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Premiers to meet on budget revolt


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State and territory leaders will meet in Sydney in three days to discuss a joint approach to fighting the Federal Government’s proposed cuts to state health and education budgets.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, who has declared he will lead the fight against the budget, confirmed today he would attend the Sunday meeting.

Premiers and the chief ministers reacted with alarm this week after discovering the Coalition government would cut $80 billion from health and education funding to the states over the next decade.

Weatherill told radio FIVEaa this morning that concern about the impact of Treasurer Joe Hockey’s first budget crossed party lines.

“(Queensland Liberal premier) Campbell Newman rang me in the aftermath of the budget and said we should call for an emergency COAG meeting,” Weatherill said. “And I said ‘yeah but in the meantime we should get together and a group of premiers and chief ministers’, and we’ve now organised to do that I think in Sydney on Sunday.”

He said the meeting would allow state leaders to “plan the way in which we try and resist these changes”.

NSW Liberal premier Mike Baird said premiers across the country shared his concern about the cuts.

“The states are determined to fight for the long-term sustainability of our finances for the ongoing delivery of critical health services across each state,” he told reporters in Sydney.

Weatherill said the federal withdrawal of of health and education funding would lead to a cut of about 600 hospital beds and 3,000 teachers.

“Obviously what they’re expecting us to do is to have deep cuts or to try and raise some taxes to pay for it, but one way or another what it’s going to do is cause an enormous burden on ordinary South Australians,” he said.

“The appalling thing about this is that this $80 billion wasn’t even mentioned on budget night.”

Health Minister Jack Snelling is holding a “crisis meeting” today with health bodies – including organisations representing doctors and nurses – to discuss ways to cope with a cut which he claimed was more than $600 million over the next four years.

Meanwhile, the South Australian state Liberals today said they were opposed to the Federal Government’s decision to end the Local Roads Supplementary Funding Program.

“The $18 million equalisation funding compensated South Australia for the fact we have 11 per cent of Australia’s local road network but just 7 per cent of the nation’s population,” said Shadow Minister for Regional Development, Steven Griffiths.

However, he praised ongoing funding to Regional Development Australia committees across SA.

“Ongoing funding will enable our RDA committees to identify and facilitate key projects in regional SA,” Griffiths said.

“The State Liberals now call on the Weatherill Labor Government to support our regions by ensuring ongoing funding is delivered to our RDA committees.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott offered an olive branch to the states today, saying he had indicated to the premiers that the government would fund schools and hospitals based on rises in line with inflation “plus population factor”.

However, he could not be bound by agreements entered into with the previous Labor government, which were not properly funded in the long-term.

There were no plans to change the GST, he said.

Labor leader Bill Shorten, who will deliver his budget-in-reply speech on Thursday night, said the budget cuts would rip $5000 a year out of the average family budget.

He said Labor had not come to a view on whether to support the rise in income tax for people earning more than $180,000 a year, but would oppose the Medicare co-payment, pension changes and the fuel tax lift.

Treasurer Joe Hockey said the $7 Medicare co-payment was only about the cost of two “middies” of beer and much less than the $22 cost of a packet of cigarettes.

Shorten said the treasurer’s comments showed he was out of touch with ordinary Australians.

The Greens will support the fuel tax rise.

– with AAP

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