Editorial: A building budget with some sharp edges

Major infrastructure announcements including the Western Sydney airport and the inland rail link were at the backbone of the Federal Budget on Tuesday night. 

It is clear from Scott Morrison’s delivery on Budget night that he would like it to be remembered as a building budget, not the slash and hack that everyone recalls as Joe Hockey’s 2014 Budget, which had huge political ramifications for the Liberal party. 

There was a focus on ‘responsibility’ and ‘repair’ of the country’s finances. But it was worked in alongside positive messages about getting the economy cooking.

There was some welcome news for people trying to save for a first home with changes that would allow pre-tax savings. The likelihood of this making a material difference in allowing first home-buyers to break into the Sydney market, where the median house price hovers at $800,000, is unclear but it will certainly make it easier for Lithgow savers.

There were incentives for small businesses, who the Liberal Government was clearly intent to impress. Businesses with a turnover of up to $50 million will receive a company tax cut and the $20,000 asset write-off has been extended for a second year.

Member for Calare Andrew Gee said he was delighted to see that $472 million has been allocated for the Regional Growth Fund, which is available to help grow regional infrastructure.

It is hoped that Lithgow will be able to access this pool of funds as it is rolled out. 

There were cuts anticipated for higher education, and we got them. Higher fees for students and a lower wage at which to start repayments will have an impact on rural students, who generally have to leave home and carry the entire burden of their living costs at a younger age. It also means our young professionals will be starting their working lives with an ever larger burden of debt. 

It is true that this system allows students to be earning a full time wage – $42,000 under the changes, down from $55,000 – whereas systems such as those implemented in the US require immediate payment of loans. However, it is always dangerous to compare any system of welfare or social justice measure with that operating in the US, for fear of setting the bar too low. 

Changes to welfare including the random drug testing of recipients were headline-catching but it seems unlikely that this measure will be widely implemented, at least in the short term as the government conducts trials.