Budget dollars and sense

Image courtesy of the International Monetary Fund on Flickr

Once again, all eyes of the nation’s media turned to Canberra for the annual announcement of the Federal Budget. Within minutes, commentators and analysts began work on their list – the haves and have nots ­– to explain to economic illiterates the hip pocket impact.

Small business received a significant boost and the tough six-month waiting period to receive the dole has been relaxed to a more reasonable one-month wait.

On the other hand, healthcare and foreign aid have been handed significant cuts to be implemented in the coming years.

The community sector, NGOs and international aid groups have stated emphatically that the $1 billion cut from Australian aid will greatly diminish our ability to effectively address poverty. Budget figures indicate that by 2016-17 our aid budget, as a share of national income, will fall to just 0.22 per cent or 22 cents in every $100.

Marc Purcell, executive director of the Australian Council for International Development, said many will feel the force of this move in the intervening years.

“Millions of women, children, and men in poor communities in our region who benefitted from our highly effective aid program will no longer get a helping hand from Australia,” he said.

“These massive budget cuts shrink Australia’s place in the world, reducing our ranking from 13 to 16 out of 28 countries in the OECD aid generosity index by 2018 below New Zealand, Ireland and Belgium.”

Elsewhere, the community support sector has indicated some positive moves while reinforcing a broader response that suggests the government continues to fall short in supporting vulnerable individuals.

Lin Hatfield Dodds, national director of UnitingCare Australia outlined several positive steps.

“Worthwhile measures include investing in vulnerable children, continued commitment to the NDIS, tightening means testing for the age pension, and the groundwork for further aged care reform,” she said.

“We also welcome the commitment to an investment approach to welfare, drawing on insights from New Zealand.

“However, we continue to see poorly-targeted Government handouts and not enough substantial investment in the people and areas that require the most support.”

Many reports have indicated the boost afforded to small businesses may enable the government to quell much of the political fallout from wide-ranging and wildly unpopular cuts in the 2014 budget.

To what extent does this reduce budget announcements to mere political theatre?

With much of the potential spending reliant on significant and successive political wins for the Abbott government, are we simply being distracted by smoke and mirrors grandstanding?

It could be argued that constant references to ‘economic growth’ and ‘getting back to surplus’ highlight a lack of consideration towards the effect budget spending has on individuals and communities.

The popular narrative of budget reporting appears preoccupied with ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. What this analysis often neglects is the macro implications of spending on our longer-term future.

When reporting and analysis begin to fade into successive media cycles in the coming days and weeks, what undoubtedly remains is the extent of significant issues that require long-term approaches for lasting reform.

Will we continue to roll on from one budget to the next, or can we shift the national conversation to the long-term vision for Australian society?

Such a conversation could attempt to balance fiscal responsibility while promoting equality of opportunity, social justice and support for vulnerable individuals.

Amongst the cacophony of budget reporting and analysis, one thing remains starkly clear. Australia will continue to grapple with an array of wide-ranging and complex issues long after we’ve collectively lost interest in this year’s budget announcements.

Image courtesy of the International Monetary Fund on Flickr.


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