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Budget of missed opportunities.

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Senator Meg Lees

Australian Progressive Alliance 13 May 2003

Budget of Missed Opportunities

“Tonight’s federal budget is an exercise in missed opportunities,” said Australian Progressive Alliance Senator, Meg Lees.

“The Government will spend billions of dollars on defence - defending us against possible enemies. It has missed the opportunity, however, to defend Australia against its real enemies such as salinity, poverty and inequality,” said Senator Lees.

“As with all budgets there are some good initiatives and some that need work to ensure fairness.

“I particularly welcome the tax relief for low-income earners. I also welcome the new Indigenous health program and the long-term study addressing the challenges facing Indigenous children.

“Elements of the Medicare package and elements of the higher education package are welcome.”

However, Senator Lees said there a number of areas of concern:

Health There are many positive initiatives in the Health Budget including the focus on prevention, support for rural Australia and the Pathways Home Initiative for elderly Australians. However I consider the Medicare package to be at “first draft stage.’ I will be suggesting amendments to the Government to ensure it does as it claims - that is remaining “strongly committed to the principles of Medicare.” I will be making a further announcement on the Medicare package tomorrow.

Indigenous Australians Indigenous Australians are still the poorest Australians, with the most significant health problems. Additional spending for Indigenous Australians is welcome but there is still a long way to go. The Government has commissioned more reports which, while useful, will sit alongside countless others. Reports cannot replace urgent, measurable action on the ground.

Education I am pleased to see support for Indigenous students and staff in the Higher Education package. I welcome the new scholarship programs, the nursing and teaching packages, the general growth in Commonwealth supported packages and the increase in the income threshold for HECS repayment. Public funding of extra places for medical students is also to be applauded. I accept the concept of bonding but there is still work to be done.

I will not accept the tying of Workplace Relations outcomes to increased funding for universities. Nor can I accept the loss of services if membership of student unions becomes voluntary. Increases in the number of upfront full fee places and flexible fees up to 30% over HECS represent a major change and I will speak to the Vice Chancellors and student organisations to seek their opinions.

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