Independent Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan AO, has had a mixed reaction to the 2016-17 Federal Budget delivered tonight in Parliament.
"The Budget contains some good initiatives for regional Australia; however, it was disappointing that there was no commitment to ongoing funding to address mobile phone black spots, rural health and assistance for councils,” Ms McGowan said. “I welcome the Government’s commitment to further the Inland Freight Rail project, tax changes and concessions for small business, domestic violence, and mental health funding for Australian Defence Force (ADF) members and ex-members.”
Ms McGowan said she supported general measures the Government has announced to get the Budget under control, particularly the new tax avoidance measures targeting multinationals, and superannuation changes to make the system fairer.
The highlight of the Budget was the Government’s $594 million allocation to the Inland Freight Rail project. This funding has been committed for the Australian Rail Track Corporation to acquire land and pre-construction works. This outcome is the next important phase of this project. “This decision has been long-awaited by businesses in Indi, including Logic in Wodonga. This is crucial transport infrastructure for regional Australia, including Indi,” Ms McGowan said.
While the changes to the Wine Equalisation Tax (WET) rebate will be disappointing for the 115 wineries in Indi, Ms McGowan said further details were needed to determine whether the rorts identified in the Senate inquiry have been addressed. The WET rebate changes will result in the rebate being reduced from $500,000 to $350,000 from 1 July 2017, and then $290,000 from 1 July 2018.
Health and Aged care
Small rural aged care providers in Indi will benefit from the replacement of the outdated remoteness classification system. Funding will now be allocated using more up-to-data from the ABS and Census data to better target needs. “Wangaratta Hospital missed out on funding. This needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency by the Federal and Victorian governments,” Ms McGowan said.
McGowan welcomed the youth entrepreneurship initiatives. This includes the expansion of the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, with an additional 2300 places will be funded each year. Ms McGowan said the suite of initiatives, including new Exploring My Own Boss workshops, the Self-Employment Starter Pack and Inclusive Entrepreneurship Facilitators, would support the work being done in North East Victoria.
“I’ve worked closely with the Beechworth-based Australian Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship and Assistant Minister for Innovation, Wyatt Roy, to ensure the Government understands the importance of these programs to regional communities,” Ms McGowan said.
Higher education reforms have been put on hold for at least a year. The Government will hold further consultation about the reforms. Ms McGowan welcomed this outcome and will continue to lobby for a regional plan for higher education. “It is vital that students and universities in regional Australia are not disadvantaged in any education reforms. Better education leads to better outcomes for students, employers and business and communities,” Ms McGowan said.
Ms McGowan said current and former ADF members in North East Victoria will get better access to mental health services. The Government has committed $38 million over four years to extend access to help treat PTSD and depressive disorders. “Indi has a large defence force community. This will be good news for those soldiers and their families who need these services,” Ms McGowan said.
Women and children must feel safe in their homes. Ms McGowan said she looked forward to Third Action Plan initiatives announced in the Budget, aimed at stopping violence occurring in the first place, and preventing re-offending. “I look forward to seeing programs rolled out in our region to help women and children in domestic violence situations,” she said.
The continuation of programs to support local government, including the Roads to Recovery, Black Spot (Roads) Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity, Bridges Renewal, National Network Maintenance, is a positive; however, the failure to lift the freeze on the indexation of the Financial Assistance Grants will continue to have significant negative impacts on councils in Indi.
The Not So Good
Ms McGowan also highlighted the inadequacy of the ‘Investing in Regional Growth’ statement produced by Senator Fiona Nash, Minister for Regional Development, Communications and Health.
“The Government fails to see the necessity of a regional impact statement against the Budget. I called for this in my Charter of Budget Honesty Private Member’s Bill. Rural and regional Australians want to see where their taxes are invested and this is why we need a comprehensive impact statement,” Ms McGowan said. “It’s disappointing there is no further commitment to the Mobile Phone Black Spot Programme beyond Round Two, no ongoing funding for the National Stronger Regions Fund beyond 2019, and no ongoing funding of the successful Stronger Communities Programme.”