The Budget: Greens vision & views
The federal Budget is the economic tool that underpins and enables the Government's hopes, aspirations and priorities for the nation. Unless the Budget tells a strong, clear, consistent story, people are left wondering: what does the Government stands for?
Christine Milne's Budget reply speech - A Budget for the kind of country we want to be - lays out the Greens' response to the Budget and our vision of what it could have been.
Here is our analysis of some key Budget areas, with links to more information.
Skip to: Dental Health | Climate Change & Energy | Schools | Higher Education | Foreign Aid | Immigration | Defence | Helping the most vulnerable | Arts & Culture | Housing | Environment | Rail & Roads | Communications
The Greens have successfully negotiated an investment of more than half a billion dollars in dental health, which lays the foundations for a new national dental scheme.
The reforms we've negotiated for the 2012-13 Budget will mean:
- $345.9 million for a public dental waiting list blitz, to help the 400,000 Australians on public waiting lists get treatment faster;
- the Chronic Dental Disease Scheme will be saved from Budget cuts, until we can develop a comprehensive national scheme with the Government to replace it;
- $158.6 million to help dentists set up in rural areas and train more dental professionals;
- $10.5 million to promote good oral health; and,
- Building on this investment, we are now heading into negotiations with the Government to design a national, dental scheme this year.
Read more about this year's Budget commitment here. Thanks to your passionate support, we have now started Australia on the road to Denticare.
Climate Change & Energy
As a result of the agreement with the Greens, a legislative package has been crafted to, for the first time ever, make polluters pay for the damage they do. The revenue will be invested in clean renewable energy, helping householders and businesses to cut wasteful energy use, and supporting Australians to meet rising costs. We are very pleased that this Budget delivers on the Biodiversity Fund and the Carbon Farming Initiative that the Greens negotiated as part of the Clean Energy Package.
At the same time, however, this Budget allocates yet more billions to the fossil fuel companies. These billions of dollars of handouts to make diesel cheaper, to make mining cheaper and to help companies export more and more polluting coal, directly fuel climate change. We are on track for a temperature increase of at least four degrees of global warming because of what we are doing.
The G20 has again called for nations like us to end handouts that encourage the burning of fossil fuels. Doing so would enable us to responsibly fund other national priorities, like schools, dental health and nation-building infrastructure.
We know that Australia's schools need an additional investment of at least $5 billion - the detailed Gonski report made that clear. There was no commitment to the Gonski reforms in this year's Budget, except for a paltry $5 million over two years for further policy work.
This Budget was a wasted opportunity to put a down-payment on reform - and the Greens continue to call for a new schools funding model to be legislated this year.
Some 77% of low income, 86% of indigenous, 80% of disabled students, 72% of rural, 79% of children from single parent families and 84% of children from remote areas are in the public system.
A down-payment in the Budget for the schools these children attend, in line with Gonski's recommendations, would have demonstrated a genuine commitment to real reform.
The $54 million extra funding announced for maths and science in education was undermined by the Government's $316 million fee hike that doubled the fees to study maths and science at university.
The higher education budget was largely spared the knife, but Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has pointed out that the absence of increased funding will further entrench existing problems such as high staff to student ratios and the casualisation of academic staff.
Disappointingly, HECS fees for maths and science courses will still double, as announced last November. These courses are necessary for our future as an innovative country, and the Government shouldn't be making them harder to access.
The Gillard Government's plan to increase participation and broaden the base of university students is laudable, but it could well falter without continued increased public investment to cater for quickly growing student numbers. Labor's purported vision of a highly trained and skilled workforce has stalled, with critical skills shortages persisting in most key skills areas.
Prime Minister Gillard has much more to do if she wants a real ‘education revolution'.
The Greens are the only party opposing cuts to foreign aid in this year's Budget.
Only six months ago, Labor and the Coalition voted in the Senate for a Greens' motion to support the 2015 target for overseas aid of 0.5% of Gross National Income. Now, the Gillard Government has slashed $2.9 billion from the aid budget, and both the old parties have broken their promise.
The Greens have joined aid groups in condemning this decision. It has damaged Australia's reputation and robbed neighbouring countries, which have some of the world's highest rates of poverty and child malnutrition, of urgently needed aid programs. Christine Milne joined Australian Greens foreign aid spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon in condemning the deferral and Christine used question time to scrutinise Foreign Minister Bob Carr the day after Budget day.
Later, the Government and Opposition joined forces to vote down a Greens motion seeking to reaffirm the tripartite commitment to increasing foreign aid. You can listen to the audio of Senator Rhiannon addressing the media on the issue here.
The Gillard Government's 2012 Budget will fund the biggest migration programme since 1945, but fails to give a fair go to some of the world's most vulnerable people.
The Immigration Minister broke his promise to create 20,000 humanitarian places, leaving this year's intake capped at 13,750 places, which hasn't changed for the past four years.
Humanitarian places now comprise just 6 percent of total migration places, compared to 18 percent under both the Keating and Howard Governments.
