A Budget of few blessings

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Uniting Church President Stuart McMillan has expressed disappointment at the 2017 Federal Budget and said there is little for vulnerable Australians to rejoice about.

Treasurer Scott Morrison claimed the Budget was centred on fairness and opportunity, but Mr McMillan believes there are few blessings in the Budget for the most marginalised people in the community.

“A two-year freeze on foreign aid, punitive new welfare measures including drug and alcohol testing for the unemployed, and the extension of income management just make life harder for the poor and most vulnerable,” said Mr McMillan.

“In all this week’s commentary about winners and losers, we should remember that the poor are the ones who lose out most when governments neglect their needs. They are the ones who should be our focus.

“Regrettably there are few blessings in this Budget for the poor in spirit, nor the prospect of the kind of support I’d expect of a wealthy developed nation like ours.”

Foreign aid was once again hit hard in the Budget with the government announcing that Australia’s overseas aid contribution will be cut by $303 million over the next four years.

This is the fourth consecutive budget in which foreign aid has been slashed. It comes at a time when the world is facing several unprecedented humanitarian crises with more than 20 million people affected by the East Africa famine and millions fleeing war and persecution in the Middle East.

UnitingWorld national director Rob Floyd said Australia’s increasingly shrinking aid contribution means churches and charities will have to work harder to close the gap left by the government.

“The Australian aid sector had called for an increase of around $1.6 billion in the 2017 Budget as a step toward returning our aid budget towards levels in accord with our international obligations,” Mr Floyd said.

“The people who suffer the most here are the millions of people who rely on Australian aid in our region.”

From 2018-19, most Australians will face a 0.5 per cent increase in their Medicare levy to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Mr McMillan applauded the government’s plan to raise the Medicare levy to make life better for Australians living with a disability.

The announcement was also welcomed by UnitingCare Australia’s national director Claerwen Little.

“The commitment to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) by an increase in the Medicare levy is a significant measure and a landmark worthy of celebrating,” Ms Little said.

“The full funding of the NDIS from 2020 will afford greater dignity and independence to Australians with permanent and significant disability.”

But Ms Little lamented punitive measures announced in the Budget that targeted unemployed people and welfare recipients. This includes trialling drug tests on 5,000 new dole recipients, with those who fail the test given a cashless welfare card.

A new demerit-based system will also be introduced, which will deduct welfare payments for failure to meet ‘mutual obligations’, such as skipping a job interview.

“The very worst elements of this Budget impose harsh compliance measures on jobseekers for no apparent benefit to their employment prospects,” Ms Little said.

“The language of three strikes and demerits in the government’s proposed welfare reform effectively make it a crime to be unemployed.”

Ms Little expressed concern at the lack of support for vulnerable young people but welcomed the addition of $80 million for psychosocial support for people with a mental illness who do not qualify for the NDIS.

The Budget confirmed that a Commonwealth Redress Scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse will be implemented from July 2018, a move welcomed by both Mr McMillan and Ms Little.

Image: Ben Terrett/Flickr 

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