The Conservatives claim students must ‘contribute’ towards the cost of degrees.  But surely this occurs already through the tax system; and progressive tax is the best way to ensure students (and business) contribute proportionately to the financial benefit gained.

The ‘united ticket’ on Gonski is also to be dropped assuming the Coalition wins the next election and has the opportunity to do so.  (though to be honest even Labor was not fully implementing the Gonski recommendations)


Finally on Education the School Chaplains program will receive a boost of approximately $250 million over five years.  But the contempt for which this government holds the poor and vulnerable exposes the lie of their upholding ‘Christian values’.

Local Government:$1 billion over four years withdrawn – probably leading to an increase in Rates or user pays – or otherwise a degradation of services

Aged Pension and Retirement:   The age of retirement will rise gradually to 70 by 2035; and Pension means tests will be frozen for three years – making it difficult even for part-self-funded retirees with limited means.   Arguably we are now living in conditions of great  ‘material abundance’ compared with many decades ago.  Aside from the systemic imperative of endlessly expanding markets under capitalism, abundance means arguments to ‘work us into the ground’ are not practically or morally defensible.

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About the Author

Tristan Ewins has a PhD and is a freelance writer, qualified teacher and social commentator based in Melbourne, Australia. He is also a long-time member of the Socialist Left of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). He blogs at Left Focus, ALP Socialist Left Forum and the Movement for a Democratic Mixed Economy.

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