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Bill Shorten’s budget reply: experts react

Written by Dr Tim Pitman (NCSEHE), Dr Glenn C. Savage (University of Melbourne), Dr Margaret McKenzie (Deakin), Professor Richard Holden (UNSW), and Emeritus Professor Stephen Leeder (University of Sydney) for The Conversation

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has vowed to oppose funding cuts to hospitals, schools and higher education in his budget in reply speech, threatening more than A$10 billion in budget savings proposed by the government.

Labor will also oppose the $7 Medicare co-contribution, arguing it threatens the universality of Medicare. Shorten has also confirmed the opposition will oppose the fuel excise and changes to pensions.

Wearing a red tie and standing in front of an opposition emblazoned in red, Shorten said: “We reject a US-style, two-tiered system where your wealth determines your health.”

Shorten said the opposition would support “reasonable and balanced remedial budgetary measures” but would not support “the conscious development of an underclass”.

He pointed to NATSEM modelling which showed a couple with a single income of $65,000 and two children in school would have over $1700 cut from their family budget.

“This is a budget that will push up the cost of living for every Australian family. A budget drawn up by people who have never lived from paycheque to paycheque.”

Shorten said the $80 billion in funding the government planned to take away from the states for hospital and school funding was “a Trojan Horse to a bigger GST”, and would not be supported by Labor.

On education, he said Labor would vote against cuts to university funding and student support.

“Labor will not support a system of higher fees, bigger student debt, reduced access and greater inequality. We will never tell Australians that the quality of their education depends on their capacity to pay.”

Expecting tradespeople, labourers, cleaners, and nurses to work to 70, while paying “multi-millionaires” $50,000 in paid parental leave was unfair, according to Shorten, who vowed to fight for a “fair pension”.

Shorten was silent on the $11.6 billion infrastructure package proposed by the government.

Expert reaction follows.

Higher education

Tim Pitman, Senior Research Fellow, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education at Curtin University

Reiterating the traditional party line that Labor is the “party of education”, Bill Shorten used his budget in reply to accuse the Abbott government of destroying Australia’s “fair and equitable higher education system”.

Citing $5 billion in government cuts to higher education, Shorten accused the government of denying the next generation of Australians what many in the parliament have had: access to free or relatively inexpensive higher education.

But beyond that – as expected – Shorten was light on specifics. Unsurprisingly, he advised that Labor will vote against cuts to university funding and support and will not vote for “a system of higher fees, bigger student debt, reduced access and greater inequality”. This statement can be taken as a blanket rejection of all measures announced under education minister Christopher Pyne’s portfolio, including increased student contributions and fee deregulation.

In many respects this is understandable. The proposed changes, which the government argues will make Australian universities more competitive and diverse, are so complex and interdependent that Labor’s simpler option is to reject the government’s plan in full rather than, for example, negotiating elements they might be sympathetic to (such as expanding the support to sub-bachelor places) yet refusing to compromise on others (such as fee deregulation).

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Posted 16 May 2014 Posted in Editorial, General