Gamal Babiker says the federal budget will deny future students from low-income families like his the chance to complete tertiary education. Photo: Meredith O'Shea
Here's a news flash for the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, courtesy of Peter Jones, a security guard who works in Bayswater: seven dollars is not to be scoffed at. Of all the announcements in the Abbott government's first budget, it is the $7 co-payment for visits to the doctor that angers Jones, whose wife's heart condition means she visits the doctor up to three times a week.
''Seven dollars might mean nothing to him, but $7 means something to me,'' Jones says. ''That's what you spend every day and it mounts up - $50 a week.
''My wife had a heart attack in 2006 and she goes to the doctor at least twice a week, sometimes more.''
Luke Baird says he is still paying off his HECS debt after four years of becoming a paramedic. Photo: Meredith O'Shea
There is, in fact, so much wrong with the contents of the government's first budget that at first it is easier to say what is not in it: respect.
Quite simply, there is no respect for the hard work that average Australians do: there is a lack of recognition of the essential place so many hard working people have in our community. It is a budget that makes life more uncertain, healthcare more expensive, security in retirement more remote, and higher education less accessible.
That is why it might be difficult getting around the city on Thursday morning, as thousands demonstrate against Hockey's budget that looks to many like Robin Hood-in-reverse.
Joining them will be members of our union, United Voice, the people who oil the wheels of our community, who make our standard of living possible. They include everyone from cleaners, to childcare educators, to paramedics and many other occupations.
Peter Jones is not alone. Talking to him and other members of the union this week we learnt that what hurts most are the $7 co-contribution on visits to the doctor and the rise in the petrol levy. That is because these changes are adding to essential cost-of-living pressures.
The net effect of the government's actions since winning power is to demand people work longer, and for less - yet their demands are not extreme or unwarranted.
Our people want to see the social contract maintained. They work hard and in return they want financial security, to see their children well educated, and everyone afforded dignity in retirement.
They reckon that they do not deserve this budget that undermines the universality of Medicare, cheapens government pensions by changing their method of indexation, pushes the age pension beyond the reach of the practical working lives of many Australians and introduces harsh work-for-the-dole-conditions for young people, all while preserving tax lurks and superannuation concessions for the already wealthy.
This corresponds with the government's introduction of a paid parental leave scheme that even in its modified form of six months' pay for women earning up to $100,000 is inordinately generous.
That glimmer of generosity for a few high-income earners contrasts with the government's actions on education. The so-called Gonski reforms that were to boost public education are killed off even as federal funding to private schools is maintained.
And as if to compound that endorsement of privilege, university fees will soar following the government's deregulation of course fees - after the government slashes its own contribution to fees by 20 per cent.
Close contact with average, hard-working people offers an insight into how this budget will harm our social fabric in ways that are unnoticed or ignored by the architects of government policy.
Sixteen years after he arrived as a United Nations refugee from his native Sudan, Gamal Babiker says he is a happy man. His happiness does not stem from his work as a shopping centre cleaner on the midnight to 8am shift, a working life that pays $24 an hour even as it has stripped him of a normal family life.
It stems from the fact that his three children, aged from five to 10 when his family fled to Egypt all those years ago, have each completed tertiary education. It is an opportunity he says the federal budget will deny future students from low-income families like his.
His son has a bachelor of business from Victoria University, his eldest daughter graduated in science and psychology from RMIT University, and his second daughter qualified in childcare from TAFE.
Babiker, 59, holds a law degree from Sudan: it is worthless to him here, where his first two years in the country were spent learning the language.
It is barely a life, he says, when your wife is working as well and there is just one night each week when the family can gather together. His working week begins at midnight Sunday, so the weekends are limited too, leaving little time for friends. He is resigned to it because Australia held opportunities for his children.
''I had my chance in life. I have to give a chance to my children,'' Babiker says. ''My wife and I, we feel we sacrificed our life working together for our family.
''My wife and I work to help them to go to university. The thing I benefit from really in Australia is my kids are able to go to university and help themselves.''
He fears deregulated tertiary education would lock out young people like his children from further education.
''Low-income people, their kids will not be able to graduate like mine. Absolutely not. This was a good thing about Australia's standard of living when everyone's kids could go to university. It is something we must fight to keep.''
