As Crikey‘s Bernard Keane has reported, the government yesterday announced in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook that the 2015-16 deficit is now expected to be $37.4 billion, up $2.3 billion from May, and the return to surplus has been pushed back to 2020-21. But we want to know: what are the weird and wonderful projects on which the government is spending your money?

The total of combined forecast deficits in coming years is now $108.3 billion, up from $82.2 billion in the budget. The government has offset some of the write-down in tax receipts and new spending already announced (such as the Innovation Agenda) in a number of ways, most notably with $650.4 million being gutted over the next four years from bulk-billing incentives for pathology services and MRI services. An additional $595.1 million will be saved over four years through ceasing the clinical training fund, the rural health continuing education program, and aged care training programs. Some of this will be redirected to specific rural health and medical training programs.

There has also been $317.5 million cut from the Green Army project, with a cap placed on the number of projects at 500 per year. The government is also generously estimating it can achieve $694.8 million in savings over four years by cracking down on people claiming welfare they aren’t entitled to receive.

There were also a number of interesting small changes in funding and programs since former prime minister Tony Abbott and former treasurer Joe Hockey’s final budget in May, including:

  • A total of $10 million in funding has been given this year for “Be Alert, Not Alarmed” part two: “The campaign is designed to encourage the public to report suspicious activity to the National Security Hotline and will use television, radio, print, outdoor, and online media”;
  • The cost to set up the Wind Farm Commissioner and the Independent Scientific Committee on Wind Turbines is $2.5 million, met partially with existing funds from the Clean Energy Regulator;
  • There will be $20 million to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General’s Department for counter-terrorism prosecutions;
  • CrimTrac and the Australian Institute of Criminology are being merged with the Australian Crime Commission to save $6.1 million;
  • Although funding has been cut for the Book Council of Australia, the productions of the next Thor and Alien films will receive $47.3 million in funding, as announced by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in October. This funding is coming from the sale of land held by the Department of Communications and the Arts and other savings from the department;
  • A 1% sweet potato levy will be added at the beginning of next year as requested by the Australian Sweetpotato Growers’ Association as part of a marketing push for the vegetable. The industry has been pushing for this levy since 2012 because supply was exceeding demand for sweet potatoes, and it was hoped marketing would encourage more people to buy sweet potatoes. The levy will be imposed on the producers, not retail customers, to fund marketing research. The association in a parliamentary submission made the case for the levy:

“If just another 5% of Australia’s 8.648 million households could be convinced to buy 1 kg of Sweetpotato 3 times per year the total consumption increase would be 1,297 tonnes — worth $1.38 million to growers at current wholesale prices.”

  • There will be no $2.5 million noise levy imposed on Adelaide airport because the cost of insulating the St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was lower than expected; and
  • Chestnuts will also have a 1% levy from next year to pay for liability from the chestnut blight response.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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