The responses to the federal budget announced last night have been mostly mixed, with the state government focusing on changes to Pacific Highway funding. But the government has also announced 76 new regional health infrastructure projects across Australia worth $475 million.
The Northern Rivers Social Development Council (NRSDC) has welcomed news of the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), increased aged-care packages and the reintroduction of a national dental-care program, while being disappointed in the lack of increase in Newstart and the reduction in payments to some sole parents.
NRSDC CEO Tony Davies told Echonetdaily this morning, ‘it’s really important to get the NDIS in place as soon as possible because there’s a critical level of unmet need in this area with a large number of people dependent on disability benefits’.
‘Within a few years, nationally close to half a million people will need support for disability.’
He added that it was ‘great to see the number of aged-care packages increased, again important for our region’.
The government has put aside $515.3 million to improve dental services and strengthen the future dental workforce.
‘It’s very good to see some long-overdue reinvestment in dental schemes,’ Mr Davies said.
‘This is particularly important for our region because we have amongst the worst dental health in the state, especially amongst young people.
‘That scheme was cut by the Howard government a decade ago. The funding of half a billion over four years is a good start but we will probably need more. People working in health care see the catastrophic effect of poor dental health every day.’
Mr Davies said that a major downside to the budget was its failure to implement the Henry Review recommendation of increasing the Newstart allowance by $50 per week.
‘We were disappointed that there wasn’t a substantial increase in Newstart allowance – the government only increased it by 50 cents a day. There’s a gap of more than $130/week between someone on a single Newstart payment and someone on a single pension payment.
‘When you’re on the Newstart allowance you can’t afford to travel to job interviews so it entrenches the poverty trap that people find themselves in.
‘The decision to move a range of people on sole-parent allowance on to Newstart will lose them $60/week. The suggested savings of $700 million a year is almost half of the budget surplus,’ he pointed out.
In news leaked by Echonetdaily on Monday, the federal government confirmed it would fund up to 50 per cent of the cost of the remaining Pacific Highway duplication but its contribution would be tied dollar for dollar to state funding.
Ballina MP Don Page has said that the state government was committed to an 80/20 funding arrangement and added that because of an anticipated drop in GST revenue, the state government couldn’t afford to pick up the tab.
‘We just don’t have the money. I certainly can’t give any commitment that the state government is going to make up the shortfall,’ he told ABC radio this morning.
Justine Elliot told ABC radio that the budget would help to spread the benefit of the mining boom. ‘We’ve already had over a billion dollars [worth] of projects in the electorate. This budget will be of major assistance across the north coast, particularly in areas like our dental care commitment.
Treasurer Wayne Swan last night announced a $1.5 billion surplus that, if achieved, will be the largest single-year recovery to the budget’s bottom line since 1952/53.