I did not watch the budget last night. It was that or watching episodes of Yes Minister, and the bureaucratic poetry of Sir Humphrey Appleby GCB, KBE, MVO, MA (Oxon) was a clear winner. I have, however, had a quick look over various summaries and overviews of the budget and formed some observations.
What I like:
Cuts to middle-class welfare. Sorry, but if you have a combined income of $150,00 a year and STILL need government hand-outs, you need to reassess your lifestyle.
A huge focus on skills and training. Apprenticeships getting a $200 million funding boost and a complete overhaul, 15,000 visas for skilled workers and 130,000 new training places.
Money going to health. $1.8 billion for regional health facilities, $16.4 billion over six years for growth money for hospitals. Emergency departments are getting an extra $3.4 billion over four years, and finally mental health is getting some money: $2.2 billion. These are areas that – particularly in the case of mental health – have been neglected for years, and hopefully this budget will turn that around.
Cuts of $4.3 billion to our unnecessarily large defense force.
John Howard has slammed the budget. This has to be a good thing.
What I don’t like:
I am SO happy that the rumored $400 million cuts to the National Medical Research Council (NMRC) didn’t eventuate. However, in April Life Scientist reported on speculation that the rumours were to ‘soften the blow’ of lesser cuts: almost as if the Government was saying “we COULD cut $400 million, so don’t complain when we cut less than that”. And it seems to me that that’s what happened, as funding was cut to Cooperative Research Centres ($33.4 million over four years) and Collaborative Research Networks program ($20.7 million over last two years of forward estimates). This is a shame, and even more disappointing is that no scientific funding was increased - the Australian Society for Medical Research made a request in January for a three per cent increase funding to the NHMRC.
More than $200 million to expand the National Schools Chaplaincy Program. Seriously, school’s bad enough without the God-botherers indoctrinating children. Separation of Church and State? What separation?
A new program, costing $425 million, that will reward the top performing teachers. I’m not sure this is a good idea. I like that teachers are all supportive and more-or-less ‘equal’. I don’t think this is an area where competition will be a good thing. Plus, I don’t think teachers are slacking off because they’re not paid much – I don’t think they’re slacking off at all. Quite simply, if you want to make money then teaching is NOT the job for you – never has been. That said, I’m all in favour of raising teachers’ salaries across the board.
These are preliminary thoughts. All in all I think it’s a mostly good budget – the cuts have not been too brutal and the bunk projects are fairly minimal. The rush to return to surplus is purely political – as long as the trend is towards surplus I’m happy. So essentially, it’s a fairly boring budget – could be better, could be far worse.