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Short term sugar hits and missed opportunities


30 March 2022 at 12:31 pm
Wendy Williams
While there are a number of welcome announcements from this year’s federal budget, many across the for-purpose sector are united in feeling this was a missed opportunity.


Wendy Williams | 30 March 2022 at 12:31 pm


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Short term sugar hits and missed opportunities
30 March 2022 at 12:31 pm

While there are a number of welcome announcements from this year’s federal budget, many across the for-purpose sector are united in feeling this was a missed opportunity.

On Tuesday night Josh Frydenberg handed down his fourth budget.

Trumpeting a “remarkable” economic recovery and record low unemployment, it lived up to the expectation of being an election budget.

Whether voters will be won over by cheaper fuel and cash in their pockets in the immediate future remains to be seen, but commentators have widely criticised the budget for being centred on “short term sugar hits” with no real plan for the future.

One of the biggest gaps came in addressing climate change, with the budget papers pointing to plans to cut climate spending.

From the perspective of the social sector, there is a feeling that the $3 billion being put towards reducing the fuel excise would have been much better spent lifting income support and boosting social and affordable housing (two areas that were also sorely missing). 

A cost of living budget?

Australian Council of Social Service CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said the budget ignored the big challenges that the country is facing now – poverty, inequality and climate change. 

“It doesn’t deliver a budget people can rely on,” Goldie said.

“This budget is full of temporary fixes, when we need permanent solutions.  

“Much of the assistance goes to people who don’t need it, and too little goes to people who need support.”

She said that while they welcomed the extension of a one-off $250 payment to people on pensions and allowances, she pointed out that if you’re living on $46 a day, this payment will help for a week or two – but people have to pay the rent 52 weeks a year.  

“This is not a slash and burn budget, and we’re relieved that there are no big cuts that would hurt people with the least and the essential services they rely on,” she said.

“Unfortunately, although the government says this is a cost-of-living budget, it fails to deal with the biggest cost of living, which is housing. Perversely, its housing measures will very likely push up house prices and make housing affordability worse.”  

Anglicare Australia said the budget was a lost opportunity to tackle the problems facing Australians.

“This budget was an opportunity to show leadership with vision and empathy – leadership for everyone,” said executive director Kasy Chambers.

“Yet this budget has failed to take on these challenges or plan for the future. Instead, it offers short-term fixes and one-off payments.”

Charities

With a specific eye on the charity sector, David Crosbie, CEO of Community Council for Australia said the budget failed to provide a significant boost in government support to strengthen the work of charities.

“Areas like climate change adaptation, refugee support, rates of support for the most disadvantaged, access to affordable housing, environmental protection, the arts, higher education etc. were not really addressed,” he said.

“In terms of charity capacity building I think it would have been good to see some of the business initiatives that incentivise investment in training and digital transformation extended to charities through some form of government subsidy rather than relying solely on business tax concessions that provide no real benefit for charities.” 

Volunteering

The sense from Volunteering Australia was that this budget missed an opportunity to invest in volunteering during emergencies.

There was no new funding announced to support a nationally coordinated approach to volunteer involvement in emergencies. 

Volunteering Australia CEO Mark Pearce said despite their importance to emergency management in Australia, volunteers are overlooked in planning and resourcing for the sector. 

“This is part of a broader issue surrounding the omission of volunteering in workforce planning. It is also still unclear whether the announced skills and employment package will include measures for the volunteer workforce,” he said.

While last year’s budget saw Volunteering Australia allocated funds to design a new National Strategy for Volunteering in partnership with the volunteering ecosystem, Pearce said funds must be allocated in future budgets to enable its implementation.

“Preserving the vital contributions of volunteering to Australia’s community resilience increasingly depends on a strategic, whole-of-ecosystem approach to resourcing and planning. Targeted, coordinated, and sustained investment in the volunteering ecosystem is needed as a matter of urgency,” he said.

Women’s health and safety

In his speech when handing down the budget Frydenberg made a point of referencing women’s safety, health and economic security.

He announced a new $1.3 billion package to end violence against women and children as well as a “substantial” new women’s health package and changes to enhance Paid Parental Leave.

However gender equality and safety advocates have said the budget doesn’t go far enough when it comes to addressing gender-based violence. 

Renee Carr, executive director of Fair Agenda, the budget did not match up to reality.

“The success of any national budget is in whether it makes a real difference to people on the ground – to the woman trying to flee her abuser right now. Sadly, after years of platitudes, we’re still seeing our safety treated as a side issue,” Carr said. 

“If you look at our community, at the sheer amount of women affected, and the impact gender-based violence has on our lives – and you then look at the priorities reflected in this budget; it just doesn’t match up.

“Tonight’s budget only included $207.4 million of additional funding for women’s safety next financial year. In the midst of a national crisis, and national reckoning – tonight’s commitments don’t go far enough.”

Amy Nguyen, co-founder of Zen Tea Lounge Foundation, said what was really needed was investments in solving the root causes of violence. 

“Emotional Intelligence (EI) is proven to reduce rates of violence and is a critical tool in creating a more empathetic society. Teaching kids EI from a young age in schools is critical in ensuring our future leaders are better equipped to understand and manage their own emotions,” Nguyen said.

“If we really want to invest in preventing DV from its roots, we need to invest in raising emotionally intelligent children.”

Others across the sector also expressed disappointment that there was no major investment in care services or funding to lift the pay of care workers, most of whom are women. 

Impact investing

When it comes to impact investing, there were some small line inclusions: planned payments to states/territories for social impact investment trials for vulnerable priority groups ($3.2 million) and youth at risk of homelessness ($3.2 million); and an increase in the guaranteed liability cap of the National Housing and Finance Investment Corporation (NHFIC) to $5.5 billion.

However overall there were no new, definitive impact investing measures included in the budget.

Peak body Impact Investing Australia (IIA) said the government missed the mark on better leveraging private sector capital to drive an inclusive economic recovery.

“Government action would help the impact investing market contribute even more towards rebuilding our economy following the effects the pandemic and recent natural disasters has had, particularly on vulnerable Australians,” IIA chair Richard Brandweiner said.

“Catalysing the investment of private and institutional capital into solving entrenched social disadvantage is more important than ever, and we will continue to encourage the government to play a key role in enabling this.”

The lack of inclusion of impact investing in the budget comes as there is mounting frustration over the government’s lack of response to the final report of the Social Impact Investment Taskforce which it received in late 2020.

Sustainability

The UN Global Compact Network Australia has called the budget a missed opportunity to “build back better” and create a more sustainable and resilient economy that places climate action, human rights and anti-bribery and corruption at the centre of its plans.

Head of programmes Corinne Schoch said the government’s focus on low-carbon emitting technologies and measures was not a long-term sustainable solution. 

“The UNGCNA urges the government to review its commitment to net-zero by 2050 and set ambitious intermediary climate targets to support the path to decarbonisation,” Schoch said. 

“This starts with a review of Australia’s nationally determined contributions and ensuring it is in line with the Paris Agreement before COP27. Meeting the 2050 net-zero target can only be achieved if robust targets for 2030 are in place.”

She said the UNGCNA would have liked to see stronger investments towards large-scale renewable energy infrastructure, and stronger incentives for households to participate in the green economy through subsidies for electric vehicles, solar and battery storage.

“This is the decade to deliver. It is critical to ensure that Australia positions itself as a leading economy, based on principles of sustainable development,” she said.

 

Our 2022 budget coverage is brought to you by Fifty Acres.


Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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