Mixed response on federal budget

GIPPSLAND MHR Darren Chester says the 2014 federal budget will invest in the future of Gippsland.

“The budget provides a vision for the future, with record investment in infrastructure and decisive action to make sure that Australia’s welfare system is sustainable in the longer term,” Mr Chester said.

He said the budget had confirmed $40 million in the coming financial year as part of the federal government’s contribution to the $175 million Princes Highway duplication between Sale and Traralgon.

It also included a commitment to $5.3 million for new overtaking lanes on the highway east of Lakes Entrance and $1 million for the east Bairnsdale flood mitigation program.

Mr Chester said the $185 million East Sale RAAF Base redevelopment would continue, along with several trade training projects across Gippsland.

“Gippsland will also benefit from a funding increase for the Roads to Recovery program, the road blackspots initiative and the new $300 million Bridges Renewal Program that will benefit regional councils across Australia,” Mr Chester said.

“They will bring job opportunities, boost our local economy and make local roads safer for our community.

“The government will also fund Green Army projects improving The Old Mill Site at Boolarra and the Gippsland Plains Rail Trail.”

Mr Chester also commended the $100 million Mobile Phone Black Spots Program, which he said would improve mobile coverage in Gippsland.

“There will be some unpopular decisions but overall, it’s a tough but fair budget which recognises that we are all in this together,” he said.

“By making some hard decisions today, we are making sure that our children and future generations are in a position to enjoy the standard of living we have come to expect.”

Mr Chester’s glowing assessment of the budget was not shared by all commentators.

Analysts point out budget measures linking pension increases to inflation rather than wages growth, co-payments for medical consultations, family benefit limits and restrictions on young people being able to access unemployment benefits meant the government was targeting those earning the least.

By linking pension increases to inflation rather than wages growth the government is requiring aged and disability pensioners to do the heavy lifting for the long term, while the temporary budget repair levy of two per cent was hitting taxpayers earning $200,000 with an extra $7.70 a week only until June 2017.

By contrast, anyone under 30 denied unemployment benefits for the first six months would lose $255 a week.

Victorian Council of Social Service chief executive Emma King said budget cuts would overwhelmingly hurt the poorest in the community the most and create an uncertain future for a number of important state-based programs and services.

“Australians expect their governments to improve people’s lives, not make things harder for people who are already doing it tough,” she said.

“Cuts to vital payments for the most disadvantaged people, on the lowest incomes in our community, will have a lasting and devastating impact as they ripple out across the economy.”

“This budget will entrench disadvantage and threatens to consign a generation of young people to lives of poverty and vulnerability.

“It is particularly harsh on younger Australians who will find it more difficult to find and keep jobs and participate in the education and training they need.”

With the reintroduction of an indexed fuel levy rural drivers will feel the increased cost of fuel because of the greater distances needed to access work and services, but the farming, mining and fishing industries have been spared, with the retention of the full rebate on the diesel fuel excise.

Victorian Farmers’ Federation president Peter Tuohey described that as a huge win for Australian farmers.

“We welcome the federal government’s commitment to developing key infrastructure projects in regional Australia.

“Given that the money for infrastructure is a direct result from a rise in the fuel excise, it’s important that this is directed to projects that are most needed, and that regional Australia benefits.

“If the funding is raised in the bush, it needs to stay in the bush,” Mr Tuohey said.

“We’re also pleased to see the government’s $100 million election commitment to agriculture-specific research and development over the next four years — but a major concern is the significant slashing of $11.5 million over four years to the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.”