The Morrison Coalition government has handed down its first, and perhaps last, federal budget. Delivering a wide spanning speech in federal parliament, Treasurer Josh Freydenberg forecast a budget surplus of $7.1 billion for the 2019-2020 financial year.
While the government is using the budget to brandish its economic credentials in an election year, church groups and aid agencies have expressed concern that several key areas have not seen a boost in spending despite an improved economic forecast.
The centrepiece of the budget was a promised $158 billion in income tax cuts over a decade on the back of projected Budget surpluses.
Despite the positive projections though, the foreign aid budget has again been cut. Despite wide ranging calls for an increase to Newstart, there has been no increase in welfare payments.
Dr Deirdre Palmer is the President of the Uniting Church in Australia. Although welcoming some aspects of the budget, including more finding for mental health and suicide prevention, she said that the budget provided, “less support for the most vulnerable people in the most vulnerable nations, and less support for the most vulnerable at home.”
“As the contest for hearts and minds begins ahead of this year’s Federal Election, I urge Australians to give priority to justice, compassion and inclusion,” said Dr Palmer.
“The Budget, if passed, by a future government, may offer some welcome tax relief. But at what cost?”
UnitingCare Australia has welcomed several aspects of the budget. These include the funding announced for the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability, and also the youth mental health and suicide prevention strategy.
However, UnitingCare Australia has also argued that the surplus projection has been delivered on the back of neglecting other priorities. Claeran Little is UnitingCare Australia’s National Director. She said that the budget had failed to deliver on “essentials.”
“A strong economy is one that enables a just and cohesive society. Eliminating poverty and homelessness, meeting the needs of people with disabilities and those who need care and support as they age – these are among the essentials that the Budget must cover, and it doesn’t,” Ms Little said.
Less than 24 hours after the budget, the Morrison government announced that its one-off payments for electricity bills would be extended to Newstart recipients.
Foreign Aid Budget
Australia’s Foreign Minister has highlighted that the budget brings a record amount of money to programs in Australia’s neighbouring countries in the Pacific region.
Tim Costello is the Executive Director of Micah Australia.
Rev. Costello said that the Coalition had delivered the least generous budget ever when it comes to Australia’s contributions to international aid.
“This is not surprising from a government who have lost sight of our nation’s role as a global neighbour and treated our aid program like an ATM,” he said.
Since it was first elected in 2013 the Coalition have slashed aid, taking it to its lowest level as a percentage of overall spending. It currently sits at 0.21 of GNI, and will take a further dip to 0.19 in 2021-2022 before indexation resumes in 2022-23.
“For years now the Coalition has told us that aid would be restored ‘once we returned to surplus.’ Well surplus is here, yet the poor have been forgotten, and we’ve been left wondering: ‘When will this government believe we have ‘enough’ to start being generous again?'” Rev. Costello said.
Rev. Costello said Micah recently met with the Mr Frydenberg and laid out the moral case for aid.
“Mr Frydenberg agreed wholeheartedly with the moral and ethical case for a generous aid program, but in the face of growing calls for nationalism, the Coalition have once again retreated and turned their backs on the world’s poor.”
Rev. Costello said should the ALP win government, he would be making a case for a better way to deal with aid. Micah Australia are seeking a bipartisan agreement on aid funding levels.
The Uniting Church’s Vision for a Just Australia is available online now. It outlines the church’s vision for society and just policies, ahead of the federal election which is due in May.