The Liberal Government’s 2018 budget, handed down by Treasurer Scott Morrison on Tuesday night, was widely anticipated as a budget for baby boomers.
It’s an election year, and while election budgets generally try to have something for everyone, it makes sense that they try hardest for those in the majority of powerful positions (i.e. the baby boomers!). But while ScoMo might not have pulled out all the stops for young people, there are definitely some changes that will affect us. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a ~politics person~ (I personally can’t relate to that), it’s important to be across the budget, because it has real-life impacts on many aspects of our lives.
You’ll be better off if…
You’re moving away from home for education
The big drawcard for young people in this budget is the raising of the parental income threshold to qualify Youth Allowance if you’re moving away from a regional, rural or remote area. The new threshold will be $160,000, meaning many more young people will be eligible for money that may mean they can move to places they otherwise couldn’t afford (hello, Sydney!). Don’t jump into tertiary education lightly, though – you’ll soon have to start repaying your HELP debt at a much lower annual income threshold of $45,000 thanks to last year’s budget. This is below the median income in Australia, and it’s going to make it a lot harder to save straight out of uni and in your initial years in the workplace.
You have an interest in STEM education or careers
There’s $4.5mil over four years to encourage more women into STEM careers, including a Women in STEM Ambassador. It’s hard to tell if this Ambassador will actually be useful, but encouraging women into the traditionally male-dominated STEM pathways in any capacity can’t be a bad thing.
You have kids and/or are planning on having kids
About $17.5mil has been set aside for research and initiatives surrounding maternal health, and women’s health more generally. On top of this, a free whooping cough vaccine will be introduced for pregnant women Australia-wide. Right now it’s offered free in some states, but it will be added to the National Immunisation Schedule meaning all expectant mothers will be able to obtain it free of charge. Given newborns can’t be vaccinated until 6 weeks old, this initiative hopes to drastically reduce whooping cough deaths in babies and young children. There’s also $5mil for the development of a digital baby book, meaning parents could use technology to track their child’s milestones instead.
You have been the victim of domestic violence
Approximately $7mil has been allocated to go towards Domestic Violence Response Training (DV-alert) for community workers and first responders. This training is part of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2010-2022. It helps these workers “recognise, respond and refer cases of domestic and family violence”. $11.5mil will also go to increasing the capacity and resources of 1800RESPECT, the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling and referral service.
Unfortunately, despite being hyped before the budget was handed down, there was no sign of the anticipated ‘significant funding’ to help women achieve financial independence from their partners. Political commentators seem to think these measures may be announced in the lead-up to the election instead.
You have certain illnesses
There’s $1mil being put into awareness campaigns for endometriosis over three years. These will be aimed at both the public and GPs, in the hope that the high rates of misdiagnosis can be thwarted.
Six drugs are also being added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, meaning they’ll be available much cheaper than they otherwise would be. These include medications for breast cancer, spinal muscular atrophy and relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. Considering how excessively expensive some of these treatments can be, the $1.4bil being invested over four years in adding these to the PBS will help a lot of vulnerable people.
You value good mental health
There’s going to be a $338mil increase in mental health funding, with the money being split between a range of organisations and initiatives. A lot of this is going to services for older Australians, which is a demographic we are increasingly becoming aware of as needing help with mental health issues. However, both Lifeline and SANE Australia will receive more funding to help with crisis hotline demand and awareness campaigns.
You have superannuation
Ok, not the most riveting subject for young people but an important one nonetheless. Some of the biggest announcements in this year’s budget deal with superannuation, and are aimed at us. This included a 3% annual cap on fees for accounts with less than $6,000. For many young people, particularly those only working part-time or casually, this would apply to you. This means you’ll be losing less of your money to your super fund, which might not mean much to you now but you’ll be somewhat better off in the future.
Similarly, life insurance premiums via your super fund will become opt-in for people with low balances, rather than opt-out. This will also extend to anyone under 25, no matter how much super you have. This is probably a good thing for you; at a young age the life insurance option generally tends to suck up fees without providing any real benefit.
Probably of the most relevance to young people is the initiative to match more people with their lost super. Any accounts with less than $6,000 that have been inactive for 13 months will be transferred to the Australian Tax Office, who will try to match the funds to the people they belong to. In theory, this is great! You’ll possibly be getting money you didn’t know existed from your old retail or hospo jobs (provided it hasn’t been eaten up by fees). In practice, however, it might not be smooth sailing. Currently you have to apply to the ATO to search for lost superannuation. From personal and anecdotal experience, this generally doesn’t go well, even if you’re certain you have another superannuation account. Unfortunately, this doesn’t give me much hope in the ATO “proactively” reuniting everyone with their lost money. It kind of looks more like a way for the government to raise revenue from these lost funds, although only time will tell.
You’ll be worse off if…
You receive Centrelink payments
Despite the ‘robodebt’ campaign being widely panned as a failure, and a danger to mental health in the community, the government is planning to recover even more money through the scheme. They’re aiming to target “people already paying back debts that have been identified as being able to pay more”, and will chase people who no longer receive Centrelink payments but have a lot of debt to them. The government boasts this will save $300mil. Shame about all the proven negative side effects that come with receiving an incorrect debt notice and having to prove that you don’t owe Centreline thousands of dollars.
You’ll also be at risk of having money deducted from your payments if you have unpaid fines, and if there’s an arrest warrant outstanding in your name you will have payments cancelled. While the reasoning behind this is somewhat sound from the government’s perspective, it neglects the broader picture and the realities of dependency on government welfare. Suddenly having your payments deducted or cancelled could cause serious issues for those other than just the recipient e.g. dependent children.
There’s more bad news if you receive Newstart payments – there was no rise to the payments announced, despite the cost of living continuing to rise.
You have an interest in news/current affairs/Australian media
There’s always been tension between the government and the ABC, but unfortunately the government has dealt a new blow by freezing the indexation of ABC funding for three years – effectively costing the broadcaster $84mil. It’s hard not to view this as a punishment for the national broadcaster, although the official reason is that it’s to “ensure they continue to find back-office efficiencies.“ This year’s budget brings the total cuts since 2014 to over a quarter of a billion dollars. An apolitical government-funded broadcaster is super important for Australia, and these cuts will most likely do some serious damage to an already weakened ABC.
You are a refugee or migrant
Continuing in line with previous budgets, refugees and migrants are much worse off under this budget. A big hit comes from an initiative that will purportedly save $200mil, where the waiting period for some welfare payments will be extended by a year for new migrants. There’s also a plan to extend the waiting time for refugees to receive help from Jobactive from 13 weeks to 26 weeks. This waiting period “will help them improve their English”, according to the government.
Foreign-trained doctors will find it harder to come to Australia, as the government projects Australia needs 200 fewer doctors per year to fill the doctor shortfall we were experiencing. This will help save $416mil. Unsurprisingly, the freeze on the foreign aid program will remain. The $4bil spent per year on foreign aid by Australia will continue until at least 2022.