Culture

Here’s How This Bill You’ve Never Heard Of Is Probably Going To Screw You Over

Got a HECS debt? Still studying? Maybe you're looking for a job? This bill will impact you.

The Omnibus Savings Bill sounds more like some sort of public transport system from Harry Potter than an actual government policy. It comes across as something pretty innocuous, right? Nothing with a name that boring could actually be that bad, could it? Wrong. The bill actually contains dozens of harsh budget cuts, targeting students, the unemployed and retirees, all packaged up in one convenient, terrifying piece of legislation.

Oh right, that was the Knight Bus.

Today the Treasurer, Scott Morrison, announced he was introducing the Omnibus Savings Bill into Parliament. The country’s economy is basically stuffed, he said, and we need to cut billions out of the budget in order to “arrest our debt”. The bill is the government’s first attempt at passing serious economic policy and they’re piling the pressure on Labor to vote for it. But what’s actually in it and could it become law?

Five Reasons The New Parliament Is Going To Be An Absolute Mess

The Omnibus Savings Bill contains 24 budget cuts the government announced in its previous term. All up, the cuts add up to a saving of $6 billion. It’s one thing for a government to announce a budget cut, but for it to actually take effect they need to pass legislation.

The cuts included in the bill weren’t passed during the last term either because they were blocked in the Senate by Labor and the crossbenchers or because the government just ran out of time. This time around the government is only including cuts that Labor said they would support during the election campaign. But Labor’s accusing the government of sneaking in extra cuts, so there’s no guarantee the bill will actually pass.

We took a look at some of the biggest cuts in the bill and how they might impact different groups of people across Australia.

University Students And Anyone With A HECS Debt

Some of the biggest cuts will impact current and former university students. If you’ve got a HECS debt (heyoooooo!) and you’re earning less than $55,000 a year, you could now be forced to make repayments.

At the moment the HECS repayment threshold is $54,869 pa. That means you don’t pay anything back if you earn less than that amount. But the government wants to change that threshold to $51,956 pa. That means more people are going to have to repay their HECS debt sooner and faster than before. This change will impact everyone, even if you’ve left university.

This is basically the opposite of Malcolm Turnbull

If you’re still studying the news is worse. The government is cutting about $55 million in direct funding to universities. They’re also cutting the HECS-HELP benefit, which gave discounts to students studying maths, science, education and nursing.

But the biggest change will impact students currently on Youth Allowance. Until this year, every student on Youth Allowance was eligible for a $1,025 scholarship each semester. As of January 1, new students didn’t receive a scholarship but had the opportunity to take a loan out instead. Now the government is proposing that students who were enrolled prior to 2016 will lose their scholarships as well, saving the government $405 million.

These are all big changes and are likely to have a negative financial impact on thousands of current and former students around the country.

Young People Looking For A Job

Currently the government funds something called a “Job Commitment Bonus”. It’s designed to help young people who have been unemployed for a long time find and keep work. If young job seekers manage to find and keep a job for two years they’re eligible for a $6,500 bonus. The policy was actually introduced by Tony Abbott as a way to encourage people off the dole. The Coalition government is now planning on axing that payment.

In the federal budget this year the government announced a number of other cuts to job seeker payments that were criticised by both social welfare organisations and businesses.

Everyone Worried About Climate Change

Australia is already lagging way behind when it comes to investment in renewable energy but that isn’t stopping the government from slashing $1 billion out of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). ARENA has two goals: to make renewable energy more affordable and to increase the amount of renewable energy being generated in Australia. Sounds good right? Not according to this government.

The cuts to ARENA have been strongly opposed by hundreds of researchers and scientists from across the country. They’re worried that the cuts will lead to the loss of hundreds of jobs and mark the end of renewable energy research in Australia. Which it probably will.

More good news for young Australians: If the cuts to higher education and job seeker payments didn’t hurt you, climate change sure will!

This polar bear accurately represents the government’s approach to climate change.

Pensioners, People On Welfare And Anyone Who Uses The Dentist

The single biggest cut in the bill is the proposal to save $1.2 billion by slashing payments to welfare recipients and pensioners. The payments are designed to help pay for energy bills. Welfare groups are strongly opposed to the change. They argue that it’s the first real increase to welfare payments since 1994. The changes will impact more than 2 million people. If they are implemented it will result in a cut of $4 a week for someone on a $38-a-day welfare allowance.

The government is also proposing to charge an interest rate of 9 percent to any outstanding debts people owe Centrelink. They’re planning on making nearly $400 million off this change.  Given how difficult dealing with Centrelink can be, and how regularly they get things wrong, it seems like a pretty punitive change. There’s also a measure to cut $50 million out of dental health care, because it’s not like that going to the dentist isn’t already expensive enough.

So Is The Omnibus Savings Bill Going To Pass?

Whether or not the bill passes depends on Labor. If they decide to support it, it will sail through both houses of parliament. The Coalition has said that the cuts in the bill are all things Labor promised it would support. Labor reckons the government has snuck in some extra cuts and one of their senior MPs, Anthony Albanese, has the warned the party against voting for things that will hurt “the most underprivileged people in our community”.

If Labor blocks the bill Malcolm Turnbull will have the very fun job of trying to negotiate with Pauline Hanson, Derryn Hinch, Jacqui Lambie, Nick Xenophon and the other Senate crossbenchers.

So relax everyone, the future of our higher education system, renewable energy funding and welfare payments is in very safe hands.