Students and the 2023 Federal Budget: Something is better than nothing

The 2023 Federal Budget offers little instant relief for students struggling with the cost of living and accommodation crisis. Leanne Elliott reports on the latest National Union of Students protest, and explores the key budget issues impacting students.

The 2023 Federal budget was a bit, dare I say, flavourless for most.

The National Union of Students (NUS), the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union and Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi were at Parliament House earlier this week calling for the government to address student poverty in the 2023 Federal Budget. I imagine for them the budget announcement was almost too much to swallow.

The NUS have demanded changes to welfare age thresholds and an increase to welfare payments. Also on the agenda, a call for student debts to be wiped and for and end to “exploitatory” unpaid work placements.

“The cost of living crisis is creating the circumstances for very difficult choices. As the cost of food, rent and study rise, students are forced to make very difficult decisions causing a disastrous impact on their standard of living,” said Aidan O’Rouke, NUS NSW State President.

“According to Australian Tax Office (ATO) data, there were more than 3 million people with an outstanding HECS-HELP debt in 2021-22, totaling more than $74.3 billion.” – NUS, HECS Submission, 2022

In response to the budget, Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson stated, “The budget strikes a balance between cost-of-living relief and fiscal repair,” adding that the governments inclusion of students in its’ cost of living support packages was welcomed.

Despite a surplus, the budget itself exuded the Labor governments cautionary approach to spending, taking care not to further provoke the inflation monster into tightening its strangle hold.

So, after stripping away the layers, what does the 2023 Federal budget mean for university students and graduates? (I write this next part with tongue in cheek).

Students who receive Jobseeker, Youth Allowance, Abstudy, or Austudy can expect a few breadcrumbs (up to $20pw) to help relieve the cost of living.
Those receiving rent assistance can butter their breadcrumbs with the extra rent assistance they might get, reported to be up to $12 per week.
Or you can put the extra $32 a week towards any HECs debts, because the indexation is expected to increase to over 7% by mid-year.
Students who fall in the low to middle income bracket might expect a lower tax return because Tax Offsets are not being extended.
If eligible you might get up to $500 to help with electricity bills.

At this point all I can say is, something is better than nothing… right?

“Universities Australia (UA) estimates that more than half of all the new jobs expected to be created in the coming years will require a university degree.” – NAB Group Economics, 2023.

Interestingly, on the NAB Business Research and Insights site, NAB Group Economics posted additional details on the 2023 budget highlighting some noteworthy points which are relevant to STEM students and International students.

  • $128.5 million for 4,000 extra places. This is aimed at boosting graduate numbers from STEM disciplines, and to support the trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States (AUKUS), with a current focus on augmenting the flow of skilled workers to support the joint national nuclear submarine project.
  • International graduates “with eligible qualifications” will be able to work an extra two years, from 1 July 2023.
  • From 1 July 2023, International students with visas will have working hours capped once again, to 48 hours per fortnight. These caps will not apply to International Students working in aged care until 31 December 2023.

Rebecca MacFarlane, from Insider Guides, has more key budget information for international students, including increases to visa applications and “improved training arrangements for international medical students, specifically those working in rural and remote areas.”

Inadvertently, students may also benefit from government plans to address the housing and accommodation crisis by offering incentives for rentals and build projects to address the supply issue. Also, there are changes to the Medicare system in the pipeline, such as greater rebates for longer consults.

For now, most of us will need to keep tightening the financial belt and hope we don’t loose circulation anytime soon.

If you are a current student of the University of Newcastle there are a number of support services and options available, including counselling, chaplaincy, financial assistance options and advice on general health and wellbeing.

Feature image provided by the National Union of Students.

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