Budget with eye on July 2

TUESDAY night’s federal budget has been tempered by the realisation it is an opinion forming document in the lead-up to the expected July 2 double dissolution election.

In the face of a projected deficit of $37.1 billion for 2016-17, up from the 2014-15 projection of $29.8 billion, Treasurer Scott Morrison has put forward a budget that is short on handouts or sweeteners for the majority of wage earners but includes $476.5 million for unannounced election promises. 

Employees on less that $80,000 will not see any tax cuts, while those earning above that will receive graduated tax relief. 

Those on pensions and welfare payments will also face a loss of more than $300 a year as the government attempts to reign in its $150 billion social security bill.

It is, however, a budget the government hopes will be seen as encouraging small business and providing incentives for unemployed youth to find real jobs.

Small business will receive tax cuts while employers will be given an extra $1000 from the government to provide six weeks pre-employment training for unemployed people under 25 years to be followed by wage subsidies for those who hire the eligible young people.

Locally the budget delivers on previously announced projects, such as the duplication of the Princes Highway and the expansion of RAAF Base East Sale, but not funding the much needed MID 2030 upgrade.

The budget’s cut to the company tax rate to 27.5 per cent for businesses with an annual turnover of up to $10 million is expected to assist regional service, farming and manufacturing-fabrication businesses. Those businesses will also benefit from an instant $20,000 asset write off. And small unincorporated businesses turning over less than $5million will receive an eight per cent tax discount. 

Gippsland MHR Darren Chester says this will encourage those businesses. 

The measure has also been welcomed by Committee for Gippsland chief executive Mary Aldred.

“This will help local businesses and provide an incentive to grow jobs in Gippsland, and we welcome that,” Ms Aldred said.

Road transport will benefit from the $23.9 million needed to continue the Princes Highway East duplication between Traralgon and Sale; and the promised $13 million for Roads to Recovery funding for East Gippsland, Latrobe and Wellington shires to upgrade local roads will help the shires hit hard by rate capping.

Ms Aldred said the Committee for Gippsland, the RDA committee and Wellington Shire had been hopeful that federal funding would be provided for the Macalister Irrigation District 2030 project in the budget. 

“While this has not been announced, we look forward to exploring funding possibilities with Darren Chester through a number of water infrastructure opportunities,” she said. 

“There are a number of roads and infrastructure funding announcements, in particular the $500 million towards upgrading the Monash Freeway.

The allocation of  $500 million to assist the widening of the Monash Freeway was also welcomed by Ms Aldred. 

“There are many Gippslanders coming in and out of Melbourne via the Monash Freeway. We rely on it to move an enormous amount of Gippsland freight and to also travel into Melbourne and the suburbs for work and other reasons. Everyone who travels the Monash knows that peak hour is creeping way beyond what it used to be. This funding is very welcome,” she said.

Other local projects already announced and funded in the budget include $3.6 million for Port of Sale Cultural Hub in 2016-17, of a total $4.5 million federal contribution; 

$450,000 for completion of Lindenow-Glenaladale Road Bridge replacement; $1 million for continuation of heavy vehicle rest areas and truck turnarounds near Bruthen and Mount Drummer; continued funding for the completion of $2.5 million Murrungowar rest area upgrade and continued funding for Stronger Communities Program; Community Development Grants Program, Regional Development Australia Fund; and Financial Assistance Grants for local councils.

Mr Chester also praised the Treasurer’s focus on reigning in tax avoidance by multinational companies and others.

“The Treasurer has outlined our government’s commitment to fixing holes in the tax system. The budget repair job is ongoing. But it is also essential the budget is fair for vulnerable people and those on lower incomes,” he said.

Labor candidate for Gippsland Carolyne Boothman said that the federal budget, announced this week, was disappointing, and did not address unemployment in regional areas.

“It doesn’t provide big strategies for Gippsland,” she said.

“The focus should be on health and education systems.

“If you put people first, then everything else falls into place.”

Ms Boothman is running for the first time in this election.

Greens candidate Ian Onley was contacted for comment but was not able to respond before deadline.

Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon however described the budget as one for high income earners and big business. 

