9 May 2023
Haines celebrates Federal Budget wins on home electrification and agriculture, criticises housing and regional development
Labor’s first full Federal Budget includes measures which will make going to the doctor cheaper and lower electricity bills for those doing it tough, but Independent Federal Member for Indi Helen Haines says there isn’t enough action on housing or enough funding for the regions.
Dr Haines welcomed measures on the cost of living, and programs to help households access low-cost loans for energy-saving improvements, and a program to support farmers as they act on climate change.
Dr Haines said the Budget’s measures to tackle the regional housing crisis were disappointing, with no funding for enabling infrastructure to open up housing development in the regions.
“The number one issue people talk to me about in Indi is housing. There’s so much more this Government could do to kickstart housing development in regional Australia to ensure we all have a safe, affordable roof over our heads,” Dr Haines said.
“The Budget includes measures to help people get into home ownership, which I support, but in many towns in Indi there are just no houses to buy. These measures won’t be effective without first addressing supply issues.”
The Budget includes a $2 billion increase for the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation to support more social and affordable housing and measures to incentivise build-to-rent projects, but didn’t implement Dr Haines’ plan for a Regional Housing Infrastructure Fund.
“I welcome the funding increase for social and affordable housing. Now the challenge for the Government is to make sure this funding actually makes a difference on the ground, and fast.
“I will be speaking to the Minister to see how projects in Indi can make the most out of this expanded funding pool.”
Dr Haines said the Budget showed just how important it was for the Housing Australia Future Fund legislation to be passed so building could begin on more social and affordable housing.
Cost of living
Grocery, rent and petrol prices continue increasing in Indi. Dr Haines welcomed budget measures to ease cost of living pressures, including:
- A $40 per fortnight increase for JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, Austudy and other income support payments;
- A higher rate of Jobseeker payments for people aged 55 and over, who will receive an increase of $92.10 per fortnight;
- Increasing the maximum rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance by 15%;
- $3.5 billion to triple the Medicare bulk billing incentive for GPs, for eligible Australians, including pensioners and children under the age of 16; and
- $3 billion in energy bill relief for eligible households and small business.
“Almost 30,000 people in Indi will benefit from the tripling of bulk-billing incentives and I welcome this commitment from the Government,” Dr Haines said.
However, Dr Haines said more could still be done to improve the cost of living.
“The Government has said the energy bill relief will be different from state to state and it’s not clear what this means for Victorians. I will be seeking more information about what this means for Indi residents,” Dr Haines said.
“The $40 a fortnight increase to JobSeeker is below the increase that the Australian Council of Social Service and other sector leaders called for and will still leave thousands of people in Indi living below the poverty line.”
The Budget includes measures to support general practices to expand multidisciplinary teams by employing more nurses, allied health and other health professionals and a Primary Care and Midwifery Scholarship Program to support registered nurses and midwives to undertake post-graduate study and improve their skills.
It also includes increasing psychology placements to ensure more mental health professionals become qualified.
“Alongside the measures to increase the bulk-billing rate, these measures to support the health workforce will make a real difference in Indi. As a nurse and midwife I have long supported calls to expand multidisciplinary teams and mid-career support for nurses and midwives. I am confident this will make it easier for people to get the healthcare they need,” Dr Haines said.
Renewable energy and lowering emissions
Dr Haines welcomed the Government’s commitment of $1.3 billion to establish the Household Energy Upgrades Fund, but said more must be done to help households lower their energy bills and emissions into the future.
The fund will provide $1 billion to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to partner with banks and other lenders to provide households with low-cost loans to upgrade homes through solar panels, modern appliances and other improvements such as double-glazing.
“I have been calling for measures similar to this for more than a year, meeting with the Energy Minister Chris Bowen and Assistant Minister Jenny McAllister and I am glad they have listened to me and other industry leaders on this issue. This is a good start, but we need to know more detail about who will be eligible and how much they can save,” Dr Haines said.
“The Government so far estimates approximately 110,000 households will benefit and I imagine this program will be heavily in demand. Australians want to reduce their energy bills and emissions and this must be just the first step for the Government in helping make that happen.”
The Government also announced $300 million to support energy-efficient upgrades to social housing, to be co-funded with the states and territories and $310 million in tax relief through a Small Business Energy Incentive.
“This is a welcome announcement and I look forward to consulting with local businesses in Indi on the tax incentives to support more efficient use of energy in their businesses and how this could benefit them,” Dr Haines said.
Supporting farmers responding to climate change
The Government committed to invest $302.1 million over 5 years into from the Natural Heritage Trust towards developing a climate-smart and sustainable agriculture sector. It includes $76.4 million to establish a network of Sustainable Agricultural Facilitators to provide extension services to accelerate the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices.
The network of Sustainable Agricultural Facilitators replicates Dr Haines’ proposal for neutral, trusted agricultural extension officers that she has been advocating for since before the last election.
“This is a win for the agricultural sector. Farmers want to take action on climate and improve their practices but they need support to know exactly what to do and how to do it,” Dr Haines said.
Dr Haines welcomed a 15% increase in the award wages for aged care workers, which includes registered nurses, personal care workers, home care works, and chefs and cooks.
Additionally, the Government announced $166.8 million to release 9,500 more Home Care Packages, and $112 million to introduce a new General Practice in Aged Care incentive payment, to encourage GP attendance in aged care homes to reduce avoidable hospitalisations for residents.
“I have consistently advocated for more funding across all areas of our aged care system. I support these practical Budget measures,” Dr Haines said.
“I look forward to consulting with my constituents when these measures are rolled out, and hope to see improvements for Indi’s elderly residents.”
Investment in the regions
Dr Haines criticised the Government for the lack of new funding measures for regional development, and the minimal investment in regional roads.
“Roads across our region need significant investment, especially after last year’s floods. There is some funding in this budget but it’s clear it won’t be enough to repair the issues we are facing,” Dr Haines said.
Integrity in Government
Dr Haines welcomed increased funding to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Australian National Audit Office.
“It is important that the agencies that make up the Government’s integrity framework are sufficiently funded and there are positive steps in that direction in this Budget,” Dr Haines said.
“I am glad to see a small increase in funding to the National Anti Corruption Commission Inspector to reflect changes secured through the committee work I was part of.”