Uncertainty prevails as federal budget nears

Lisa Chesters, pictured with Tanya Plibersek at Ulumbarra Theatre last month, hopes the government won't use cuts - including to schools - to fill budget black holes. Picture: GLENN DANIELS
Lisa Chesters, pictured with Tanya Plibersek at Ulumbarra Theatre last month, hopes the government won't use cuts - including to schools - to fill budget black holes. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

BENDIGO schools, kindergartens, health services and those in disability services will be keen observers of the upcoming federal budget, as uncertainty remains around funding arrangements.

While elements of the budget have already been publicly discussed, including plans to lift the freeze on Financial Assistance Grants for councils, doubt remains over plans for housing affordability, university funding and the way forward for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters hopes the federal budget rejects cuts to schools and health, and addresses the funding future for the NDIS and local projects.

The RSL is expecting the final $1.7 million from the federal government for its Soldiers Memorial Institute upgrade, while the Chinese association is hopeful of funding to replace Bendigo’s ageing imperial dragon Sun Loong.

The government appears committed to extending its partial funding for 15 hours of kindergarten by another year, and will push for its $50 billion company tax cut.

While some details of the budget were already locked in, Ms Chesters said schools, health services, universities and the unemployed were uncertain of their funding futures.

“I think we will see a lot of rebranding of old money. Be prepared for lots of spin and rhetoric,” she said.

“It appears that the people of Bendigo and central Victoria will be completely overlooked by Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition Government.”

The freeze on Medicare rebates could be lifted in the budget, but it remains unclear how the government would fund the $1.8 billion needed over four years.

Universities, including La Trobe, will be keeping a close eye on grant funding as part of the government’s higher education plan.

Ms Chesters said if there were cuts to universities, then they could be forced to raise their fees.

“That’s what I fear will be a consequence if there are any cuts,” she said.

“The Coalition will continue to spruik their plan for scholarships for bush kids, but that takes them away from the country and sends them to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.”

Housing affordability could also be a key feature of the budget. The government has already flagged its intention to shift the focus to rental affordability.

The funding future of the NDIS, which will require $22 billion per year once fully rolled out, could be clearer following the budget.

Treasurer Scott Morrison will deliver the federal budget on Tuesday.