Positive response to Federal Budget

By Benalla Ensign

The Federal Budget has been announced and the overall reception it has received in Benalla and the north east has been largely positive.

The positives:

●The response to the Independent Review into Regional, Rural and Remote Education.

This includes $28.2 million over 4 years for an additional 500 sub-bachelor places at regional universities and improved access to youth allowance for regional students, with the parental income cut-off increasing from $150000 to $160000.

Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie described this as good news for regional students.

‘‘I am extremely pleased that, through this budget, access to Youth Allowance has been made easier with the Parental Income Test being raised for regional and rural families making it more affordable for kids from the country to move away from home to undertake tertiary studies,’’ Senator McKenzie said.

Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan said she welcomed these provisions.

‘‘This is a good start from the government in responding to the review of regional, rural and remote education,’’ Ms McGowan said.

●A commitment to the Building Better Regions Fund (BBRF) and the Stronger Communities Program.

Federal Regional Development, Territories and Local Government Minister John McVeigh said the budget showed the government’s commitment to regional Australia through the extension of vital community grants programs that invest in economic and social infrastructure in regional areas.

‘‘The government is providing regional communities the opportunity to build the infrastructure they need to thrive with an additional round of the building better regions fund,’’ Dr McVeigh said.

●Continued funding for the Roads to Recovery Program.

The Roads to Recovery Program supports the maintenance of the nation’s local road infrastructure, which facilitates greater access for Australians as well as improved safety, economic and social outcomes.

●Continued funding for the Black Spot Program.

Not to be confused with the mobile black spot program, the black spot program makes an important contribution in reducing the national road toll.

●Continued funding of the Bridge Renewal Program.

This is an on-going commitment to upgrade and replace bridges to enhance access for local communities and facilitate higher productivity vehicle access.

●Improved access to aged-care services and in-home support.

This element of the budget has been welcomed by many in the Benalla community including Cooinda Aged Care as well as the Victorian Local Government Association (VLGA) and Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan.

‘‘I am pleased the government will provide $40 million for capital grants to aged care providers in rural, regional and remote Australia and there will be an additional 14000 new high-level home-care packages across Australia over the next four years,’’ Ms McGowan said.

●Support for craft brewers and distillers.

Includes extending the concessional draught beer excise rates to eight litre or greater kegs and increasing the alcohol excise refund scheme cap from $30000 to $100000 per financial year.

Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan said this would support Indi’s reputation as a food and wine destination for tourists.

‘‘Extending the concessional draught beer excise rate... will allow craft brewers, which typically use smaller kegs, to benefit from the lower rates,’’ Ms McGowan said.

‘‘Wine tourism is (also) an important part of Indi’s regional economy.

‘‘This money will encourage producers to continue to invest in winery cellar doors, which build upon those tourism opportunities.’’

●Funding initiatives for mental health care and support.

Mental Health Victoria have welcomed a range of funding announcements in the budget.

These include $33.8 million for Lifelines crisis telephone services, $10.5 million for beyondblue, $125 million for mental health research, $83 million for mental health services for residential aged care facilities, additional funding for the National Mental Health Commission and confirmation that the NDIS will be fully funded.

●A low and mid income tax offset.

Senator Bridget McKenzie said this would benefit families by up to $530 per year.

‘‘Over 54000 taxpayers in the electorate of Indi stand to benefit from the low and middle-income tax relief; which delivers more money to help individuals and their families with the costs of living,’’ Ms McKenzie said.

●Extension of the $20000 instant asset write-off for small businesses.

Senator Bridget McKenzie said this would help small local businesses afford much-needed equipment without breaking the bank.

‘‘Already over 1000 businesses across Indi have befitted from the Asset Write Off Initiative, this number is now going to grow which is fantastic for our communities,’’ Senator McKenzie said.

●$550 million Stronger Rural Health Strategy.

This will provide contemporary health care and put 3000 extra highly qualified doctors and more than 3000 nurses into regional Victoria during the next decade.

●Continued funding for 15 hours of quality early learning.

This will ensure more than 2000 preschool kids across Indi get the best start to their education regardless of their circumstances.

The negatives:

●$83 million for the rural workforce strategy may not be enough.

Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan said while this Budget strategy would provide incentives to teach, train and recruit doctors to rural and regional areas, it was not perfect.

‘‘The strategy doesn’t include allied health service delivery in small country towns,’’ Ms McGowan said.

‘‘It is not targeted where it is needed.’’

●No more funding for the Mobile Black Spot Program.

The budget did not allow any funding for further rounds of this program.

Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan said the government’s failure to deliver further rounds of the Mobile Black Spot Program would see up to 200 communities in Indi forced to go without improved mobile reception.

Premier Daniel Andrews has also highlighted this as a problem and questions how the government can afford an ‘‘$80billion tax cut for big business,’’ while leaving thousands of Victorians with limited or no mobile phone coverage.

‘‘First Malcolm Turnbull was using the Mobile Black Spot Program as a political tool to gain votes, now he’s abandoned it all together — I’m not sure which is worse,’’ Premier Andrews said.

●A failure to address the long-term impact on local government caused by the freeze on Financial Assistance Grants.

This point was mentioned by Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan in her budget response.

‘‘There needs to be a review of local government in regional communities focused on declining income, increased stewardship responsibilities and ageing infrastructure,’’ Ms McGowan said.

●The proposal for compulsory deductions to be taken from people receiving welfare payments with outstanding court-imposed fines.

With much recent debate over the value of welfare payments, which have not kept pace with the increased cost of living, this proposal will hit the most vulnerable in the pocket when many are already struggling to put food on the table.

●No funding to address waste management in the wake of China’s recent ban on low-grade recyclable material.

The VLGA has released a statement saying it is disappointed with the lack of national leadership to tackle this problem.

The rest of the statement read: ‘‘While the federal and state governments are busy blaming each other, local governments are left to deal with this issue with limited resources to meet community expectations.

‘‘This delays any real progress towards the identification and implementation of sustainable waste management solutions.’’