“But it offers nothing for agriculture and our rural and regional communities. The centrepiece of the Turnbull government’s agriculture policy remains low interest loans to farmers and state governments in the lowest interest rate environment in living memory.

“(It) offers loans at rates above its own borrowing costs and claims the total value of the loans as a headline-grabbing spend.

“Farmers in drought don’t want more debt and State Governments can’t afford more debt. The ‘$2 billion’ loans program to build un-specified dams will never be taken up,” he said. 

Mr Fitzgibbon slammed the budget’s inaction on the Backpacker tax and what he described as cuts to health and education that will harm regional communities

The Australian Medical Association was highly critical of the government’s decision to freeze the Medicare rebate until June 2020. 

AMA president Dr Tony Batone said patients will pay more to see a doctor.

“Freezing the Medicare rebate means that patients will have higher medical expenses. It will cost you more to see a GP, surgeon, obstetrician or psychiatrist,” he said.

“The Medicare rebate is meant to provide patients with assistance towards their medical costs. Medical fees can’t stay the same for sixyears. These fees cover staff wages (i.e. practice nurses, receptionists), rent, medical equipment, medical supplies, cleaning, electricity, computers, insurance. None of these bills are frozen. The Treasurer understands inflation, yet ignores it when it comes to the Medicare rebate,” he said.

“There are many Gippslanders coming in and out of Melbourne via the Monash Freeway,” she said.

“We rely on it to move an enormous amount of Gippsland freight and to also travel into Melbourne and the suburbs for work and other reasons. 

“Everyone who travels the Monash knows that peak hour is creeping way beyond what it used to be.

“This funding is very welcome.”

Other local projects already announced and funded in the budget include $3.6 million for the Port of Sale Cultural Hub in 2016-17, of a total $4.5 million federal contribution; $450,000 for completion of Lindenow-Glenaladale Rd Bridge replacement; $1 million for continuation of heavy vehicle rest areas and truck turnarounds near Bruthen and Mount Drummer; continued funding for the completion of $2.5 million Murrungowar rest area upgrade and continued funding for Stronger Communities Program, the Community Development Grants Program and Regional Development Australia Fund; and Financial Assistance Grants for local councils.

Mr Chester praised the Treasurer’s focus on reigning in tax avoidance by multinational companies and others.

“The Treasurer has outlined our government’s commitment to fixing holes in the tax system,” he said.

“The budget repair job is ongoing. 

“But it is also essential the budget is fair for vulnerable people and those on lower incomes.”

Labor candidate for Gippsland Carolyne Boothman described the   budget as disappointing, saying it did not address unemployment in regional areas.

“It doesn’t provide big strategies for Gippsland,” she said.

“The focus should be on health and education systems.

“If you put people first, then everything else falls into place.”

Ms Boothman is running for the first time in this election.

Greens candidate for Gippsland Ian Onley was contacted for comment but was not able to respond before deadline.

Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, however, described the budget as one for high income earners and big business. 

“But it offers nothing for agriculture and our rural and regional communities,” he said.

He said the centrepiece of the Turnbull government’s agriculture policy remained as low interest loans to farmers and state governments in the lowest interest rate environment in living memory.

“(It) offers loans at rates above its own borrowing costs and claims the total value of the loans as a headline-grabbing spend,” he said.

“Farmers in drought don’t want more debt and state governments can’t afford more debt.

“The ‘$2 billion loans program to build unspecified dams will never be taken up,” he said. 

Mr Fitzgibbon slammed the budget’s inaction on the backpacker tax and what he described as cuts to health and education which would  harm regional communities

The Australian Medical Association was highly critical of the government’s decision to freeze the Medicare rebate until June 2020. 

AMA president Dr Tony Batone said patients will pay more to see a doctor.

“Freezing the Medicare rebate means that patients will have higher medical expenses,” he said.

“It will cost you more to see a GP, surgeon, obstetrician or psychiatrist.

“The Medicare rebate is meant to provide patients with assistance towards their medical costs.

“Medical fees can’t stay the same for six years.

“These fees cover staff wages (practice nurses, receptionists), rent, medical equipment, medical supplies, cleaning, electricity, computers, insurance.

“None of these bills are frozen. 

“The Treasurer understands inflation, yet ignores it when it comes to the Medicare rebate,” he said.