In isolation, $7 does not sound like much - just a couple of coffees, or two of those cheap beers Hockey talks about. That is how much this budget demands patients will pay for each visit to their general practitioner.
One problem with those sorts of comparisons is that for families, visits to the doctor are never in isolation. There is a multiplier effect at work that the budget glosses over.
For early childhood educator Kristy Wilkie, the director of Forever Friends Early Learning Centre in Sunbury, that multiplier includes her three children, aged four, two and one.
''I pay $65 to visit my GP and I get about $30 back from Medicare, so it's not just $7. It's $7 on top of what we have already been paying,'' she says.
''I have taken all three of our children to the doctor numerous times in the past few weeks. I love working with children, but working in early child education, and having the children in childcare too, we're all exposed constantly to bugs. It's a never-ending cycle.
''It's going to make it hard to plan for things. Unexpected illnesses; I don't know how you plan for that and then you have the cost of medicine of top of that.''
Early childhood educators are campaigning to be paid professional wages, but for now it is not a lucrative field. It is the only job Wilkie has ever wanted but over 12 years she has seen many colleagues leave for better pay elsewhere.
The full-time rate for a director such as Wilkie is around $52,000 a year, or two thirds of average weekly earnings. She and her husband, a delivery driver, know about budgets, but there is more about the Abbott variety she does not like.
''I just don't agree with the paid parental leave scheme. To be paying so much for so few people when everywhere else is being cut just seems wrong,'' Wilkie says.
This budget is not even the sum of her concerns. She says the early education sector is rife with rumours about looming cuts to the childcare rebate, which will be an added challenge to families.
Four years after he became a paramedic Luke Baird, 25, has almost paid the HECS debt on his bachelor of health science, one of the required courses he must complete for his job.
But like the architect of the HECS system, Professor Bruce Chapman, he fears that this budget has taken the tertiary system into uncharted waters. Fees are expected to double, if not treble, and student debts will attract a real rate of interest for the first time instead of being indexed to inflation.
Chapman says fees will become so substantial that for the first time prospective students will be deterred from enrolling.
''It cost about $25,000 to get my degree,'' says Baird. ''After four or five years I am still paying it off. I am waiting for later this year to see if I am done, but if fees are going to increase anywhere from double to whatever, it's going to deter people from going to uni.
''Me, if I was 18 again, there is no way in the world I would be going to university if it was going to cost $50,000 or more. That's the issue that concerns me.''
Baird says if fees were to double and a real rate of interest comes into play, repaying HECS for someone in his position could take 10 or 15 years.
''Nursing is another degree course. It's going to deter people from wanting to become nurses,'' he said.
''It just seems not worth it for the stress you put up with once you start to work, along with the wages. I have a younger brother who's about to finish school and these are the questions he's going to have to ask himself: is it worth racking up a huge debt to then go and try to find a job?''
Forty years after she joined the workforce, Rhonda Swain learnt in this budget that her working life was to be extended even further.
Born in 1960, Rhonda, a cleaner at the Supreme Court of Victoria, will now not be eligible for the age pension until she is 68.
''I would have liked to retire at 65, but it's not going to happen,'' she says. ''I have just turned 54 and I am still coping all right, but there are some at work in their early '60s and they are finding it harder, more of a struggle.
''I think it's disgusting. Why can't people finish at 65 or 66 when there's still time to enjoy life? By the time we retire we won't be able to enjoy it because of our health.''
Cleaning is steady, physical labour, lugging vacuum cleaners up stairs and operating leaf blowers in the lane outside the court, and stooping to clean up the cigarette butts left outside.
Swain's priority is for her and her husband Ron to pay off her mortgage in preparation for retirement, but that target is years away. With the mortgage as first priority she says there is nothing left to tip into their meagre superannuation. ''We can't afford to save anything.
''I do love my job. I just love it. They are easygoing, the judges. They are just like us, the staff are just like us; you might get one a bit hoity-toity, but they are mostly terrific. But we don't cope [financially], we just stretch from week to week.
''I have been working for a long time and I don't mind that, but I do mind working for a long while longer. I don't think a lot of people will be able to work until they are 70, and what happens then? What do you live on?''
Jess Walsh is the secretary of United Voice Victoria. The Bust the Budget rally begins from Trades Hall at 10.30 am on Thursday.