Where is the investment in meeting people’s needs?
4 April 2022 at 4:14 pm
Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine responds to the federal budget, asking if the reality of recent, successive crises is not enough, how can the people affected by them influence political decision-making?
Much has been made of the 2022 federal budget’s effort at short-term gifts without long-term vision.
But it is also a tale of influence: those who have it and those who don’t. As Stephen Duckett notes, “a characteristic of all health budgets – and this one is no exception – is there are lots of little throwaways for favoured interest groups”. You only have to look at the range of measures in this budget, from health to women’s safety, to see the extent of the small, highly-targeted measures that name specific programs, and often specific beneficiaries, of those programs.
This is concerning for a couple of reasons.
The past few years have provided a devastating study-in-real-time into the intersecting health, legal, and social problems that increase vulnerability to crisis, and keep people in disadvantage. We saw it in the impacts of the 2019-2020 bushfires. We have seen it throughout the pandemic. Now we are seeing it again, in the vulnerability of communities experiencing extreme flooding in northern NSW and Queensland.
Several legal and social factors in people’s lives that drive – or exacerbate – the experience of disadvantage. These include inadequate income; insecure, unhealthy or over-crowded housing; development in fire-prone or flood-prone areas; unaffordable insurance or lack of access to sick leave. Following each major shock, the people affected by these factors have suffered first, fared worst, and have struggled hardest to recover.
Yet, the budget missed the opportunity to recognise the complexity in people’s lives, and tackle it through effective policy responses.
In terms of good policy, there is also no opportunity here for policy engagement; for bringing forward evidence from new approaches in support of declared priorities or outcomes. These measures are tightly ear-marked. They are likely the result of advocacy that has been conducted behind closed doors; of influence and relationships that we can only guess at.
As the most significant piece of public policy, a federal budget is an opportunity to identify these realities, as part of our national outlook and to prioritise funding for expenditure, to address them. But, this federal budget falls extremely short. Where is the investment to improve our health and human services, including legal assistance? Investment in systems to identify and respond to the complex needs of people’s lives? Where are the measures to support inter-service collaboration? And, between services and the communities they help?
Many have identified elements of this budget that signal an upcoming election. But, the budget also signifies a failure to identify budget measures that enable services and systems to identify and address the complexity in people’s lives. This is already a priority for people and communities living this experience, and for the services responding to them. If the reality of these crises is not enough, how else can the people living through them influence the decision-making of political leaders?
If the federal budget prioritised these policy directions, it would make a very different policy statement; in the political campaigning of the election; and above all, in the political leadership of our future.