Greens leader Christine Milne has used her budget reply last night to criticise the government’s commitment to surplus and call for increased spending across a range of programs funded by an increase in the mining tax.

Milne urged the government to provide more funding for a “well-being framework” to join GDP as an appropriate national economic indicator, Milne said the budget “sets up some big reforms and ignores others in its drive for the surplus. The surplus is not a vision for the nation; it is not an end in itself.”

Milne also argued the abandoned corporate tax cut should have been “invested in long-term, permanent, systemic change” rather than handouts to welfare recipients, but indicated the Greens still supported a corporate tax cut for small business.

In addition to the mining tax, Milne said the Greens want to remove the diesel fuel rebate for miners as well as other tax concessions — which was mooted before the budget but didn’t appear; the mining industry campaigned hard against them — and impose a millionaires’ tax.

Milne proposed her own spending measures or called for the government reverse budget cuts or outline future funding commitments, including:

  • A $50 a week increase in Newstart
  • Restore the foreign aid cuts imposed by the government as part of its push for surplus
  • Restore funding for the abandoned Green Buildings program
  • Funding for the construction of a high-speed rail network rather than planning processes
  • Funding for the full roll-out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme
  • R&D funding for the regional community innovation and specifically the apple and pear industries
  • Greater level of mental health services in rural communities.

Milne also took some pleasure in noting that Tony Abbott’s (unfunded) commitment on Asian literacy was the exact reversal of the Howard government’s abolition of the same program a decade ago.

The reply speech hewed closely to the themes identified by Milne when she became leader: shifting the economic debate toward a quality-of-life perspective, rejecting the economic need for a surplus, emphasising fairness and equality of opportunity, targeting support for regional communities to adapt and be more innovative, and start reversing the skewing of the taxation system towards fossil fuel use.

But while the speech contained considerably more policy detail than that offered by Abbott half an hour earlier, it lacked specific costings, particularly around the Newstart proposal, which could cost up to $700 million a year.