CATHOLIC organisations criticised Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s belated budget for failing to address rising homelessness and income support for a country caught in a pandemic and its first recession in 30 years.
The Budget, which was announced on October 6 after being postponed due to the coronavirus crisis, was unsurprisingly left in a deficit thanks to the massive support payments in JobKeeper and JobSeeker.
Mr Frydenberg’s major announcement was tax relief for Australian workers.
Australians earning $35,000 would receive an extra $255 for 2020-21, while those earning $50,000 would receive an extra $1080.
The biggest winners were those earning over $120,000 who received an extra $2430 this financial year.
Catholic Social Services Australia chief executive officer Ursula Stephens said billions of dollars in tax cuts would “help some people, but those cuts won’t help those who can’t find work and who appear destined to return to unsustainably low welfare payments”.
“We’re particularly concerned about workers aged 55 and over – some of whom may never work again,” Dr Stephens said.
She said Pope Francis, in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti released last Sunday, called for political, economic and social decisions to be assessed based on how they support vulnerable people.
“Using that yardstick, we can’t give the government a passing grade based on the Budget the treasurer delivered tonight,” she said.
St Vincent de Paul Society national president Clair Victory said the Federal Budget relied on a number of optimistic assumptions and it targeted people who were already comfortable.
She said it overlooked the plight of low-income Australians and others who did not pay tax.
“The plan is fraught, relying on assumptions including that the recession will be over by this time next year, international borders will be open in the second half of 2021, a population-wide vaccine will be available by end of the year, investors will invest and consumers will spend, increased confidence will lead to employment and spending and tax cuts will motivate people to spend, not save,” she said.
Ms Victory said it “defies logic” that there was no funding for social housing.
Mission Australia, a Christian not-for-profit, warned the government’s lack of investment in a plan to end homelessness would push more people to homelessness.
“Ensuring everyone has a safe and secure place to call home is a national responsibility that was ignored in this year’s Federal Budget,” Mission Australia chief executive officer James Toomey said.
“Prioritising ending homelessness in Australia still isn’t being taken seriously at a national level.”
Australia had 116,000 people who were homeless.
While social housing was off the table, the government assured another 23,000 home care packages delivered for the aged care sector.
Catholic Health Australia chief executive officer Pat Garcia said the extra packages would make a “huge difference”, but more funding was needed to reach the 80,000 Australians still on the waiting list.
Aged care issues did not stop at housing.
Mr Garcia said most aged care facilities were operating at a loss and workers were often underpaid.
“We know that more than half of aged care homes are currently operating at a loss, and almost 70 per cent are operating at a loss in regional Australia,” he said.
“Unless more money is made available now there is a very real concern that many care homes will be facing closure.”
Mr Garcia wanted to see support for wages in the sector as they made up about 70 per cent of the budget to run a facility.
Other areas of healthcare like suicide prevention saw some welcome news out of the budget.
“While there is no ‘new money’ for suicide prevention and mental health, the Budget tackles the upstream factors that the evidence tells us link with distress,” Suicide Prevention Australia chief executive officer Nieves Murray said.
“Factors like unemployment, financial security and social isolation have been heightened by COVID-19 and the consequent recession.”
Job creation and economic growth were essential to digging people out of the hole left by the pandemic and the government was fast-tracking $14 billion in new infrastructure projects.
That included $7.5 billion for road and rail projects, $2 billion in road safety upgrades and $1 billion for local councils to upgrade roads, footpaths and street lighting.
The government also was making contributions to help youth unemployment.
Mr Toomey said Mission Australia welcomed the wage subsidies offered by the government.
He said young people were disproportionately affected by the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A subsidy for trainees and apprentices was also welcomed, he said.
But he said they were concerned what would happen when the 12-months flagged for the program expired.
Another major sticking point for Mr Frydenberg was coronavirus vaccinations.
The government flagged $1.7 billion into agreements with University of Oxford and University of Queensland vaccines.
Caritas Australia weighed-in on the funding to help restart business in the regions.
The government announced Australia would increase economic support by $304 million over the next two years in the Pacific and Timor Leste regions.
But Caritas was concerned about the government’s aid cuts to other countries in South and West Asia, Africa and the Middle East.