A bottom-up view of the budget
Does the budget deliver for those most in need?
Eternity asked experts: what does the budget deliver for those most in need?
A coalition of some of the country’s largest social service providers welcomes important spending measures, but says the 2021 Federal Budget fails to address growing inequality in Australia.
Between them, Anglicare Australia, Catholic Social Services Australia, UnitingCare Australia and the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council employ over 90,0000 staff and engage over 100,000 volunteers, serving millions of Australians annually.
This afternoon, after reviewing the details released last night, they released a joint response saying the government’s response to the issues facing the country doesn’t go far enough.
“Many of the vulnerable people they support were lifted out of poverty by critical government subsidies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of that support has now expired and has not been addressed in the budget,” their statement read.
Claerwen Little, National Director of UnitingCare Australia said the budget delivers a record investment in key services such as aged care and women’s safety. She says this will make a real difference to the lives of thousands of people, including children and families.
“But one key area we remain concerned about is making sure everyone has a roof over their head,” she said.
Toby oConnor, CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society’s National Council, said social service providers are constantly seeking a just, compassionate and fair society. These providers then assess government decisions – including the federal budget – based on whether they achieve that goal.
Kasy Chambers, Executive Director of Anglicare Australia, welcomed new funding for aged care, childcare, mental health, disability services, women’s safety and job training programs, as well as tax cuts for low to middle income earners.
“But we need to go further to tackle growing inequality in Australia,” she said.
Francis Sullivan, Chair of Catholic Social Services Australia, said this was the time to make systemic change that could alter the lives of people living with entrenched poverty and disadvantage and to help all Australians by strengthening the economy.
“Sadly, the initiatives announced last night don’t deliver that systemic change,” he said.
Aged care was one of the big winners in this year’s budget, with $17.7 billion of new spending announced to better fund residential aged care and home care. Funding includes $6.5 billion for more Home Care Packages, $3.9 billion for a $10 Basic Daily Fee Supplement and $3.2 billion for more face-to-face care, a nod to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
“A revitalised, valued and supported workforce is the key to delivering the quality of care older Australians rightly deserve.” – Mike Baird, HammondCare
While HammondCare Chief Executive Mike Baird said the spending was “a step in the right direction”, he also said the government needs to commit to ensuring better pay for aged care workers. The budget contained no funding for this, as the government awaits a ruling from the Fair Work Commission. HammondCare cares for about 17,000 people across NSW, Victoria and Queensland in its aged care facilities.
“A revitalised, valued and supported workforce is the key to delivering the quality of care older Australians rightly deserve,” said Baird.
“The aged care sector needs more staff, more training, and improved pay. This is not about the dollars but supporting our workers to provide the care that is needed.”
Baird also called for more funding into respite services for carers, which would enable them to continue at-home care for those they love.
CEO of Meaningful Ageing Australia, Ilsa Hampton was also largely impressed by the budget’s response to the aged care crisis.
“We are relieved to see the government is taking aged care seriously. We are hopeful that these resources will include focus on holistic support,” she said.
However, Mission Australia CEO James Toomey warned that the measures overlooked aged people who are homeless.
“While the increased ‘in home’ aged care funding will go a long way to help older people stay at home while receiving the care they need, the Federal Government has completely overlooked those without a home. How can you receive home care, if you don’t have a safe, suitable home?” Toomey asked.
Homelessness and housing
The Government’s failure in this budget to create a national strategy to tackle homelessness in Australia – particularly by creating more affordable social housing – will force many more into homelessness, according to Mission Australia.
“There are 200,000 people on social housing waiting lists in Australia, yet no leadership or innovation from this Budget to address this growing number.” – James Toomey, Mission Australia
“There are 200,000 people on social housing waiting lists in Australia, yet no leadership or innovation from this Budget to address this growing number,” said Mission Australia CEO James Toomey.
“With this absence of leadership on social and affordable housing, our Federal Government has sealed the fate of thousands of people on the lowest incomes who will be pushed into homelessness and insecure living conditions.”
While Toomey acknowledged the Government’s investment in measures to support first home buyers – including single parents through the Family Home Guarantee – he added that “these do not go far enough to address the structural problems with housing and homelessness in this country.”
Mission Australia called on the government to enable large-scale private investment in affordable housing – an idea generated by The Constellation Project – where private investment can be pooled into affordable housing and unlocked by Federal Government co-investment.
Employment and income support
Mission Australia CEO, James Toomey said the organisation particularly welcomed the extra investment in the care workforce, praising the training and skills development measures for people who are unemployed.
