YOUTH VOICE: The Federal Budget – A Loss for Regional Australia

Posted on May 30, 2011 by


BY MARTIN DICKENS.

Following the government’s recent budget announcement, the key message delivered was the commitment to deliver a budget surplus in the 2012-2013 financial year.  Despite the short-term projected challenges associated with recent natural disasters, the government’s commitment to restrain real growth spending to an average of 1% per year over the forward estimates appears to be the key measure to achieve this outcome.  According to Treasury estimates, this will see a budget surplus of $3.5 billion by 2012-2013.  However, stringent economic measures released by the government will incur a significant economic burden for families, students and the elderly.  These affects will be felt most for those in regional Australia.

To analyse these impacts, it is necessary to review specific spending reductions released by the government. In particular, the reforms to Youth Allowance to encourage greater workforce participation are a cause for significant concern. Already, for regional and remote students to be considered independent under the Youth Allowance scheme, they must have either earnt 75% of the maximum rate of pay under the Wage Level A of the Australian Pay and Classifications Scale or worked part-time for at least 15 hours a week over a two year period. For regional students who are already limited in their opportunities to find work, further conditions on this payment alone will increase the already notable significant divide between tertiary attendance rates of regional and metropolitan students. Currently, access to transport and accommodation allows urban students to pursue tertiary studies without significant welfare assistance.  For regional students, the inability to access necessary funds will only perpetuate further inequality.

Whilst government spending and loans must be held accountable, placing limits on welfare payments poses a significant threat to the government in achieving budget priorities. In particular, the government’s commitment to increasing skills and training for disadvantaged groups does not seem to fit with its new, more stringent welfare conditions.  Posing further bureaucratic hardships to youth already deprived of necessary work skills is only likely to increase the dissatisfaction and a lack of motivation in members of this group.

The government’s plans for education place rural students at a considerable disadvantage.  As outlined in the key priorities of the government for this year’s budget, a commitment stands to improve the quality of teachers and provide additional support for student learning.  Whilst this commitment is important for the future of the Australian workforce, questions arise when the government directs funding only to those teachers who achieve the best student results.  A total of $125 million will be directed each semester towards the National Awards for Great Students program from the beginning of 2014. This will be distributed amongst those teachers who perform at the top of their field.  Whilst it is encouraging to see these forms of investment by the government, the central question that remains for regional Australians is how teachers in rural areas achieve maximum potential when they are the victims of insufficient resources?  Clearly, if the government only provides additional funding to top performing teachers, the incentives will prove  most favourable to best resourced teachers, who tend to be those in metropolitan areas.  A probable outcome from this move is a further divide between metropolitan and regional students in terms of academic achievement.  As an additional symptom, we can expect quality teachers to then be primarily located in major urban centres.

In addition to this relatively dim outlook on the federal budget, the opposition leader Tony Abbott’s budget reply released on Thursday 12th May brought little hope for regional centres.  Full of promise, Mr Abbott’s speech made little commitment to increasing the efficiency and quality of our education system.  At best, the opposition leader announced an increased tax rebate for secondary school students from $1000 and primary school students from $500. Apart from this policy proposal, minimal concessions were pledged for education.

Overall, the Federal Budget for 2011-2012 gave little comfort to regional Australians.  In particular, a lack of funding towards educational resources in addition to placing greater challenges for students wanting to access Youth Allowance will incur greater inequality between rural and metropolitan youth.

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Martin Dickens is a Second Year Bachelor of Arts Student studying at La Trobe University’s Albury Wodonga Campus. He is currently the President of the Political Awareness Club and holds a strong interest in both Australian politics and international affairs. He has served as an acting delegate for the United Nations Regional Youth Summits and was recently awarded the Deans Prize First Year for the most outstanding student in the Bachelor of Arts. Martin is also interested in education policy and regional development in terms of infrastructure and service delivery.

The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga.

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