Aside from a few crumbs, the upsides of the budget for property, sustainability, science, engineering and the global environment are very few indeed. Many industry groups, professional associations and political parties have been quick to express their disappointment.
The Green Building Council of Australia described it as a budget of “missed opportunities”, with no plan for city infrastructure and no additional funding to tackle climate change or sustainable building upgrades.
“While the Abbott Government has maintained its commitment to the Emissions Reduction Fund, which remains at $2.55 billion over four years, no additional funds have been allocated to ensure Australia meets its greenhouse gas reduction targets by 2020,” GBCA chief executive Romilly Madew said.
“Despite the building sector having the greatest potential for delivering emissions cuts at the least cost, most building owners aren’t able to access the ERF. And now there is no money in the budget to support building upgrades that reduce emissions, while improving the health, wellbeing and productivity of occupants.
“Australia needs a coordinated, economy-wide approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing urbanisation and adapting to a changing climate – and this is missing from the budget.”
The GBCA said it was pleased to see $6.1 million for the Climate Change Authority, bust was disappointed that infrastructure funding was focused on roads and freight “rather than on the 21st century infrastructure Australia needs to make our cities more efficient and sustainable”.
“This lack of funding ignores the fact that 85 per cent of Australians live in our cities – and that our cities are the engine rooms of our national productivity and prosperity.”
The Urban Development Institute of Australia said the budget was light on structural reforms to increase productivity and boost the standard of living.
UDIA national vice president Michael Corcoran said investment in new housing and productivity enhancing infrastructure in our major cities was central to Australia’s future prosperity.
“The unwinding of the mining boom is placing a heavy toll on government finances and the broader economy, and that’s clearly reflected in the 2015-16 budget,” he said.
“Development and new housing construction is currently doing much of the heavy lifting in the Australian economy, and with most of Australia’s capital cities still suffering from a chronic housing shortage, it’s an area that still has plenty of room to grow.”
Barriers to new construction UDIA identified were inadequate investment in urban infrastructure, “red tape” and “inefficient” taxes and charges on new housing.
Consult Australia chief executive Megan Motto described it as “a mixed budget all up, but one that will boost confidence and immediate investment by small business”.
But the picture on infrastructure funding announcements was not so rosy.
“There is little new money for infrastructure. The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility may generate up to $5 billion of new investment in partnership with the private sector, but more substantial seed funding and a broader remit for this fund would multiply the benefits,” Ms Motto said.
“The government’s commitment to maintain $3 billion as a contingent liability in the budget for East West Link underscores the long-term fall-out of bad infrastructure decision making. We cannot simply stuff this money under the mattress; it must be used with urgency to substantiate the vacuum created with the cancellation of East West Link.”
Master Builders Association
The MBA said the government had delivered on its pre-budget request for short-term tax measures to boost building activity.
“There are more than 300,000 small businesses (more than any other industry) in the building and construction industry who are winners from the budget,” MBA chief executive Wilhelm Harnisch said.
“The $5.5 billion small business package will massively boost confidence, activity and jobs in the industry.
“In an industry as capital intensive as building and construction, the immediate write off of assets up to $20,000 will provide an immediate stimulus. Measures to cut tax for both small companies and sole traders will also underpin a reboot of confidence for builders, home-buyers and consumers.”
The Property Council
The Property Council of Australia said the scrapping of GST reverse charging measures in this year’s budget would save property owners “hundreds of millions of dollars in additional stamp duty”.
“The Government’s original proposal to replace GST free business sales with a reverse charging mechanism was a technical measure that would have inadvertently penalised property owners with a tax hike for no real gain,” Andrew Mihno, PCA’s executive director international and capital markets, said.
“In NSW, this could have meant an additional $550,000 of stamp duty on the sale of a $100 million tenanted office block.”
Greens Leader Richard Di Natalie described the 2015 Budget as “a visionless, small-minded document”.
“This budget’s biggest failure is what isn’t there. There’s no vision, no direction and no new sources of revenue from the big end of town,” Senator Di Natale said.
“This budget takes more money from the pockets of nurses and charity workers than it does the big miners or big banks.
“The Abbott government is still ignoring the environment and doing nothing to tackle climate change.
“Continuing cuts to science and research, and failing to invest in a new economy for Australia beyond the mining boom means fewer jobs.
“The failure to raise new revenue means that in the end schools, hospitals and the environment lose.”
Greens senator for NSW Lee Rhiannon said the Abbott government has kept many of the harsh and unfair elements of the 2014 budget and has failed to deliver a credible economic plan to create jobs and invest in public services in NSW.
