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Dereg delayed until 2018 in tepid election budget

Mary Ward, Victoria Zerbst, Alexandros Tsathas and Max Hall report from a Canberra bunker.

Birmo, ScoMo and the Moneybag deliver the goods. Well, no they don't. But, ugh. Birmo, ScoMo and the Moneybag deliver the goods. Well, no they don't. But, ugh.

Fee deregulation is off the table until 2018, tonight’s Federal Budget has revealed.

In an overwhelmingly tame election budget, the Turnbull government appears to have simply shifted pennies around. Honi’s Budget lock-up team looks at what the bean-counter-in-chief has prepared for students.

HIGHER EDUCATION

Turnbull makes sure dereg won’t cost him any votes

After the apocalyptic university fee deregulation proposed by Abbott and Hockey in their 2014-15 Budget was defeated twice in the Senate, Turnbull and friends settled on a compromise: reducing the taxpayer’s contribution to the cost of a degree by 20%.

Now, with an election around the corner, the Government isn’t even prepared to back that plan.

For its 2016-17 Budget, it has released a “discussion paper” and postponed making any calls on higher ed until 2018, comfortably after Australians go to the polls in July this year.

Driving Innovation, Fairness and Excellence in Australian Higher Education”, released with the Budget, should have been called “The cost of HECS is ballooning and here’s some shitty ways to shift the burden onto students.”

Ideas floated in the paper, which will probably be introduced if the Coalition are re-elected, include:

(Still) reducing the taxpayer’s contribution to the cost of a degree by 20%.

Introducing interest on HECS loans, set at 20% of the cost of your degree.

Lowering the threshold at which you have to start paying HECS back, from $56,126 to $45,000. Quicker repayments mean cheaper loans.

Cutting cheaper degrees for areas of national priority, like sciences.

Recovering HECS debt from deceased estates.

With this glossy piece of toilet paper, the Government has tried to avoid making its higher ed reforms an election issue. It still intends to punish students, only surreptitiously, and further down the track.

Carpe Diem

What will affect higher education?

The lack of major changes and general air of “hush now” around higher education in this year’s budget doesn’t mean nothing has changed.

Support for Indigenous students

The budget brings uncertainty to funding for Indigenous support services at universities by collapsing three existing programs – the Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Program (ITAS), Commonwealth Scholarship Program and Indigenous Support Program – into a single “Indigenous Student Success Program” which will allow universities to decide what sort of support is provided to indigenous students. This means Indigenous students may see reductions in their scholarships or less access to tutoring under the popular ITAS scheme.

In an effort to incentivise institutions to retain their Indigenous students, the government will now fund Indigenous support services based on how far students progress through their degrees, rather than by the number of enrolments. No further details were confirmed beyond the government’s vague commitment to “more flexibility to implement responses that best meet the needs of individual students”.

QLT and Excellence

$8 million will go towards publishing better information about university admission processes and the job prospects of graduates from each university, likely in response to controversy early this year about the number of students admitted to University’s below the published ATAR cutoff.

$10 million will also be spent bolstering TESQA, the agency that accredits higher education institutions, to deal with the influx of private education providers that are now allowed to use the FEE HELP scheme.

These changes were funded by abandoning $21 million plans for a university Centre of Excellence in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. Simon Birmingham’s pocketed the rest. Summary? Who needs good lecturers or public education when you can read about your shit job prospects on a pretty website.

What's missing?

WORK AND WELFARE

You get an internship, and you get an internship!

You know what is really controversial? Hiring young people and paying them a liveable wage. But, in a move Scott Morrison said is for “de-risking that investment”, the budget introduces a new youth employment package, Youth Jobs PaTH: a voluntary scheme for up to 30,000 job seekers under the age of 25 starting in April 2017.

If the chatroom-circa-2004 mix of lower and upper case letters didn’t give it away, “PaTH” is an acronym. It stands for “Prepare”, “Trial” and “Hire”. Yeah, we don’t know where the “a” came from either.

In the “Prepare” aspect of the scheme, the government will be funding industry-endorsed, pre-employment training for job seekers. The “Trial” sees the government subsidise up to 30,000 voluntary internships for jobseekers who have been registered with employment services for more than six months. Job seekers will receive $200 for every fortnight of their internship (on top of their existing welfare payments), and businesses will receive a flat payment of $1000 for taking on a ragamuffin youth, which means if your internship goes for the program’s maximum 12 weeks, you’re $200 ahead of your employer! (Except for all of that virtually free labour you just gave them.) For PaTH’s “Hire” element, employers will receive a wage subsidy of between $6,500 and $10,000 for hiring someone who has been registered with employment services for six months.

Newstart and Youth Allowance (Other) payments remain unaffected throughout the process, meaning under-25s will still need to meet the job-seeking requirements in their first four weeks of registered unemployment established under last year’s budget in order to qualify for these payments.

If you’re reading this thinking, ‘Has the government abolished Work for the Dole?’ Never fear: if you fail to turn your “Trial” into a “Hire” – or weren’t able to secure an internship in the first place – that shit still exists. However, instead of being pushed onto it after six months, if you are deemed a “Stream A job seeker” on Jobactive, you can now laze around refreshing Seek for a whole year (or – as a smiling policy adviser told Honi repeatedly – volunteer for the scheme at any time).

Fuck off, domestic violence

“I’m not applying for grad jobs. I have a start-up idea that’s going to be huge”

Another change to unemployment policy is the government’s  $88.6 million commitment to the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, which was introduced in last year’s budget to help low income earners develop small businesses. Now, the entrepreneurial scheme is being extended to people not on income support (provided they are also not taking part in any employment, education or training), so every recent college grad with an app idea can apply.*

But, how do you help someone start a business short of giving them cash? The budget proposes a series of workshops titled – and we are not joking – ‘Exploring Being My Own Boss’ as well as “Entrepreneurship Starter Packs”. We expect these agile and disruptive seminars will be held at Double Bay’s Royal Oak.

*To take part in some, non-financial benefits of the program, which, with 8600 participants budgeted for, only has 300 more places than last year.

Left of Centre-link?

Students will now automatically be issued Health Care Cards when they apply for student payments from Centrelink. That’s good, in our experience, because often students do not even know they are eligible.

The government are also aligning Youth Allowance means testing with other welfare payments. This mean you won’t have to re-send your family’s financial information if it’s already in the Centrelink system. That’s good if you’re bad with forms. Also, money gifted by your parents will no longer be counted as income when you apply for student payments. That’s good if you’re rich.

Cough it up

There are also slight updates to the geographical classification of regional or remote students, which are used to assess eligibility for students who receive the Relocation Scholarship or an independent rate of youth allowance. Is that good for you? You should find out.

These changes are purely administrative and only affect a small amount of students. The value of Centrelink payments remains the same and the Turnbull Government sits at your student feet praying for no drama.