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Issue #1687      June 3, 2015

Budget Hit List

1. Loans for Coal Projects

Coal projects that are not commercially viable can get loans from the government under the concessional loan scheme of $5 billion in the Federal budget. These are projects which have been rejected by the big banks for being economically unviable, and as Greens environment spokesperson, Larissa Waters, has said, are likely to be unprofitable and therefore not pay tax or provide secure jobs. These include coal projects in the Galilee Basin and in the Great Barrier Reef area, and will require construction of rail line connections, which will also be eligible for the government loans.

2. Increase in “Divorce Tax”

There will be a steep increase in Federal Court fees which will cause a significant rise in the fee to apply for divorce, amongst other family settlements. The biggest concern is for divorce as 40 percent of marriages end in divorce in Australia. The increase in fees is expected to raise $87 million, of which $22.5 million will be used to streamline the Family, Federal Circuit and Federal Australian Courts, while $30 million will be used to refurbish court buildings. The rest, $35.2 million, will return to the Abbott government.

3. GP Helpline to be Axed

The $42 million GP helpline, used by more than 200,000 people a year for advice on medication and minor health issues, will be axed from June 30. This will result in chaos in after-hour medical care job cuts, and could put emergency departments under more pressure.

4. Mental Health

Mental Health Australia strongly emphasises that the long-term reform process as outlined in their Blueprint for Action on Mental Health must be continued without being distracted by any measures, or the lack thereof, in the new budget. They also emphasise that the time to implement the reforms is right now. The government ducked the big issues.

5. Cut to Aid Spending

The overall overseas aid budget, which accounts for only 1.2 percent of total spending, has been further cut by a billion dollars. This means Australia will be spending only 22 cents from every $100 of national income on aid, which is far lower than the commitment made to the UN’s goal of 70 cents from every $100. It is estimated that aid from Australia had been saving about 200,000 lives a year until last year’s cuts started to take effect, and helped educate half a million children a year. By making cuts to aid, PM Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey have attacked the voiceless, voteless people of the poorest regions of the world.

6. Child Health Check to be Axed

The government will be saving $144 million over four years by abolishing a comprehensive health check program for children aged three to five years. This program allowed assessment of a child’s growth, hearing, eye sight, oral health, toilet habits and allergies, to ensure timely intervention or prevention of medical issues. A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2014 found this program was detecting problems in about one in five children. Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Frank R Jones and Speech Pathology Australia president Professor Deborah Theodoros, have both shown disappointment and surprise over the decision to cut this program.

7. Cuts to Aboriginal Remote Housing

The government is cutting grants to states for remote housing of Aboriginal people, which will result in those people having to move off country. This is a vicious move which is being strongly campaigned against across Australia.

8. Shutting Down of National Water Commission

The Senate has voted to shut down the National Water Commission, which provides important oversight of water policies. Prior to this, the NSW Office of Water and the Queensland Water Commission had also been closed. This gives the mining companies a freer hand when it comes to enforcing environmentally safe practices. As Greens Senator Rhiannon said: “This is an act of environmental vandalism orchestrated by the Abbott government.”

9. Funding for Homeless Shelter Axed

The Haymarket Foundation, which provides shelter and medical care to the most disadvantaged residents of inner-Sydney, will have to close because its funding has been withdrawn after more than 20 years. The organisation estimates it saves the health system more than $917,000 each year by providing preventive healthcare. Its closure opens the way to increased drug abuse and related social and health problems in the community. According to the chief executive, Mat Flynn, the Foundation is desperately looking for funds to keep the facility running once the federal funding ends on June 30.

10. Funding for the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency slashed, budget of the Fair Work Building Commission (FWBC) doubled

The national secretary of Electrical Trades Union, David Mier, has expressed grave concerns over funding cuts to the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency. He said these cuts will prevent the implementation of asbestos removal programs. He said that the funding was already inadequate, and as a comparison he quoted the $100 million dedicated to eradicate asbestos from schools in Victoria alone last year, while the Agency will only receive $3.2 million from the federal government. Meanwhile, the FWBC’s budget was doubled, and its coercive powers against workers were extended until 2017, despite more than 8,000 letters signed by construction industry workers urging Senators to vote against it.

11. FIFO Tax Break Cut

Zone tax provision for residents of remote areas could be claimed by fly-in, fly-out workers if they lived in a designated remote area for half the year or more. In the current budget, this right for FIFO workers has been stripped, making the government $325 million over four years. However, the Minerals Council of Australia and the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) have strongly objected to this move. The AMMA chief executive, Steve Knott, has said that FIFO workers work 12-hour days in remote areas and away from families, and such demanding work conditions must be taken into consideration.

12. Tax Concessions on Super Remain Untouched

Tax concessions on superannuation disproportionately benefit high-income earners: the top 10% of income earners get 38% of the tax concessions, while the bottom 10% are disadvantaged by paying 15% tax on their super, when their overall tax rate is less than 15%.

13. Cut to Parental Paid Leave for Working Mothers

There has been a show of outrage by women’s groups against the government’s accusations of “double dipping” and “rorts” by working women. These women have done nothing more than exert their right to existing parental leave provisions. At present they are entitled to government-paid parental leave at the minimum wage of 18 weeks (capped at $11,500) and any payments by the employers. After the cuts, they will only get a government payment to top up to $11,500 if the employer’s payment falls short. There are concerns that this will force mothers back to work earlier, negatively affecting both the mother and child’s health. The World Health Organisation standard is 26 weeks paid parental leave, but it has been cut back to 18 weeks in Australia. Moreover, this cut by the government may result in the employers also cutting paid parental leave.

14. Increased Co-payment on Pharmaceuticals

Patients will pay an extra $5 on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme prescriptions and those with concession cards will pay an extra 80 cents. At the same time it is cutting funds to non-government organisations including Alzheimer’s Australia and Palliative Care Australia, to compensate for its defeat on the Medicare co-payments.

15. Deep Cuts to Science

The Australian Academy of Science welcomes the relief for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme (NCRIS) in the form of continued support for two more years and establishment of the Medical Research Future Fund, but it has grave concern for $290 million cuts to other key Australian science and research programs. Australian Academy of Science President Professor Andrew Holmes summed up the situation thus: “It’s great that NCRIS facilities will continue to be supported for the next two years but significant reductions to block grants to researchers in universities is like taking engines off the jumbo jet.”

16. Cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples has noted that last year’s half a billion dollar cut to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs as made under the pretext of savings in administration but there is no evidence of significant savings. Many community-based organisations have been rejected for funding under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (AIS) on the claim that there were insufficient funds available. Moreover, advocacy funding for Aboriginal people was to be cut, limiting their participation in government decision-making.

17. Cuts to Australia Council

The new budget includes cutting $104.7 million from the Australia Council to create a new National Program for Excellence in the Arts, administered by the Arts Ministry. While the Australia Council makes its funding decisions independent of the government, the new body will be controlled by the government’s whims and wishes.

Next article – Public sector workers’ anger grows

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