The Federal Budget: the underwhelming, the unfair and the unsaid
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 124 No 3, 23 April 2019, page no. 17
Josh Frydenberg opened his delivery of the 2019-20 Federal Budget 0n 2 April with: “the budget is back in the black and Australia is back on track”. This touting of the forecast budget surplus, along with the repetitive shouting of “without raising taxes”, were the central themes. However, on closer inspection, this Budget was notable for its unfairness and what was not said.
For all the Morrison government’s claims for its supposedly superior economic credentials, this Budget is underwhelming. The parading of the forecast surplus is juxtaposed against an underspend of approximately $4 billion on the NDIS; flaunting such a surplus windfall in this context is distasteful at best. This is a government that is disconnected from the real challenges everyday Australians face, and it is failing to provide the necessary increases in funding for essential services such as schools, early childhood education, and TAFE. Simply put, this budget is an attempt by government to buy another term in office, rather than investing in our country’s future.
This budget does not demonstrate any genuine commitment to public education and cements the $14 billion cuts to schools that the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments have actioned in their six years of government. In making $298 billion available for tax cuts, the Morrison government missed a glittering opportunity to invest the $14 billion dollars necessary to see our public schools funded fairly.
The devil is in the detail of what is not said. Claims of a “record spend” on education are misleading - with an ever-growing population, this is inevitable. The failure on education funding provides a sharp contrast with the policy announced by Labor, which pledges to reverse the cuts and make the largest investment ever in public schools.
Despite the Morrison government’s “commitment to fairness”, there is no mention of school funding according to need. There is nothing to address the funding inequality that this government has inflicted on public school children, which will leave 99 per cent of state schools below the schooling resource standard.
The announcement of the “Local School Community Program”, for upgrades to libraries, classrooms and play equipment, will result in just $200,000 of funding per electorate. With up to 25 schools in some Queensland electorates, the dollars seen at the school level will not in any way be practical for the kind of upgrades intended and isn’t allocated for the kinds of things schools really need. This one-year fund of $30.2 million is particularly shameful when compared to the $1.9 billion infrastructure fund available for non-government schools.
VET and TAFE
The tale of woe continues when it comes to VET, as the Coalition ignores the need to reverse the damage it has done to TAFE. The announcement of 10 new “training hubs” spotlights this government’s inclination to privatisation, and is essentially introducing 10 competitors to TAFE. The $525 million over five years to purportedly “upgrade the VET sector” does nothing to replace the $3 billion it has cut from VET since its election.
Conversely, Labor will invest $1 billion in TAFE, with the intent of restoring TAFE to the heart of Australian vocational education and training. Labor has guaranteed at least two out of three dollars of funding will go to public TAFE. Furthermore, to reverse the decline in TAFE facilities that has occurred under the Coalition, Labor has pledged $200 million to rebuild and upgrade TAFE campuses across the country.
A further range of initiatives has been announced by Labor, including the allocation of $334 million to create 150,000 apprentices in areas of of skill shortages, the waiving of upfront fees for 100,000 Australians, pre-apprenticeship training for 10,000 young people, increased incentives for employers to take on apprentices, and the establishment of apprentice advocates.
The promise of $453 million to extend four-year-old preschool education for only one year provides little stability or long-term future for this highly valuable stage of education. This incredibly low figure shows no improvement on last year's Budget and no provision for three-year-old preschool, when two years of preschool is recognised as best practice globally. A Labor government, however, would assure universal access to preschool for every three and four-year-old in Australia.