The 2017 Budget: “Paying More and Paying Sooner”

The budget means different things to different people. Nikola Jokanovic takes a look at what it might mean to you.

On May 9, the Liberal government handed down their 2017 budget, detailing their fiscal strategy and outlook for the coming years. Hotly contested as always, commentators have already each painted the budget into different shades and stripes: Treasurer Scott Morrison called it a “fair and responsible path back to a balanced budget”, middle-grounders consider it Labor fun-size, and Opposition leader Bill Shorten delivered a scathingly critical response in the House of Representatives two days after release. It’s clear that this budget means different things to different people – so how will the 2017 budget affect university students?

Changes to University fees

By far the most important issue for university students will be the changes to university fees, a major point of interest in the run-up toward the budget’s release. University course fees are set to rise by 7.5% by 2022, with a 1.8% rise each year from 2018 to 2021 and a finishing 0.3% to bring it to 7.5%. Students will also be required to begin repaying their HELP debt once they reach an income of $42,000 rather than the current $55,000 – this change begins from the 1st of July 2018. Under these changes university students will be paying more and paying sooner, which some worry may make higher education unattractive or entirely unattainable for future students.

University Funding Cuts

Universities are one of the areas that will be dealt funding cuts as part of the budget balance and surplus dash for 2020. $2.8 billion will be cut from universities, the recourse for which will be the increases in university fees – Labor senators have noted that these changes will be challenged when they approach legislation. An efficiency dividend of 2.5% will also be applied to funding for university teachers in 2018 and 2019, which the Liberal Party claim will promote more sustainable university spending. Elsewhere, funding for the arts will receive a 12% decrease by 2021, although a modest $6 million has been put toward supporting Australian film and television.

Mental Health

Unfortunately felt by many Australians, student or not, mental health has been addressed in this year’s budget. A number of new measures are featured, including: $15 million towards mental health research, $80 million for support services for individuals with mental illness don’t qualify for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, an $11 million focus on additional mental health support in regional areas and easier access to drugs for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The lift on the Medicare rebate freeze and new incentives for doctors to bulk-bill will also allow for easier and cheaper access to doctors.

Housing Affordability

Younger university students will be happy to find that policy has been announced to help first-home buyers get a foot in the door (or the mail-flap at the very least). With the First Home Super Saver Scheme, market entrants will be able to put up to $15,000 a year – for a maximum total of $30,000 – into their superannuation, making use of superannuation tax advantages to save for a deposit faster. In a similar vein, investors are being encouraged to invest in affordable social housing for rent with a 60% tax discount, up from the current 50%.

Issues of Interest: Climate Change and the Plebiscite

Two hot-button issues important to many conscientious Australians are featured in the budget, either in their neglect or their sly inclusion. Many commentators noted the complete glancing over of climate change concerns in the budget speech, and the policies seem to say just as much as well. Funding for the National Climate Change Adaption Research Facility, once at $50 million in 2008, will drop to just $600,000 under this budget, and then to nothing after 2018. Meanwhile, $86.3 million will be put towards investigating and expanding gas resources, effectively locking in fossil fuel as Australia’s energy future.

The deeply decisive gay marriage plebiscite makes a surprise reappearance. A single paragraph in the first set of documents notes that the Liberal government “remains committed to a plebiscite in relation to same-sex marriage”, with $170 million still allocated to carrying it out should it pass into legislation.

Want to know more or where we got our information from? The actual Budget documents, factsheets and more can be accessed at http://www.budget.gov.au/.

Feature Image: flagstaffotos.com.au, via Wikimedia Commons. No changes made.