The 2017 – 2018 Federal Budget is certainly a mixed bag with early analyses of the budget’s impact on local communities indicating that there are likely to be benefits in some regards while damaging effects in other areas.
The good news for Western Sydney is the level of investment in infrastructure, primarily as a result of the Government’s commitment to delivering the Western Sydney Airport. The proposed strategies for addressing affordable housing, strengthening social impact investment and additional funding for health, education and housing are all likely to provide benefits for local communities. However, the budget’s way of disparaging and penalising people who experience unemployment is not only unjustified but unlikely to improve employment outcomes. The evidence tells us unequivocally that investing in employment opportunities and improving the circumstances that result in people experiencing poverty and disadvantage is more likely to result in positive outcomes for both individuals and the nation.
Western Sydney Community Forum’s Chief Executive, Billie Sankovic, says “The Federal Government’s funding towards infrastructure delivery in Western Sydney is welcomed. However, a lack of direct investment in public transport infrastructure continues to limit the region’s capacity to provide alternate and accessible transport options within the context of extraordinary growth”.
The 2017 – 2018 Federal Budget Snapshot
Resources allocated to the Western Sydney Airport
The Government will invest $5.3 billion in the Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek, which will be used to establish the Western Sydney Airport Corporation. This will fund the first stage and construction works will begin towards the end of 2018, allowing the airport’s operations to commence in 2026.
Significant funding has been provided for construction works across Western Sydney. This includes:
- Western Sydney Infrastructure Plan (roads supporting the South West Growth Area and Western Sydney Airport site) $2.9 billion with $725 million to be provided in 2017–18
- WestConnex: $1.5 billion plus a concessional loan of $2.0 billion to enable the New M5 section to be constructed in parallel with the M4 extension, with $720 million of the to be made available in 2017–18
- Parramatta Light Rail: $78.3 million
- Smart Motorways: $60 million
- Appin Road ($50 million over four years) and Mulgoa Road ($80 million)
A commitment towards public transport investment was notably missing but is a critical element of alternate and accessible transport options.
Funding for community support for older people is extended to 2020
Stability will be provided within the human services sector with the extension of the Commonwealth Home Support Program until 2020. A workforce package of $33 million has been allocated to strengthen service providers. Additional resources have also been allocated to bolster My Age Care services. This extension ensures stability for services over the next few years.
National Disability Insurance Scheme fully funded
The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has now been fully funded through an increase of 0.5% on the Medicare Levy. This reaffirms the Government’s commitment to the NDIS and provides the sector with some security in the longer term.
Medicare levy increased
On the other hand, to fully fund the NDIS, the Medicare Levy has been increased from 2% to 2.5%. If this is passed by the Parliament, it will be effective from 1 July 2019. Despite the increase being in support of the NDIS, the Medicare Levy will affect those on low incomes who are already experiencing cost of living challenges.
A boost for mental health services
Services providing mental health support have been allocated over $115 million to enhance the work that is already in place. Areas that will benefit include psychosocial services, mental health research, rural telehealth psychological services and suicide hotspots. Pilot programs will be funded with $9.8 million to improve the mental health services that are provided for veterans and their families as well as supporting suicide prevention programs.
Scheme established for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse
Up to $34 million will be provided by the Government to establish the Commonwealth Redress Scheme for Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. This scheme will be commencing in early 2018 and will commence to receive applications as of 1 July that same year.
Measures to improve affordable housing
A range of measures have been introduced to support more affordable housing. Some of these include:
- As of 1 July, First Home Buyers can make voluntary contributions to their superannuation to save towards a house deposit, capped at $30,000 in total. The level of uptake will need to be monitored to determine whether this approach will have a notable impact for the majority of first home buyers.
- The Government will establish a $1 billion National Housing Infrastructure Facility. The purpose of this facility is provide local governments with concessional loans, equity finance and direct grants towards smaller projects required to release new land for housing.
- Additional funding of $375 million will be provided over the next four years as part of the new National Housing and Homelessness Agreement to fund front line services to address homelessness.
- From 1 July 2018, people aged 65 and over will be able to make a non-concessional contribution of up to $300,000 in proceeds from the sale of their main home into their superannuation. This is designed to rationalise the supply of housing stock, encouraging empty nesters to downsize and free up the supply of family homes for younger families.
- The National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation will be established to operate an affordable housing bond aggregator to provide cheaper and longer-term finance for the community housing sector.
No funds for closing the gap between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians
The budget does not show any tangible commitment to prioritising the health and wellbeing of the nation’s first people even though every social and economic indicator demonstrates that investment in this area is critical. This will have impacts on Western Sydney given that it is home to the largest urban Indigenous population in Australia.
Social impact investment to improve outcomes for young people at risk of homelessness
The Government will invest $10.2 million over 10 years to trial the use of Social Impact Investments which aim to improve housing and welfare outcomes for young people at risk of homelessness. An additional amount of $8 million over four years has been allocated to establish a Readiness Fund that will help organisations to build their skills and capabilities to develop social impact investment projects and business plans.
More for schools, apprentices and trainees but less for universities
An additional $18.6 billion is being invested in schools over the next decade, referred to as ‘Gonski 2.0’. A new $1.5 billion National Partnerships Skilling Australia Fund will be established to deliver 300,000 apprentices and trainees. However, university fees will increase, with the average cost of a four-year university degree to rise by approximately 7.5%. The HELP repayment income threshold will be reduced and universities will also face new efficiency dividends of 2.5%.
Changes to income support disparage and penalise people who experience unemployment
Access to an income, which is a fundamental human right in a civilised society, is being restricted by the continuation and introduction of income management measures. The Work for the Dole scheme continues. The pensioner education supplement will be reduced. People who are unemployed will be denied the one-off $75 Energy Supplement, be drug-tested and denied disability support pension if their disability is drug related. New waiting periods are proposed for age pensions for people who are migrants and have had to rely on income support during working life. These measures are likely to have severe impacts while there is a lack of evidence that the system is widely abused.