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Federal budget 2013: business and community groups respond

There has been a mixed initial reaction to Treasurer Wayne Swan’s sixth budget from industry and community groups. Big business…

Wayne Swan’s budget has been met with mixed reviews. AAP/Alan Porritt

There has been a mixed initial reaction to Treasurer Wayne Swan’s sixth budget from industry and community groups.

Big business says it is disappointed with Wayne Swan’s sixth federal budget, laying doubt on his figures and a return to surplus by 2016-17.

In a scathing attack the Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott said: “We are being asked to believe that muddling through with the budget approach that hasn’t worked so far is going to work now.”

She said that of the A$43 billion of claimed “savings” over the forward estimates, well over half related to revenue including tax increases, or were deferrals or bring-forwards.

“What is needed is a concerted effort to fundamentally change the cost structure of government spending.”

The Australian Industry Group questioned the numbers. “We risk a repeat of history. The reality of the slowing economy and the prospect of further falls in the terms of trade are not adequately recognised in the budget forecasts.

“As a result, the revenue outlook is less promising than the budget suggests and hard calls on spending will have to be made before the budget can be brought back to surplus.”

The Australian Medical Association said the government would force sick people to pay more for their health care to help address the budget deficit. AMA president Steve Hambleton said the decision to delay indexation of the Medicare Benefits Schedule would rip A$664.3 million out of primary health care services.

Melbourne welfare group the Brotherhood of St Laurence was disappointed that the budget had not boosted the unemployment benefit.

It has welcomed the $300 million allocated to help job seekers to transition to work but called on both parties to pledge a much greater investment to build the capacities of the long-term unemployed.

“This is not a "cost”; it is an investment in social infrastructure that is as vital as building roads and ports,“ Brotherhood Executive Director Tony Nicholson said.

Universities Australia welcomed “positive new higher education initiatives” in the budget, but said they were insufficient to offset the impact of the $3.8 billion worth of cuts to higher education announced over the last six months.

“The budget includes A$186 million to extend the funding of nationally significant research facilities for a further two years and A$135 million to extend the future fellowships program for the rising stars of research.”

There is also new funding of A$84.6 million for additional postgraduate and diploma places.

Universities Australia said the extra $346 million for university places reflected the increases in student enrolments.

Meanwhile, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey has described it as a “dishonest” budget, but could not say whether the Coalition would support the scrapping of the baby bonus.

He said the government has shuffled money around and the opposition wanted to look more closely at what it had done.