Budget boosts roads, cuts education and welfare

AUSTRALIANS will be hit with tax hikes and welfare cuts with an aim to reduce the national deficit, following the release of the most promoted budget in a generation.

Treasurer Joe Hockey delivered the Abbott Government's first budget Tuesday night with cuts to education, unemployment benefits and other forms of welfare alongside a renewed focus to improve the nation's road network.

South-west motorists will be slugged at the petrol bowser with the federal government repealing the automatic indexation freeze implemented by the Howard government in 2001, ensuring a fuel price rise every six months.

Wannon MP Dan Tehan said the 2014-15 budget laid down the foundations for a more prosperous Australia, adding that regional road funding was a big winner in the economic blueprint.

The Liberal MP said all election commitments including $10 million for the south west cancer centre had been fully funded in the forward estimates.

"This is a budget about the future of our children and puts in place an economic action strategy," Mr Tehan said last night.

"The (fuel) excise will be directly linked to road infrastructure funding, including Roads to Recovery funding, extending the program from 2014-15 to 2018-19." 

Shadow Regional Minister Julie Collins said south-west Victorian households and businesses would be hurt by petrol price rises, adding it could lead to a slowdown in the region's economy.

"Many Australians have been hit hard by this budget but regional Australians particularly, with an $80 billion hit to health and education over the next 10 years," Ms Collins said.

Full deregulation of the university sector was confirmed in Tuesday night's budget, following on from warnings from Deakin University vice chancellor Jane den Hollander last month that such a move would limit the opportunities of south-west students.

Wannon MP Dan Tehan.

Wannon MP Dan Tehan.

Mr Tehan said deregulation of the sector would allow the university to have more operational freedom.

"Deakin Warrnambool now has the opportunity to attract more students and become more competitive," he said.

But Ms Collins said regional school leavers were likely to face exorbitant higher education fees in the next few years, limiting their potential.

"Deregulation of universities means regional campuses like Warrnambool's will struggle to compete (against larger institutions)," the Labor MP said.

Deakin University accounting expert Graeme Wines said the lead-up to the 2014 budget has some striking similarities with the media strategy used by former treasurer Peter Costello in May 1996.

"What we've seen over the past four to six weeks is a lot of foreshadowed measures, which is a way of letting the public know what we'd be in for on budget night," Professor Wines said.

"That way we'd had few surprises on the night itself. "The same strategy was used by Peter Costello when he handed down his first budget, when higher medical fees, changes to university fees and other revenue-raising measures were introduced."

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