“This training must also lead to jobs. Currently, there is one job for every seven people seeking work, which no amount of training will remedy.” – James Toomey, Mission Australia
“However, we remain cautious about how these training opportunities will be administered. They must not become part of a punitive system of mandatory requirements that will punish rather than support those who are unemployed,” said Toomey.
“This training must also lead to jobs. Currently, there is one job for every seven people seeking work, which no amount of training will remedy.”
Mission Australia was also disappointed with the government’s continued refusal to increase income support payments, designed to assist struggling Australians to meet their everyday needs.
“Many people who are surviving on income support payments during periods of unemployment are facing enormous anguish and uncertainty. The current JobSeeker rate of around $44 a day is a recipe for disaster for thousands of Australians. It is profoundly inadequate and simply does not help get people back into work,” said Toomey.
“People need the certainty they’ll have enough money to regain control of their lives, wellbeing and finances, put food on the table and remain safely housed while accessing essential resources they need to seek and be ready for work.”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
Common Grace CEO and Aboriginal Christian leader Brooke Prentis said that, “as an Aboriginal person, there wasn’t much” in this year’s budget to show that the federal government is serious about addressing the need.
“It reflected the usual view of us as just being 3 per cent of the population, so we’re given a little bit, but not what’s required,” Prentis told Eternity.
“We do celebrate $79 million of funding towards a renewed prevention strategy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide. Here in Australia, we have the world’s highest rates of child suicide in the globe – that of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. So, $79 million dollars to flow into suicide prevention services is something to be celebrated. And there was also some funding for housing for Aboriginal people in the remote communities, particularly the Northern Territory, so that was good to see.”
The budget did include more than $700 million to improve health and ageing outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This covered improvements to mental health services, including culturally-appropriate aftercare and 24/7 crisis support, strengthened primary health care for Indigenous Australians, and improved access to quality aged care services.
The budget also committed $57.6 million towards targeted measures addressing violence against Indigenous women and children, including funding for legal services and improvement of family violence services.
“Could there not have been funding in the budget funding to implement the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody?” – Brooke Prentis, Common Grace
Yet overall, Prentis felt that the budget did not address the problem of inequality and injustice experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“When we think of the marginalisation, the poverty and the injustice, and in light of the global Black Lives Matter movement – and Aboriginal deaths in custody, which is our Black Lives Matter issue – could there not have been funding in the budget funding to implement the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody?” she said.
“This time last year, the new Closing the Gap targets were released with a renewed focus from the government,” she said. “That was after we had failed at closing the gap over the last 10 years, through multiple governments and different parties, which shows that it is not a partisan issue. This needs every parliamentarian working towards closing the gap,” she said.
“But we need additional funding if we are to meet those new targets and if we are ever going to close the gap. I believe it is a possibility, but it needs the willpower of the Australian public, policy changes, and the budget from our federal parliament,” Prentis says.
She also noted that nothing was allocated to establishing a First Nations’ voice in parliament, nor a truth-telling commission, nor moving forward with a treaty – things that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples specifically asked the government for in their Uluru Statement from the Heart in May 2017.
Domestic and family violence
Lyn Edge, The Salvation Army’s National Secretary for Mission, told Eternity that up to $5000 in assistance payments will be available for people fleeing domestic violence relationships as part of a new trial program included in the $1.1 billion investment into women’s safety. Recipients will receive $1500 as immediate cash and $3500 for expenses like rent, schooling and transportation.
“This program will be a very significant contribution to women leaving domestic violence situations,” Edge said. “The time of leaving is the most dangerous, and this is a package is targeted to help people leaving.”
She said that it will be made available on cards – a good decision given how people experiencing domestic and family violence often have their finances controlled by their abuser.
“If people don’t have housing, every other issue … can’t be dealt with.” – Lyn Edge, The Salvation Army
While Edge applauded the financial measures of the budget, she believes more attention needs to be paid to housing, explaining that domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness in Australia.
“If people don’t have housing, every other issue … can’t be dealt with.”
She says that The Salvation Army will continue to work with all levels of government to continue to support families leaving domestic violence relationships to create safe-spaces and find stability.
Brooke Prentis, CEO of Comon Grace, said that all Australians need to be tuned into the debt and deficit that comes with this budget. Prentis worked as a chartered accountant before talking the helm at Common Grace, and said that Australia taking on the largest debt it has since the 1970s would have an ongoing impact on future Australians.
