Budget Must Start to Reverse Damage
Tuesday, 5th May 2015 at 11:03 am
With the Federal Budget just one week away, WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert says the social sector must continue to hold the Government to account.
As the promise of a dull and uneventful budget by the Abbott Government draws closer, we must not forget the harmful measures still lingering in the Senate from last year’s budget or the impact of the cuts that have been made.
Last year’s budget was explosive and rather than public attention moving onto something else as usual, the deep concern refused to die down and Australians got angrier and angrier about its gross harshness.
The Federal Government went against Australians notion of a caring society when the most vulnerable and the social services sector came under attack.
The Government is still scrambling around from the public recoil to those measures that many saw as brutally crippling to whole demographics and completely unnecessary.
The budget left no stone unturned in attacking the vulnerable. It attacked the young and the old, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, single parents and community services. It went after education, our public health service, the environment, and our public broadcasters.
We know from NATSEM analysis that last year's budget left the vulnerable worse off and hardly touched the wealthy. We know we have growing inequality and that last year’s budget could make it worse.
The Abbott Government wants us to believe they have suddenly found their conscience, learned their lesson and that the budget will be dull, but will it undo the damage already done and will they abandon the unfair measures still before the Senate? Many cuts in the last budget to social services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program funding are starting to be felt on the ground. This is further impacting on vulnerable members of the community.
Plans to keep young people under 30 off income support for six months at a time are still sitting in the Senate. This is a trademark policy of a Government that clearly doesn't understand financial hardship.
The language from the Prime Minister and his colleagues is laced with a disregard for job seekers and insinuations that people could walk out the front door and into a job whenever they want. The reality is very different. To kick someone off income support for six months at a time spells out a so called tough love approach that worsens poverty and deepens inequality. It must continue to be loudly opposed.
We shouldn't forget proposals to reduce indexation of the pension and increase the retirement age despite clear indicators of age discrimination in the workplace in Australia. We know that more and more people aged 45 and over are moving onto Newstart after losing their jobs, and that they're stuck there for significantly longer periods of time. These extended periods of unemployment lead to poor physical and mental health outcomes that put people at serious risk.
With their proposals to cut indexation of pensions rejected by the community as uncaring, the Government is flagging other ad hoc measures to slow aged pension growth. Any changes to the aged pension should be in the context of a broad retirement income review and must not cut the pension.
This budget should be addressing the growing inequality in Australia and help the most vulnerable members of our community, starting by reversing the cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander funding and social services. Addressing the inadequacy of the income support payments such as Newstart, reinvestment in affordable housing, health, early intervention and prevention programs.
As the recent Senate inquiry into income inequality recommended there should be an analysis of the impact on income inequality as a result of any budget changes.
The Government’s new 'earn and learn' approach to childcare indicates they haven't changed their ideological and punitive approach. There are likely to be more such measures despite their claims of being dull and boring. They may be more insidious – a once arrogant new Government having realised that cuts and attacks must be veiled and less obvious with the aim of far less fall out.
I suspect it will be harder to hold the Government to account this time, but we must. And we must stand strong on harsh measures that the Tony Abbott Government is trying to push through the Senate.
About the author: Senator Rachel Siewert is the Greens spokesperson on Ageing and Disability Services and Chair of the Community Affairs References Committee which is currently holding an inquiry into the impact of the community service tender program by the Department of Social Services.