5 May, 2016
by John Falzon
The Treasurer wants us to live within our means.
But this budget does nothing to give ordinary people the means to live.
This budget, like its predecessors, entrenches inequality rather than fighting it.
Opportunities to raise more revenue through closing and reforming tax concessions have been missed in the 2016-2017 Federal Budget, and the needs of ordinary people overlooked, due to a failure to invest adequately in income support, education, affordable housing and a fair health system.
The last two budgets locked in massive cuts to schools and hospitals, $13 billion in cuts to payments and $1 billion in cuts to services for people who bear the brunt of inequality.
This budget has not only retained these cuts, but has slashed an additional $3 billion in cuts to support payments and essential services.
A good budget would not leave people who are on the fringes of the labour market to wage a daily battle for survival from below the poverty line when even the likes of the OECD and KPMG call for an increase to Newstart. Disturbingly, the budget actually delivers a real cut to new recipients of the Newstart Allowance. For people surviving on just $38 a day, this can only be described as being gratuitously cruel. A good budget would certainly not blame or punish people for being locked out of jobs.
In a good budget, the government wouldn’t just show us the colour of its money but the breadth of its vision for a fair and equitable Australia. In this budget, however, we see neither.
A good budget would ensure that no one misses out on a place to live, a place to work, a place to learn and a place to heal.
The St Vincent de Paul Society has recommended reforms to negative gearing and capital gains tax exemptions and the creation of a $10 billion social and affordable housing fund in the face of Australia’s homelessness and housing crisis. A good budget would not have walked away from a national plan for social and affordable housing. No one should be denied a place to call home.
As things stand we see no action for the 105,000 people experiencing homelessness in prosperous Australia or the 200,000 households waiting for social housing or the 1 million households in housing stress.
We see no plan for jobs, just a fervent but misguided belief that wealth will trickle down.
We see a desire for innovation but no love for education.
We see health being left to the mercy of inequality.
Living below the poverty line does not help people into a job. And while training is welcome and important, the proposed internship scheme is problematic in that it appears that it might be a clear opportunity for business to fill potential job vacancies with subsidised, and therefore very much cheaper, unprotected interns. Businesses will be given an upfront payment of $1000 for taking on an intern for as little as four weeks. It is difficult to see how this will address the structural drivers of unemployment and underemployment in the labour market and actually goes some way towards perpetuating the myth that the deficit lies primarily with the individual rather than the economy. A good budget would have opened the doors to fair, free and well-resourced TAFE and university education pathways instead. It is also difficult to see how this is a jobs budget when public and community sector jobs are going to be lost as a deliberate result of cuts.
A good budget would reduce, rather than entrench, inequality. For a failure to fight inequality is a failure to govern.
Budget 2016, with its crumbs from the table for the essentials of life, will increase the need for ordinary people, good people, to rely on charity.
And we will be there.
But make no mistake. It is not charity that people wish to rely on. It is fairness they want to count on. And this budget fails to give them that.
Dr John Falzon is CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society’s National Council.
This piece first appeared in probonoaustralia.com.au