By Paul Dobbyn
THE 2014-15 Federal Budget’s widespread cuts to welfare, health, education and foreign aid have drawn sharp criticism from 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 on May 13, 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 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.
Queensland Catholic Education Commission executive director Mike Byrne said the Catholic sector had serious concerns about the decision to use the Consumer Price Index as the basis for school funding indexation after 2017.
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.”
Caritas Australia chief executive officer Paul O’Callahan said the Federal Government’s decision last year to cut $4 billion from the aid budget followed up by additional cuts “is a reminder the Government sees no political cost in using the aid program as the principal source of cost saving”.
“Twenty per cent of savings in this budget are from aid spending,” he said.
Reforms to the pension have been delayed until the next parliamentary term, to keep Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s election promise of no change to pensions.
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”.
Tens of thousands of protesters angered by the announced budget cuts to Government services – including health and education – gathered in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Hobart as part of the nationwide March in May rallies on May 18.
In Sydney, the crowd was estimated at up to 10,000 people.
In Brisbane, hundreds attended a rally in Queens Park in the CBD.
Meanwhile, polling has found more than 60 per cent of Australians do not believe the budget is fair.
The question on the fairness of the budget has been asked about eight budgets since 1996.
This is the first time a majority have said it was unfair.