The federal budget can’t be all things to all people, of course. Although the 2017 budget is chock-full of sweeteners, grants and boondoggles (almost as if the Prime Minister were unpopular with the electorate and was facing challenges for his leadership), there are always going to some people who will not be better off.
Museum goers: There is an additional $8.2 million in this budget for the National Gallery of Australia, the National Museum of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, the Australian National Maritime Museum, the National Film and Sound Archive and the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. And there is an addiional $13.9 million for the Maritime Museum, $13.6 million for Old Parliament House and $3.9 million for the Film and Sound Archive to undertake extensive capital works to improve access and better maintain their collections.
Those who want to send things from Melbourne to Brisbane: Among the numerous infrastructure promises (and we told you this was going to be an infrastructure budget) is $8.4 billion for an inland rail freight corridor from Melbourne to Brisbane. The project will involve building 500 kilometres of new rail track and upgrading about 1200 kilometres of existing track.
Western Sydney frequent flyers: After the Sydney Airport Corporation said thanks but no thanks to putting up the cash to build a second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek, the federal government has come to the rescue. The budget includes $5.3 billion to fund the “first stage” of the airport.
Drivers in Western Australia: The budget includes a whopping $7.7 billion for infrastructure in Western Australia (though some of that has already been announced), which has nothing to do with the humiliating decimation of the Barnett Liberal government in that state earlier this year. No, really. The big-ticket items for WA are $1.2 billion for the Metronet rail project and $237 million for the Kwinana Freeway.
Farmers who could use a buck: The government is committing to $28.5 million over four years to establish the Regional Investment Corporation, described by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce as “a national body to streamline and approve farm concessional loans for farm businesses and administer the National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility”.
Foreigners (over there): This budget slashes an already anaemic foreign aid budget by 16.9% between 2016-17 and 2017-18. And there’s another 3.4% cut in the year after that.
Foreigners (over here): Under the heading “Australian jos, Australian skills” (which we are sure will please Bill Shorten and his homogenous tradies), the 2017 budget papers expand on the already announced plans to the 457 visa program and other immigration initiatives, including marginally tougher English requirements and a harder path to permanent residency. The government is creating a new scheme (and a new gerundive), the Skilling Australia Fund, which will be used to support apprenticeships and training for Australian job-seekers. And who is going to pay into that fund? Employers that sponspor migrants under the new temporary skill “don’t call it a 457” shortage visa program, and some that sponsor other kinds of skilled migrants.
Enlisted men and women of the Green Army: The government spent $74 million on the Green Army last year but will spend just $21 million on it this year. And after that, nada. As was announced at the Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the Green Army is being disbanded. Arms into ploughshares, fellows.
Uni students: As has already been announced, this is not a good budget for unversities and their students. The government is cutting the Commonwealth Grant Scheme by 2.5%, increasing student contributions to the Higher Education Loan Program by 7.5% from January 1 next year, and demanding that students pay back their loans as soon as they reach the threshold of $42,000, instead of the current level of around $53,000. Bottom line: students will have more debt, and they will have to pay it back sooner.
Diplomats who like to party: DFAT employees seem to be spending a bit too much living it up overseas, and their allowances have been cut. The budget cuts $37 million over four years to “ensure that allowances better align with community expectations”. Read: Not so much Suntory on the taxpayer’s dime.