Harsh budget pounds battler family from all directions

Wendy Briggs and her children, Emily Briggs and Codey Briggs. Wendy is a single mum with three kids, two of whom have autism, says the budget is going to make things very hard for her.
Wendy Briggs and her children, Emily Briggs and Codey Briggs. Wendy is a single mum with three kids, two of whom have autism, says the budget is going to make things very hard for her. Mireille Merlet-Shaw

WENDY Briggs is used to life's body blows but Tuesday night's Federal Budget has left her stumped.

"It (the budget) wasn't something I was looking forward to and I didn't think I would come out unscathed but I didn't expect to be hit so hard in so many areas," she said at her Goonellabah home.

Ms Briggs is a single mother with three children, two of whom have autism.

Changes announced by Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey mean she will lose $51.10 a week from her welfare payments, while at the same time paying more for petrol - thanks to the return of indexation to the fuel excise - more for medicine and more for taking her kids to the doctor.

Already on a tight budget, Ms Briggs said even the reduction on her income would put her in a bad position but the increases to her costs made things even harder.

"I've been walking around the house thinking, 'What can we cut back on?' but we're running at the bare minimum now," she said.

I don't think they are really concerned about the Australian people. They're more concerned about getting the budget out of deficit.

"The kids already don't do after-school activities because of the cost of doing it now. What else can we pull back on? Their sporting activities at school? Going to birthday parties? Do I get rid of the internet? I have two kids in high school ... they are going to need the net for assignments and things like that."

The obvious solution is to find paid employment to make up the shortfall, although that would mean giving up the volunteer work she does - including running a free support program for parents with autistic children.

However returning to work has its own problems - beyond ongoing high unemployment on the North Coast and the fact it's been about 20 years since Ms Briggs last worked for another person (she has been self-employed and for the past 15 years has had her time dominated by looking after her children, aged 15, 12 and 7).

Because of the high needs of her two younger children, Codey and Brady, Ms Briggs would be able to work only between 9.30am and 2pm on weekdays and would need to leave work with little notice if there was a problem at school. She would also need time off to take the children to specialist appointments.

"I don't think there are too many employers out there that would be that understanding these days - particularly with the economy getting tighter," she said.

The blow of the budget had left Ms Briggs unimpressed with the nation's politicians.

"I don't think they are really concerned about the Australian people," she said. "They're more concerned about getting the budget out of deficit.

"Is there really a need for it to be done so quickly? Can't it be done over a period of time instead of hurting families that are already struggling?"





OPINION: Bizarre logic underpins cruel budget

Northern Rivers Social Development Board CEO Tony Davies.
Northern Rivers Social Development Board CEO Tony Davies.


TUESDAY'S budget slugged the needy while letting the wealthy off the hook, Northern Rivers Social Development Council chief executive Tony Davies has said.

Mr Davies said the budget "lacked coherence".

"They abandoned pre-election promises, but they are cutting taxes by cutting the mining and carbon taxes, which broadened the tax base and raised money from the biggest parts of the economy," he said. 

The premise is there's a budget emergency and we need to balance income and expenditure but they cut taxes ( through the carbon and mining taxes) compared to the previous government.

- Tony Davies, chief executive officer, Northern Rivers Social Development Council

Mr Davies said the government could have raised more money by cutting tax breaks to high income earners - who instead would have to live with a temporary tax increase of only a few dollars a week.

"The people in the lowest income bracket are dealing with the permanent measures meant to bring back a structural budget surplus," he said. 

"Someone earning $200,000 a year has to pay an extra $8 a week in tax, but someone on Newstart is losing $48 a week."

Northern Rivers NSW Business Chamber manager John Murray.
Northern Rivers NSW Business Chamber manager John Murray. Jay Cronan


SMALL businesses on the Northern Rivers could expect to feel a hit from the Federal Budget as the government's belt tightening reduced the money residents had to spend, Northern Rivers NSW Business Chamber manager John Murray said.

Although broadly positive about the budget, Mr Murray said some of the pain would siphon through to local businesses.

I think most small business owners would understand that where expenses are getting ahead of revenues there's always going to be a day of reckoning and (Tuesday) night was certainly that.

- John Murray, manager, Northern Rivers NSW Business Chamber

"It doesn't appear to be a bad budget for businesses but there are concerns," he said.

"Considering the types of businesses we have in the region, there's going to be a number of changes with consequences."

Those changes included reduction of income to pensioners, students and some families.

He said raising the superannuation employer contribution to 9.5% would be a "cost to business" and the reduction in corporate tax would make little difference on the Northern Rivers.

SCU vice-chancellor Peter Lee
SCU vice-chancellor Peter Lee Andy Parks


CHANGES that allow universities to charge whatever student fees they please will have no impact on the competitiveness of Southern Cross University, vice-chancellor Peter Lee said.

Professor Lee rejected suggestions the changed rules could create a two-tiered system for the nation's universities, noting Southern Cross was a world leader in some disciplines.

"It's a matter of assessing strengths," Prof Lee said.

"There are only three universities in Australia judged as well-above world excellence for geo-science and Southern Cross University is one of them. We're strong in plant science and strong in nursing."

I really feel for the school system. With the Gonski funding finishing in four years I'd love to know what the funding for schools will be. There's a question mark on that.

- Prof Peter Lee, vice-chancellor, Southern Cross University

However Tuesday's budget still offered concerns.

"We're concerned about our students," he said.

"We have 68% of our students assessed internally to go to university and we have a high mature-age cohort. The budget made other changes to the cost of living - such as petrol and Family Tax Benefit B - and we know increasing fees on mature-age students."

OPINION: Bizarre logic underpins cruel budget

IT WAS a mean Federal Budget but not the meanest in recent history.

Joe Hockey's first budget as treasurer was billed as the "Black Budget" but apparently it doesn't compare to some of the slashing and burning done by Hawke-Keating and Howard-Costello.

But it was mean, hitting some of the least able to afford it pretty hard.

It also had some screwy logic.

I love the idea of setting up a fund to make Australia a world leader in medical research.

This is well worth pursuing but not by slugging people every time they visit the doctor.

How can you, on the one hand, rip $80 billion out of the states' hospital funding and then turn around and say you are going to set up a world-class medical research fund?

If you are going to slug people an extra $7 each time they visit the doctor at least spend some of that money fixing our broken-down hospitals.

The Rudd government set global warming as the greatest moral challenge of our generation.

If you listen to Joe Hockey's rhetoric, paying down Australia's debt is the greatest challenge for the future.

And what of the 16,000 public servants that are about to lose their job?

It was barely mentioned in most TV news services I watched on the budget.

If it were 16,000 private sector workers losing their jobs, it would be headline news.

There also seems to be precious little in this budget for the Northern Rivers.

- David Kirkpatrick

Topics:  autism, budget, editors picks, federal budget 2014, fuel excise, medicare, welfare

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