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Budget 2013: Education, Legal Affairs, Mental Health and Veterans Affairs portfolio breakdown

The 2013 Labor Budget will do little to ease the stress on Australians. Senator Penny Wright talks about what was in the budget and what more could be done in each of her portfolio areas.

Education

What's in the budget:

  • $9.8 billion in new school funding
  • $3 billion in next the next four years, $6 billion to come in the following two years

What I think:

  • The figures for the Gonski school funding reforms are a huge disappointment. The Gonski review showed public schools needed $6.5 billion in extra funding but in this budget money has just been shuffled from one area of education to another. That is not the cash injection that we need. Children are missing out while the Labor Government delays the reforms that are so crucial.
  • In the next financial year, there will actually be a net loss in education funding as programs are closed and money re-directed.
  • Most of the Gonski funding has been backloaded until 2019 and beyond, so there are students starting school now who will have finished several years of schooling before this money really starts to flow.
  • The Australian Greens would get more money to schools sooner by ensuring mining companies and wealthy banks pay their fair share to make sure our kids get a world-class education.
  • If Labor had the courage to stand up to the greedy miners and fix the holes in the mining tax, funding wouldn't have to be cut from universities. Taking from one area of education to fund another is no way to become the clever country.
  • Only the Greens will protect education from the cuts Tony Abbott & his government would make.

 

Mental health

What's in the budget:

  • $23.8 million for mental health nurses

What I think:

  • The funding for mental health nurses is a very welcome increase and is supported bythe Australian College of Mental Health Nurses. However, it is only a modest increase that will maintain services when what we really need is an increase in services.
  • It's clear the government feels it has 'ticked the box' on mental health, without providing the further investment that is needed to grow the services that are vitally needed.
  • For yet another year, specific funding for rural mental health was neglected.
  • Rural communities are the backbone of Australia yet there is an alarming lack of mental health services in rural areas.
  • For instance, more than 30%of Australians live in rural areas but less than 10 per cent of psychiatrists practise there.
  • The Greens know more money is needed to reduce the pressure on country health services and fill gaps, to make sure all Australians can get the mental health help they need, when they need it.

 

Veterans' affairs

What's in the budget:

  • $25 million more for veterans' mental health and expanding access to services for vets and their families.
  • Enhanced services for veterans, including new online resources.

What I think:

  • Our troops are willing to put their health and even their lives on the line to serve Australia overseas. They do this on our behalf and it is imperative that we care for them properly when they return
  • Those who serve in wars or peace-keeping missions are exposed to disturbing and traumatic conditions. Sadly, they often pay a price for that for many years later -as do their loved ones.
  • Expanding eligibility for Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service to include current and former ADF members and their immediate family members is extremely welcome.
  • The additional funding for veteran's mental health recognises what an important aspect of caring for veterans this is. We will be watching how this money is used very carefully to see if it is meeting veterans' needs and reflecting best practice.

 

Legal affairs

What's in the budget:

  • $10.3million to community legal centres.
  • Legal aid funding of $42 million over 2 years; $30 million to legal aid and $12 million to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services. This welcomed increase in funding at the federal must be matched by state and territory governments to improve services.
  • Additional judicial resources for Federal Court of Australia.
  • Exemptions from higher court fees for Independent Children's Lawyers when filing subpoenas and filing applications for interim orders in family law proceedings.

What I think:

  • While this funding is - again - much-needed, it is not sufficient to address the real crises in our legal system.
  • Access to justice is the cornerstone of our society and all around Australia, courts and legal assistance services are struggling to meet demand.
  • My inquiry into court fee increases has shown all kinds of unintended impacts on various people using the courts. The exemption for Independent Children's Lawyers is a concession to access to justice but a tokenistic and narrow compromise.
  • The Australian Greens would have liked to have seen more money for these services so people struggling with our costly and complex legal system can seek help, based on the merit of their claim not the size of their wallet.
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