Budget hit and miss

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By Nigel Tapp

THE President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev Professor Andrew Dutney, was not overly concerned about the national deficit unveiled in the Federal Budget last month.3_$50-AUD

But, the deficit of justice and compassion in a number of policy areas, particularly in relation to asylum seekers, did trouble the Church’s leader.

The Church has long advocated for asylum seekers to be accorded the dignity they deserve as human beings and supports community-based detention models and the right to work for asylum seekers on bridging visas – neither of which were embraced in the Budget.

“As we hear Australia’s wealth among nations continue to grow we should be ashamed of our commitment to immigration detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island and of stripping the dignity away from asylum seekers by curtailing their working rights,” Prof Dutney said.

The UCA’s international relief and development agency, UnitingWorld, expressed disappointment that the federal government once again pushed back its commitment to have the aid budget equal to 0.5 per cent of gross national income.

That goal was supposed to be attained in the 2015-16 financial year but will now not occur until the 2017-18 year.

The Chair of UnitingWorld’s Relief and Development National Committee, Dr Sureka Goringe, said the Federal Government had again broken its promise to the world’s poorest people.

“We are on the brink of a fairer, more just world. We must continue to demand that our government keeps its promises to the world’s poorest people,” Dr Goringe said.

UnitingCare Tasmania chief executive Lindy O’Neill said the government should be condemned for failing to hear the concerted calls from the community sector for a $50 a week increase in the Newstart Allowance.

Ms O’Neill said the decision to allow Newstart recipients to earn an extra $19 a week before they would see any cut in their benefits only assisted the 20 per cent who were in paid employment.

But it was not all criticism for the budget.

Prof Dutney warmly welcomed the decision to fully fund Disability Care Australia and the support it will extend to people living with a disability, their families and carers.

“This is an important spiritual landmark in the history of our country and in our commitment to those who need help,” Prof Dutney said.

UnitingCare Australia national director Lin Hatfield Dodds said the 10-year funding commitment for the national disability insurance scheme was the jewel in the crown of the Budget.

Ms Hatfield Dodds said once rolled out in full, Disability Care would make a significant difference in the daily lives of about 500,000 Australians.

She described it as a “legacy Budget”.

“The further into history it recedes, the better it is going to look in terms of economic management,” she said.

The Uniting Church also welcomed an additional $1.6 billion to continue closing the gap on indigenous disadvantage.

Prof Dutney said funding for an Indigenous Language Support program to support the revival and maintenance of traditional languages was also welcomed as an important step in the right direction.

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