The federal budget will provide greater education opportunities to Mountains residents, according to Macquarie MP Louise Markus, but ALP spokeswoman Susan Templeman said it was full of broken promises and heartless decisions.
Mrs Markus said new loans available to students studying courses other than bachelor degrees will make higher education “more accessible” by offering support to those doing diploma, advanced diploma or associate degree courses.
There will also be a “massive new Commonwealth scholarship program to boost equity of access, particularly for regional students”.
And the budget outlined significant investment in infrastructure, including $173.5 million for the Great Western Highway upgrade between Katoomba and Lithgow.
“The Abbott government’s higher education reforms will expand opportunities and choice in Macquarie, meaning more people in our region will be able to study,” Mrs Markus said.
“This reform is part of the government’s economic action strategy to build a strong, prosperous economy and a safe, secure Australia.”
But she rejected the notion that the budget broke any promises and said she believed deregulating university fees could result in cheaper courses.
“It may result in some lower fees — it would depend on what it costs to run the course,” she said.
But Ms Templeman said she was “stunned” the budget was hitting students so hard.
“The deregulation of university fees means costs will skyrocket and increasing the interest rate for HECs debts means young people will start their working lives with massive personal debt,” she said.
“It’s all very well to be earning or learning but learning is going to have a $100,000 price tag attached to it which will be daunting to many kids who might have been the first in their families to further their education.”
Ms Templeman also spoke out against the proposed new $7 payment for visits to the GP, for X-rays and for blood tests.
“In this electorate alone, more than 800,000 visits to the GP take place every year, so that’s an extra $6 million being taken out of the pockets of residents that they won’t be able to spend on other local services and goods,” Ms Templeman said.
When asked about concerns that the new fee may forced people to Katoomba Hospital’s emergency department rather than their GP, Ms Markus said: “I think we will need to monitor that.”
She added: “I can assure you that I will be giving feedback that any of my constituents raise with me to the relevant minister.”
Mrs Markus said other benefits to the electorate included $4.4 million next financial year for the Springwood Town Centre revitalisation, $3 million for planning works for a managed motorway system on the M4 from Merrylands to Lapstone and $18 million for upgrades to the approach roads to Richmond Bridge in the Hawkesbury part of Macquarie.
Mrs Markus said the Coalition had also kept its election commitment to invest $243.8 million over four years to revitalise the school chaplaincy program.
“I am particularly pleased the chaplaincy program has been returned to its original intent of funding school chaplains only. I encourage all schools in Macquarie to apply for funding which offers up to $20,000 per year to support a chaplain.”
Ms Templeman said the government promised “no surprises, but we have a new petrol tax, a new GP tax, a new tax on high income earners. Mrs Markus owes the Mountains an apology for breaking those promises.”