You can’t eat representation, man

by Eliza Littleton

Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has spent the last couple of months lowering expectations about this federal Budget—and it turns out that for young people, at least, this was for good reason. Issues affecting young Australians received very little attention in the Budget, and much-needed structural reforms—to address the housing crisis, educational affordability, and inadequate income security—were kicked down the road.

Let’s start with the good stuff. The Albanese government has committed $10.5 million over four years to improving the representation of young voices in relevant government decision-making. This includes establishing an Office for Youth, which—if it works in a similar way to the Office for Women—will help synchronise policy across multiple departments. Creating a dedicated office is a positive step toward young people becoming something more than a governmental afterthought.

Now for the not-so-good. While the government’s delivery on its promise to create 20,000 new Commonwealth supported university places should help with the accessibility of higher education, they do nothing to address its affordability. More university spots are good, but  changes to the cost of education would be better: student tuition fees have risen by 8%, on average, since the introduction of the Coalition government’s Job Ready Graduate reforms. Similarly, the 480,000 new fee-free TAFE and VET places announced in the Budget are a start, but their introduction glosses over the chronic underfunding and market-led failures of the system.

The issue of affordability is also highlighted by the lack of a significant increase to income support. With a significant proportion of young people living on various support payments—including JobSeeker, Austudy, and Abstudy—the absence of a rate rise will deepen inflation-induced cost-of-living pressures on young people. Those who are employed, meanwhile, will see their real wages continue to decline over the next two years.

It is perhaps too much to expect the issues affecting young people to be resolved in one Budget, especially one where the government’s fiscal constraints were clearly telegraphed in the lead-up. However, there were revenue-raising opportunities the government decided not to take.

One of the most obvious is to repeal the Morrison government’s planned Stage 3 income tax cuts, which will cost a quarter of a trillion dollars over the next 10 years. The Australia Institute’s research shows that people earning $180,000 or more will receive 50% of the benefits from these cuts, while gen Z—who are more likely to be in low wage jobs—will only receive 2.8%.

By backing in these cuts, and ruling out other revenue raising measures like a windfall profits tax, the Albanese government has chosen to put tax cuts ahead of fixing issues affecting young people and other struggling Aussies. In good news, it’s not too late: all eyes will be on the May 2023 budget.

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