Australians have been softened up for a piece of what Treasurer Joe Hockey has been calling ‘tough love’.
A federal budget aimed at curbing growing debt.
The Treasurer says every Australian should be prepared for sweeping changes to government funding.
“If we all give something, if we all make a contribution, this country is going to be so much stronger and more prosperous,” he told the ABC last week.
Across the country, families, workers, pensioners and small business owners await news of exactly how they’ll be affected.
The Commission of Audit has recommended scrapping Family Tax Benefit B, which supports single parents and single income families, and reducing the cut-off for Family Tax Benefit A.
Western Sydney resident Susan Wahab is a mother of two small children and a business manager at Fatana’s, a beauty salon owned by her family.
She supports the Coalition’s push for a budget surplus, but she’s also concerned about possible cuts to family tax benefits.
“Already, there are a lot of families struggling to make ends meet,” she says. “This adds to the pressure.”
If the federal government accepts the proposed changes, thousands of families could be left thousands of dollars a year out of pocket.
With a combined family income of over $80,000 a year, the Wahabs, who currently receive Family Tax Benefit A, could be among them.
“That’s the equivalent to [one month’s] mortgage and car loan repayment, so that’s a big difference,” Ms Wahab says.
In South Australia, Murray Bridge vegetable grower Don Ruggiero is concerned the cost of irrigating from the River Murray could rise.
He says drought-stricken farmers are already pushed to their financial limits,
“Most of the families I’ve been speaking to are on borrowed money, and with the economy slowing, demand has been down so prices have been down — so it definitely will affect us,” he says.
Mr Ruggiero is particularly worried by rumours of cuts to the diesel fuel rebate.
Currently, mining companies and farmers can claim a tax rebate for the off-road use of fuel. The future of that is uncertain.
“We can’t sustain any more costs because, since the drought five years ago we’ve had substantial rises in water, fertiliser, fuel,” he adds.
Speculation over a deficit levy has small business owners like Maurizio Di Ciano spooked.
The Perth restaurateur says taxing higher income earners will hurt his bottom line, and that customers are already starting to stay away.
“I could see already from the reservations on the phone that everybody gets a little bit on hold,” he says.
He welcomes recent moves to reduce red tape, but believes more could be done at the federal level to support small business owners.
“They don’t have to forget that business and small business is what keeps healthy governments.”
Some cuts have been revealed already, including a plan to raise the qualifying age for the age pension to 70 for those still working in 2035.
In Melbourne, Marilyn King and her husband Howard run a food and support program called Willing Older Workers, providing advocacy, support and food handouts to older jobseekers struggling to find work.
It’s something they’ve done ever since Howard King lost his job in his early ’60s, and struggled to find another.
They fear any increase in the pension entitlement age will result in greater hardship for more Australians later in life.
“The government is saying ‘work, work, work,’ but they aren’t saying where you’re going to get the work from,” says Howard, who now works casually as a mechanical fitter.
Marilyn says the broader problem of employment for older workers needs to be addressed before the government can expect Australians to stay in the workforce longer.
“We’re begging the government to do something about job creation,” she says. “Don’t just sit there and say we’ll raise the pension age and everyone will be working.”
Howard King is also concerned people who work in trades, like him, will be forced to push their bodies at a time when they need greater care
“As you increase in age, of course your health deteriorates, and that would have to be a very serious consideration,” he says
“The majority of tradesmen, we work a pretty hard life. I’ve worked a lot of construction, I’m still doing heavy industry work and it does take its toll on you.
“I’ve seen many younger people, younger than I am, that are having just as many problems.”