A cynical exercise in vote buying, or blue sky thinking?
3 April 2019 at 12:38 pm
On either reading, the federal budget has been disappointing, writes Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers.
The announcement of the federal election is expected within days, and it has loomed large over last night’s budget. Many are already calling it a cynical exercise in vote buying: Vote for us and this is what you get.
Others are more generously calling it an example of blue sky thinking; a plan for the country formed without concern for the deals and the wranglings needed to get it through Parliament.
But on either reading, it has been disappointing.
It is certainly easy to see signs of the former. Grandiose statements and titles mask a litany of small funding amounts to organisations and causes in geographical locations that the cynic in me wants to map against marginal electorates. The Council on the Ageing captured this best, calling it a “bibs and bobs budget”.
Equally disappointing is the government’s vision for leadership. It is not a vision for all, instead it is blinkered about who is included and who is not.
Much has been made of the budget’s return to surplus. But if much of that surplus is funded off the backs of people with disabilities, then this is at best creative accounting – moving money saved in one year to make increased payments in another. At worst, it is taking money from where it is needed most to where it is needed least – high end tax cuts. The NDIS was the mystery item in last night’s budget papers with no clarity on numbers, savings or expenditure.
It was good to see a significant package for the VET sector though still too small for the way this has been run down in recent years. We are also pleased that the disability royal commission has been fully and generously funded, reflecting its importance. But the budget has also shortchanged another royal commission, ignoring the Hayne Royal Commission’s recommendation to properly fund financial counselling.
In the end, this budget is shortsighted, kicking difficult problems further ahead and worsening the problems we face in the future. The tax cuts in last night’s budget have a 10-year lifespan and lock the country into tax cuts for higher middle income earners while more or less ignoring those on the minimum wage, and completely bypassing those on the lowest income of all – those on Newstart. This is surely a surplus squandered.
Many of us found it unfathomable that those on the lowest payments would also miss out on the Energy Assistance Payment. We hoped it was a mistake; the only other explanation is ideological in the extreme. The backlash was swift and we’ve learned that the treasurer has already had to backflip and extend the payment to those on Newstart. Perhaps the government was reminded that those on these payments, their friends, and their families also vote.
The Australian public has been expressing a desire for services over tax cuts. Not only does this budget turn its back on that call, it effectively robs future governments and budgets of money that could be spent on essential services. There is no money for the continued Equal Remuneration Order after 2020. The table in the forward estimates sadly flatlines after 2020 with only dashes where numbers should be. This is the money that enables us to care for and support to our fellow citizens.
There was a ghost in the room in last night’s budget lock up. Anglicare Australia along with many others and as a founding member of the Everybody’s Home campaign has been calling for housing to be a national priority for years. Even in the midst of a so-called market downturn, Australians are still spending record amounts on housing. The treasurer acknowledged this in his budget speech, saying that “affordable housing is a priority for the government.” Yet his first budget ignores this priority.
Despite the fact that 116,000 people are homeless across the country, and with 800,000 Australians living in rental stress, the budget has ignored the desperate need for social and affordable housing. Instead, the budget continues to favour measures for investors. Once again it is hard to see that the government’s vision sees all its citizens.
All up the mood last night was one of disappointment and disbelief. Everyone thought “there had to be more.” But after four hours locked up with hundreds of pages of budget papers, no one was able to find it. Unimaginative is perhaps the kindest word.
About the author: Kasy Chambers is executive director of Anglicare Australia. Anglicare Australia is a network of 40 agencies, more than 20,000 staff and volunteers, working with over 900,000 clients annually across Australia.