As well, the Immigration Department's Budget blew out by more than $1 billion. If the Government had finally put time limits on detention and increased community release places, they could have avoided this cost blow out.
The annual average cost of a community release programme is $10,400 per person, compared to more than $137,000 if an asylum seeker is kept indefinitely in a detention centre. Detention centre operating costs are of course higher for facilities in remote areas such as at Curtin or Scherger.
Letting more asylum seekers live in the community once health and security checks show it is safe to do so is a better use of taxpayers' money and can keep the department's costs down.
We've welcomed the announcement of a new Defence White Paper and support the Government in targeted cuts to military spending. The portfolio has an extraordinary history of cost overruns and spectacular waste, an issue we've been pursuing on an inquiry Greens Senator Scott Ludlam initiated into defence procurement.
In this Budget we've welcomed the cancellation of unnecessary capital projects, but warned that overpriced and overdue Joint Strike Fighter should have been cancelled rather than deferred. Of greatest concern: the announcement of a $220 million study into what kind of submarines to procure must stand as the most expensive feasibility study in history.
Helping the most vulnerable in Australia
On Tuesday night, we saw a government that wants to make Australia the country of the fair go by handing out cost-of-living payments - while at the same time cutting benefits to single parents, and saying it cannot afford to increase support to our most vulnerable people to help lift them out of the cycle of debt and unemployment.
Newstart recipients, and other people on allowances, need systemic reform - not band-aid, infinitesimal, one-off payments. The social sector, business and the Greens have been calling for a genuine increase to Newstart to stop condemning recipients to poverty and placing further barriers to employment in their way. It's time the Government heeded that call.
Arts & Culture
The arts tell our story as a nation. We were able to secure $40 million in this year's Budget so that the National Gallery, the National Museum, the National Library, the Film and Sound Archive and other cultural institutions will be protected from ongoing cuts.
Our formal request for a $350 million spend on creating 15,000 affordable rental homes through the Greens' Convert To Rent initiative was knocked back, as was our call to expand the National Rental Affordability Scheme.
However, there is about $3.6 billion in the Budget for 2012-13 to tackle housing and homelessness issues. Given the size of the problem and the speed with which it's growing, more money and better planning is needed.
When it comes to the environment, this year's Budget was singularly uninspired. While there has been little change to most of the major environment programs already in existence, neither has there been any exciting and positive environment initiatives from the Government. Given that the last State of the Environment Report reveals the Government's ongoing failure to stop habitat destruction and prevent our wildlife from sliding further towards extinction, the Budget embodied a disappointing lack of vision and action.
One admirable environment opportunity that the Government missed was the rollover of the Reef Rescue program. This program supports Queensland farmers to reduce their impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, and was popular with farmers and environmentalists alike. The Greens asked the Government to fund this program past its original end date of 2013, but so far the Government has failed to do so. The Greens will continue to advocate for Reef Rescue, and to act to protect the Great Barrier Reef from the Government's plans to turn it into a coal and gas highway.
Rail & Roads
There was twelve times as much spending on roads in this year's Budget as on rail.
The Greens have fought hard for interstate high speed rail, and the Government has committed to $20 million for that venture. This is a good win, but we need to see a major shift in funding patterns, not just a one-off boost to a particular project. With this roads-orientated Budget, Labor still seems hooked on oil-dependent infrastructure.
While disappointed to see the Government's thinking is still stuck in the bitumen, we welcomed two of the roads initiatives: $6.5 million to eliminate 43 dangerous spots on local roads, and $130 million to assist councils to upgrade roads. In the long term interests of road safety, however, we need to get more freight and commuters off the roads and on to rail.
There was some good news: the Budget included $4 million for the development of light rail in Perth. This support from the Federal Government will hopefully be a tipping point in the long campaign to properly develop light rail in Perth run by the community and Greens MPs.
The Budget contained a good win for the many people who campaigned strongly for improved resourcing for SBS. In a tight Budget in which many portfolios faced serious cuts, the fortunes of SBS swam against the tide. The finances of the station will remain tight for years to come, but the additional commitment of $158 million is the most significant funding boost the SBS has ever had.
In February the Greens rang the alarm bell when it was revealed SBS radio services in fifteen languages had been suspended during the summer break, and we renewed our call for greater funding. SBS was not established as a commercial proposition, but to provide vital services to this country's diverse population. Multilingual services are important to people who speak English as a second language, and also to English-speakers learning another language. It provides top quality news and current affairs programs locally produced and from around the world, in addition to showcasing film and television productions from many cultures. All of this was at risk.
In 2007, due to financial pressures the station moved to full in‐program advertising. Three months ago the Greens stepped up the campaign to restore SBS to financial health with legislation to phase out the broadcaster's dependence on advertising: the Special Broadcasting Service Amendment (Natural Program Breaks and Disruptive Advertising) Bill 2012. The Greens welcome the first major step in that direction.