THE St Vincent de Paul Society has spearheaded the Catholic response to the Federal budget, detailing how people on the lowest incomes will be worse off.
“If you’re locked out of a job or in an insecure job, this Budget doesn’t even bring home the two-minute noodles,” St Vincent ‘s National Council chief executive officer Dr John Falzon said.
Dr Falzon said cuts to income tax and company taxes eroded the progressive nature of the tax system and punched a massive hole in government revenue.
These cuts would inevitably lead to more spending cuts to essential services, meaning more out-of-pocket expenses for low and middle-income earners, he said.
“This is an irresponsible budget that will leave unemployed people, underemployed people, students and those struggling to pay high housing costs worse off,” Dr Falzon said.
“Critically, the Budget has failed to lift unemployment payments, nor is there any action to address homelessness and Australia’s housing affordability crisis.”
Modest cuts to income tax for low and middle-income earners will not offset rising costs of living and underinvestment in social and affordable housing, increased out-of-pocket expenses for medical services and aged care, and the lack of adequate and fairly funded education at all levels.
“Each of these failures leads to increases in out-of-pocket expenses which makes the struggle for survival just that much harder. For some the consequences will be homelessness and destitution. In a wealthy country such as ours we can do better than this,” Dr John Falzon said.
“Over the past four budgets the Government cut $15 billion from social security and community services, and billions more are in the pipeline.
“It is unconscionable to be pursing massive tax cuts while these spending cuts stand, and people on the lowest incomes continue to go without food or secure housing.”
The budget also missed an opportunity to close the gap by sharing an increase in revenue with indigenous Australians, according to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights organisation ANTaR.
“More than a gap, the lack of funding for remote housing in Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia is a gaping hole and must be addressed now.” ANTaR national director Paul Wright said.
Here’s a look at some key areas impacted by last night’s announcements.
In his budget speech, treasurer Scott Morrison announced government spending of $1.6billion over four years to create 14,000 home care places “to support the choice of older Australians who wish to stay at home and avoid going into residential aged care”.
The places come on top of 6000 announced in December’s midyear economic and fiscal outlook, but the overall number is well short of the 105,000 on the national priority list for support.
“By 2021-22 over 74,000 high level home care places will be available,” Mr Morrison said.
He also announced $146m to improve access to aged-care services in rural and regional areas and $83m for increased support for mental health services in residential aged care.
An added $20m over four years is being earmarked for a pilot project targeting “loneliness” and those at risk of isolation.
“And we will stand up for older Australians to keep them safe and prevent elder abuse, with new support services and a national online register for enduring powers of attorney,” Mr Morrison said.
Another key initiative is a top up of the work pension bonus from $250 to $300 a fortnight, allowing pensioners to earn up to $7800 a year without impacting their pension.
It will mean pensioners could earn an extra $1300 without affecting their payments.
“For the first time, the bonus will be extended to self-employed individuals who can now earn up to $7,800 per year,” Mr Morrison said.
The government will provide wage subsidies of up to $10,000 for employers who take on older Australians, which would “combat age discrimination in the workforce”.
The National Catholic Education Commission acting executive director Ray Collins said the budget contained little detail on how the government would address key reviews into school funding and the negative impact of the current funding model on Catholic schools.
While Education Minister Simon Birmingham has indicated that he is awaiting the report from the National School Resourcing Board on the SES – expected later this year, Mr Collins said there needed to be a significant boost to school funding across the board for all sectors if the vision for quality schools across Australia is to be achieved.
“Our continued efforts in communicating our concerns to the Minister certainly haven’t been reflected in this budget,” he said.
“Parents seeking an affordable Catholic education for their children will have little certainty from this budget.”
A four-year freeze in foreign aid spending to save $141 million has sparked a warning that Australia’s standing in the Asia Pacific region is under threat, just as China is increasing its presence in the region.
“After the major aid funding cuts since 2014, the decision to further reduce the aid program by $141m over four years has placed our wealthy country in its most insular period of international engagement in 60 years,” Caritas Australia’s chief executive officer Paul O’Callaghan said.
Australian aid funding has now fallen below 0.22 per cent of gross national income — the global measure of aid generosity.
“It has got to the point where we are now a marginal player, even within the Asia-Pacific region,” Mr O’Callaghan said.
He said the funding freeze would reduce the ability of Caritas as part of a collective international effort to end extreme poverty and deliver access to clean drinking water, improve governance and education.
Mr O’Callaghan said the one area of the government had not cutback in aid is for humanitarian emergency response.
“We commend that. However there has been a steady increase in the frequency and scale of natural disasters in our Pacific region,” he said.
“We need to be ready for the earthquakes and tropical cyclones that occur pretty much every year.
“We will continue to work with our partner church agencies.”