“Then, when we go into the individual areas there’s lots for lots of different people. And what that says is it’s definitely a pre-election budget,” said Prentis.
“People are talking about this budget as a budget for women, but when you drill into that – where it goes and when it will be spent – you see that the budget is around $589 billion and just $3.4 billion is for women. And then when you drill into the $3.4 billion for women further, $1.7 billion – so half of that is directly for childcare. But in today’s Australia, we know that childcare responsibilities don’t just belong to women. So why is childcare part of our ‘women’s budget’?” she said.
Prentis noted that in Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s budget address last night, he acknowledged that one in four Australian women experience violence from a current or former partner.
“Obviously domestic and family violence affect both genders. It affects all cultures, races, classes, and privilege. Domestic and family violence does not discriminate,” she said. “However, women are hugely overrepresented in this group, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women particularly so,” she said.
Yet, Prentis said while “the amount in the budget that has been given for domestic and family violence is to be celebrated and supported, it does not reflect the size of the need Josh Frydenberg identified.”
“Overall $3.4 billion is actually only a half of 1% of the total budget allocation. And when you drill further into domestic and family violence funding, we have to ask whether the budget really reflects where that priority needs to be – when we know that, as the treasurer stated, one in four women experience violence from a current or former partner,” she says.
“I also noticed that this budget also allocated $31.6 million over five years for research, into domestic and family violence and sexual violence to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. For me, I would rather $31.6 million go to direct services,” Prentis said – mentioning services like DFV hotlines that are currently underfunded.
Prentis did, however, applaud changes to the superannuation threshold announced in the budget last night. The government will abolish a $450 per month income threshold for Superannuation Guarantee (SG). This removes a minimum income threshold of $450 per month will be removed, so all eligible employees will receive SG contributions – a move that will improve the superannuation of women who, as a group, are over-represented as low income earners.
Suicide prevention and mental health services are among the priorities in this budget, with the Government committing $2.3 billion in additional funding over the next four years.
“While we know that more is needed to establish the mental health infrastructure that Australia sorely needs, we warmly welcome funds going towards a range of measures including more Headspace facilities, suicide prevention programs, digital mental health services and an update to the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy,” said Mission Australia CEO, James Toomey.
“Although a significant amount of funding has been devoted to mental health in response to COVID-19, ongoing need is anticipated and funding must keep up with demand. The estimated investment needed to address the immediate impacts of COVID-19 on Australia’s mental health and contribute to the longer-term task of ongoing national mental health reform is $3.7 billion over four years.”
Toomey pointed to the particular need for increased mental health support for young people.
“When it comes to foreign aid … ‘This budget is anemic.'” – John Hickey, Baptist World Aid
“We hope to see further concerted efforts to address mental health concerns among Australians – especially for the young Australians we work closely with whose mental health has been particularly affected by the events of the past year,” he said.
“Even before COVID-19, the prevalence of mental health concerns among young Australians was profoundly concerning.”
“The pandemic has added multiple stressors for young people, including uncertainty about their future, social isolation, increasing rates of unemployment and financial distress.”
Foreign aid was sadly overlooked in this budget, says Director of Advocacy at Baptist World Aid Peter Keegan.
“Sadly, budget night has not given us anything new to celebrate. In fact, as John Hickey, my CEO at Baptist World Aid, said, ‘This budget is anemic.'”
“So in the year ahead Australia’s aid budget will fall by $144 million when compared to the previous year. Most of the investments in core programs and country partnerships will remain unchanged. There is a much-welcomed small additional package of $16.7 million for India that was announced a few weeks ago. But beyond that the only development of note is that the government will start to reduce the support measures it had put in place to help our neighbours respond to COVID. ”
“Right now, the largest humanitarian crises of a generation are impacting across much of the world. Not only are we witnessing the direct impacts of COVID in countries like India, we are also now seeing the devastating secondary impacts as the UN estimates that 270 million people are facing acute hunger and famine. This budget’s response is simply not enough – we are failing both in our responsibility to the world’s most vulnerable people, and to reflect our own values of generosity.’”
The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce notes that refugees and people seeking asylum are no better off from the budget with the Australian Government continuing to invest in offshore and onshore detention.
“It seems crazy that we are continuing to pay millions more for detention rather than providing meaningful solutions,” said Rob Floyd, Chair of the Churches Refugee Taskforce.
“And there is the absence of any new reforms to the community sponsorship program where church groups have put their hand up as partners,” he added.