Government budget savings measures into play today

University cuts, tougher restrictions on welfare and student payments, and new export controls on gas producers are among the Turnbull government’s key policy changes that kick in from today.

Universities warn of “fewer ­places” for students this year as the Coalition introduces a freeze on funding for federal grant scheme bachelor courses.

Funding will be frozen at 2017 levels for the next two years but the government stressed there was no cap on places and universities could continue to over-enrol and receive the student loan amount.

“The uni funding freeze will mean fewer places at universities across the nation, a growing country-city divide, and less opportunity for all Australians,” Universities Australia acting chief executive Catriona Jackson said.

The first dollars from the ­Coalition’s Gonski 2.0 needs-based funding plan will begin flowing from today. Government schools will receive $7.4 billion in 2018, the Catholic education sector will get $6.9bn and $4.7bn will go to independent schools.

But almost a dozen social services measures meant to start today remain stuck in the Senate as the government struggles to negotiate its major welfare overhaul. Unlegislated measures include random drug-test trials of welfare recipients, which do not have enough crossbench support to pass parliament, and the closure of the widow allowance to new entrants.

Welfare measures coming into effect include a three-year freeze on the income-free threshold and other means-testing measures for student payments, which dictate how much a working-age person’s fortnightly benefit is worth. Single parents on Newstart and the parenting payment will face tougher eligibility tests, with their relationship status to be “verified” before they can receive the benefit.

And regional and remote students will have four months less to meet the requirements to receive youth allowance and Abstudy living allowance, with the ­approval period reduced from 18 months to 14 months.

A crackdown on vocational education and training and university education means students receive government-funded payments only if their chosen courses and providers are approved for VET student loans and the higher education loan program (HELP).

The Department of Social Services said the measure was ­designed to “better target” student income support and “consistency” of federal support across all higher education courses.

New restrictions on gas producers will also come into play from today, introducing sweeping powers to block exports unless there are adequate supplies to meet the needs of Australian businesses and consumers.

The introduction of Malcolm Turnbull’s “Australia-first” policy came with a pledge to halve the price of gas for manufacturers.

Hundreds of Australians suffering from lung cancer, cystic ­fibrosis and relapsed refractory multiple myeloma are set to benefit from January 1 changes after the government added three new medicines to the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.

The government will contribute $33,000 over the forward estimates from today to help veterans by adding new generic brands of Azithromycin, a broad-spectrum antibiotic, and Clopidogrel, to help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The money will also amend prices of some medicines already on the repatriation schedule of pharmaceutical benefits to meet needs of veterans with health conditions from war or military service.

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