The Federal Budget includes welcome measures to alleviate cost of living pressures for families, but represents a missed opportunity for transformational investment for North East Victoria, said Independent Federal Member for Indi Helen Haines.
Tuesday’s federal budget included $80 million for the Albury Wodonga Regional Deal, and Dr Haines celebrated the inclusion of $22 million for Wodonga TAFE’s heavy vehicle training program which she advocated for in her budget submission to the Treasurer.
But the Government showed its failure to understand the importance of regional health investment by failing to include necessary funding for a new world-class hospital on the border.
“Our population is growing rapidly and our health system is already under pressure,” Dr Haines said.
“When I asked Treasurer Josh Frydenberg about funding for a new hospital on the border in Question Time, he said the project would be considered on its merits. Well how can the Government explain this omission? Just $20 million is barely a nod to the need we have on the border.”
Short term cost of living measures designed to alleviate pressure on family budgets have been included in the budget in response to the rising cost of living, including a reduction of the fuel tax excise by 22.1 cents a litre for six months.
The Low and Middle Income Tax Offset was extended for the 2021-22 financial year, and increased with a $420 one off payment.
“I welcome the measures included in this budget to alleviate cost of living pressures for people in Indi, but I am concerned that these measures are short term and don’t address rising inflation,” Dr Haines said.
“The vast majority of people in Indi will benefit from the enhanced Low and Middle Income Tax Offset, the one-off payments to pensioners and low income earners and the fuel tax reduction. This is good news,” Dr Haines said.
“Now the Government must ensure this reduction is passed onto consumers at the petrol pump.”
Dr Haines also welcomed programs to incentivise small business investment in training and digital innovation, as well as incentives for taking on apprentices.
Dr Haines said the Government’s first-home buyer package did not do enough to address issues with the lack of housing supply in regional Australia.
“Housing affordability is a huge issue across Indi. And while saving for a deposit is one part of the problem, we know there is a desperate need for measures to increase the supply of affordable housing,” Dr Haines said.
Dr Haines celebrated the investment of $84 million in community microgrid projects in regional and rural Australia.
“I have been strongly advocating for locally-owned renewable energy projects throughout this term of Parliament. I have worked constructively with the Government to demonstrate the ways in which investing in community energy would boost local economies, and secure our energy supply,” Dr Haines said.
“This investment is welcome, but it’s nowhere near what is needed. Indi has led the way in community energy, and feasibility studies into microgrids in towns such as Wodonga, Corryong and Yackandandah are already underway. This announcement must now lead to further investment in renewables in our region.”
Dr Haines said the Government had failed to invest in hospitals in regional Australia, while limited investment in some areas of the health workforce were a welcome first step.
“There is no transformational investment in rural hospitals or workforce,” Dr Haines said.
The number of Commonwealth Supported Places for medical students at rural university campuses will increase by 80, following increased investment in the budget.
“We know young people who grow up in the regions, who want to become doctors and serve their communities, want to get their education closer to home.
“That is why I am calling for an extra 30 places for medical students to be funded at La Trobe University in Wodonga as part of the Murray Darling Medical School Network.
“These budgeted places are a welcome inclusion, and I will work with our local universities to make sure some of these places are at campuses in Indi,” Dr Haines said.
The Government announced more than $500 million in additional mental health funding, which Dr Haines welcomed.
“Everywhere I go in Indi, people talk to me about how desperate the need is for more mental health support. There are good measures in this budget, but more action is needed to increase the number of mental health professionals in regional Australia, and to assist those living with eating disorders,” Dr Haines said.
“Access to mental health care is severely limited by the number of mental health workers in the regions.”
The budget would make no difference in the long waiting list for home care packages in Indi, Dr Haines said.
“This budget has no new home care packages and no investment in regional aged care infrastructure,” Dr Haines said.
“They made big announcements last year but this year it seems older Australians have been forgotten. Implementing the recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission requires long-term, sustained investment and the Government has not delivered that.”
Indi will benefit from increased funding for regional mobile coverage, Dr Haines said, after the Government announced $811 million to extend the Mobile Black Spot and Regional Connectivity Programs for another five years.
“Indi is the most successful electorate in Victoria under the Mobile Black Spot program since I was elected,” Dr Haines said.
“By working with the community to advocate effectively, we have had significant success in fixing mobile black spots. I will continue this work to ensure Indi gets the funding we need to fix remaining mobile blackspots in our region.”
Dr Haines revealed there was once again no funding or jobs allocated for the government’s Commonwealth Integrity Commission.
“Australians know this budget is aimed squarely at the election. They are rightly sceptical about the Government’s intentions and would be right to question if these announcements are made because they are in the country’s best interest, or because they make good election promises,” Dr Haines said.
“There is almost $2 billion in a slush fund of decisions that the Government is yet to announce, that we are likely to see rolled out in the next few weeks. There is also billions of dollars being spent on infrastructure in seats that are critical to the Government’s election prospects.
“Until we have a robust federal integrity commission, a real watchdog with teeth that can hold politicians to account, Australians will continue to lose trust in the Government. They will question whether announcements are made in the best interests of the nation or to win seats. We need an integrity commission to ensure we know our taxpayer dollars are being spent where they are most needed, not where they are most politically advantageous.”