By Paul Dobbyn
THE 2014-15 Federal Budget’s widespread cuts to welfare, health, education and foreign aid have drawn sharp criticism from key national and state Catholic agencies.
The cuts include changes to family benefits, resuming fuel excise increases, a $7 health-care co-payment for GP visits and an estimated $7.6 billion decrease in foreign aid funding over the next five years.
Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey, announcing his first budget, told parliament the Government’s economic action strategy was about “spending less on consumption and more on investment so we can keep making decent, compassionate choices in the future”.
Australian business particularly welcomed the proposed 1.5 percentage point cut to the company tax rate.
The Business Council of Australia said the budget would “lay the foundations for a stronger future”.
St Vincent de Paul Society chief executive Dr John Falzon said the budget contained measures “that rip the guts out of what remains of a fair and egalitarian Australia”.
“These measures will not help people into jobs but they will force people into deeper poverty,” he said.
National Catholic Education Commission executive director Ross Fox welcomed funding certainty contained in the budget through to the end of the 2017 school year.
”However, based on recent experience, the school funding assumptions contained in the Federal Budget for 2018 and beyond will not meet the needs of schools and students,” he said.
“In the last decade the CPI has averaged less than 3 per cent.
“This contrasts with school funding increases reflecting real costs in schools of almost 5.5 per cent.”
Catholic Health Australia chief executive officer Martin Laverty said ongoing monitoring of the new $7 health-care co-payments for GP visits, pathology and diagnostic imaging would be needed to avoid a drop in health-care outcomes.
“Those with capacity to contribute to their health-care costs should do so,” he said.
“Those less able to contribute must be guaranteed high-quality access to health care when needed, with the support of a robust, publicly funded social safety net.”
Reforms to the pension have been delayed until the next parliamentary term, to keep Tony Abbott’s election promise of no change to pensions.
The Government will index pensions, including the age pension and the disability support pension, to inflation rather than wages, which is the higher measure, from September 2017.
Labor said the 2014-15 Federal Budget broke election promises by introducing co-payments on GP visits and pathology services, resuming fuel excise increases and “tinkering with assistance payments”.