“Tony Abbott is throwing billions of dollars to new motorways, including the WestConnex, without a full business case being released. This funding should immediately be redirected towards public transport services,” Ms Rhiannon said.
The crackdown on tax avoidance by multinationals shifting profits overseas announced by Joe Hockey overlooked “tax avoidance by multinationals in our own backyard”, Environment Victoria said.
“In his speech Treasurer Joe Hockey said we ‘want people or companies who are avoiding their tax to pay their fair share’, but his budget completely ignored the $2.5 billion in subsidies going to highly profitable mining companies,” Nick Roberts, campaigns director at Environment Victoria, said.
The Fuel Tax Credit Scheme is a $7 billion a year federal government subsidy for diesel consumption – one of the largest single expenditure programs in the country. Environment Victoria has been calling for the government to introduce a cap which would save around $2 billion a year by taking the subsidy away mostly from huge mining companies with billion-dollar profits.
“Twenty-four hours ago Treasurer Joe Hockey gave the Tax Commissioner new powers to claw back billions of dollars of profits shifted overseas. By failing to cap the unfair diesel fuel rebate to rich miners, Joe Hockey has effectively given them a $2 billion lump sum payout.”
There have been worldwide calls to end fossil fuel subsidies for a number of years from the United Nations, The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
“Even Abbott Government climate contrarian poster-boy Bjorn Lomborg has called to end fossil fuel handouts.
“A cap would also reduce a scheme that is currently subsidising over eight percent of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. This would save money, grow renewables and reduce pollution. Most Australians want investment in clean energy, just not Joe Hockey and the Abbott Government.”
Australasian Rail Association
ARA said it is disappointed the budget allocated no new funds for rail infrastructure to service the major cities and reduce road congestion.
Interim chairman Bob Herbert said rail was swiftly approaching a funding cliff that would see key integrated rail infrastructure projects fall off the policy agendas of our biggest and fastest growing cities.
“Federal contributions to state government rail projects have effectively halved between this budget and the last, making up less than five per cent of the $8.6 billion infrastructure spend in 2015-16,” Mr Herbert said.
“Australia as a nation is facing increasingly serious economic, social and environmental problems with traffic congestion clogging our roads, transport emissions choking our urban environment, fluctuating fuel prices and the continued growth of our major cities.
“The Federal Government’s continued approach of prioritising roads over rail will not address the long term transport needs of our growing cities.”
Australian Academy of Science
President of the AAS Professor Andrew Holmes said researchers were not only still feeling the impact of the savage cuts in the 2014 budget, this year’s effort put $290 million of further cuts to science and research programs on the horizon.
“It is great that [National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme] facilities will continue to be supported for the next two years but cutting block grants to researchers in universities is like taking engines off the jumbo jet. You need to fund the scientists as well as the tools they need to do their work, it can’t be one or the other. NCRIS needs a long-term sustainable funding model,” Professor Holmes said.
“While there are forecast selective cuts there have also been selective increases, and we look forward to seeing those increases sustained into the future.
“The Industry Minister and Prime Minister say they want to see science play a greater role with industry and yet in this budget we’re seeing nearly $30 million cut from Cooperative Research Centres, that are designed to help improve collaboration with business. What will replace them in generating jobs from research and development?
“As the mining boom slows, this should be a time of growth in science funding to allow us to better prepare for the knowledge economy we need. Instead our future prosperity is at risk,” he said.
North Queensland Conservation Council
The Northern Infrastructure package has the NQCC concerned a new coal-fired baseload power station for Townsville and Northern Queensland is on the cards. It is also concerned about ongoing support for the expansion of coal mining and lack of action on climate change.
“The budget announcement of cheap loans for ports, pipelines, power and water infrastructure rings alarm bells for anyone concerned about our environment,” NQCC coordinator Wendy Tubman said.
“The idea of expansion of the coal industry, more port facilities on the Barrier Reef coast and the development of Cape York for agriculture are ideas from the last century. They ignore what we now know about the impacts of coal on climate change and the impact of land-clearing and climate change on the Reef.
“The Reef is in danger and climate change is costing individuals and governments more and more. We face increasing disaster recovery costs, mitigation expenses and rising insurance premiums. Yet, the Federal government budget has cut funding for climate-related issues while supporting development that will only make climate change worse.
“We need governments that have the intelligence to recognise that ignoring the environment only damages the economy. We need leaders who recognise that there are alternatives to coal-fired power, alternatives that are ideally suited to our region.
“And we need governments with the integrity to accept that jobs for the future do not lie with digging up and exporting resources or with clearing our native vegetation. There are thousands of potential jobs that do not damage the environment and which are sustainable.”