THE 2017 federal budget offers no new hope to those on the margins of society, especially those without work, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said.
“A lack of regard for the poor and marginalised alienates them from society rather than allowing them to participate fully within it,” ACBC president Archbishop Denis Hart said.
Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison defended Budget 2017, handed down on May 9, as a “fair economic plan” aimed at returning the Australian budget to surplus.
Headline-grabbing revenue earners included a $6.2 billion tax on the big five banks and a rise to the Medicare levy.
However critics lined up amidst reshaped policy that will bruise Catholic schools, and piqued Catholics’ concerns for the welfare sector and foreign aid.
“We yearned for hope. But young people, along with older people, have been pushed out, have been given yet another serve of deliberate humiliation,” St Vincent de Paul Society National Council chief executive officer Dr John Falzon said.
The ACBC welcomed the Government’s commitment to fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme and its housing measures to help people secure more affordable housing.
The NDIS will be funded by a hike in the Medicare levy – equivalent to a rise of 2.5 per cent for every Australian earning more than $21,655.
The increase is expected to raise $8.2 billion over four years from July 2019.
In relation to education, the bishops acknowledged the overall increase in funding, including to Catholic schools.
However the bishops expressed concern for some of the changes to the 10-year funding model, which was generating uncertainty and confusion among parents who send their children to Catholic schools, and among school leaders.
There are concerns some Catholic school fees could become unaffordable for parents, and that some schools may be forced to close.
In relation to health, the bishops supported a boost to palliative care services.
“Any individual with advanced terminal disease should be considered particularly vulnerable and deserves access to affordable, high-quality end-of-life care,” Archbishop Hart said.
“While the bishops support the $8.3 million investment over three years in palliative care services in the home, much more needs to be done.”
The bishops also endorsed the Government’s commitment of $33.4 million to set up a national redress scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse, to operate from mid-2018.
The Church has already agreed it will opt in to the scheme, but will be responsible for funding its own compensation payments.
The scheme will provide abuse survivors with counselling, apologies from the organisation responsible and financial compensation up to $150,000.
“The Turnbull Government has listened to survivors and accepts the recommendation of (the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse) that each jurisdiction and all individual institutions must make amends and take responsibility for wrongdoing,” a statement from Social Services Minister Christian Porter said.
Part of the funding will go towards setting up IT services, an online presence and a direct hotline for victims to inquire about how they can apply for payments. Those information services should be operating from next March.
“We call on all State and Territory governments to participate in this important initiative,” Archbishop Hart said.
The commitment follows the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which heard evidence from victims.
Archbishop Hart also described cuts to Australian foreign aid funding as “a step away from our international responsibility to developing countries”.
Aid cuts ‘immoral and inhumane’
HUMANITARIAN agencies and aid experts fear a $303 million budget cut to foreign aid has the potential to fuel instability, poverty and a loss of Australia’s reputation abroad.
Caritas Australia has expressed deep disappointment describing the Federal Government’s 2017 budget agenda as a “shift to an insular Australia”.
More than 20 million people face starvation in East Africa and Yemen, and tens of thousands of people are fleeing war and persecution in Syria.
And near neighbours – Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific islands – benefit most from Australia’s overseas aid funding.
“If people hope to see more peace in our region and the world, then we need to invest in those things that promote peace, health, education, sustainable livelihoods, women’s rights, climate action and strong governance,” Caritas Australia’s head of advocacy Negaya Chorley said.
“By continually slashing our overseas aid program we undermine progress in these areas that are fundamental to human development and stability.”
Since 2013 when the Coalition formed government, foreign aid has been slashed in four consecutive budgets.
During that time, Australia has tumbled in international rankings, leaving it at an all-time low when it comes to its aid generosity as measured by aid as a proportion of Gross National Income.
“Budget cuts to overseas aid are immoral,” Mick Sullivan (pictured), who has 57 years’ experience in delivering foreign aid, said.
Now retired, Mr Sullivan, co-founded the St Vincent de Paul Society Overseas Relief Committee (Queensland) in 1963; was the executive director of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid for many years; and in 1973, was appointed to the first board to assist the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to manage the Australian Government’s overseas aid program.
“The cutting of $303 million from the overseas aid budget over four years and giving the money to the Australian Federal Police is immoral and inhumane,” he said.
“Every cut to overseas aid stops (the prevention of) young people, especially, from dying of starvation or not receiving medical assistance. The cuts cost lives and make the poorest less secure.
“The quality of the Australian Government’s aid program is regarded as one of the best in the world.
“Its non-government agencies are about the most effective.
“The implementation of this announcement will do Australia’s reputation great harm and ruin Australia’s standing as a good friend to our near neighbours.”