Stuart McMillan, President of the Uniting Church in Australia, described the budget as a “missed opportunity” to alleviate poverty and disadvantage at home and abroad.
“There is not nearly enough in this Budget to assist the most vulnerable,” Mr McMillan said.
“It is deeply disappointing that planned cuts to foreign aid are going ahead, leaving some of the world’s poorest people without the life-changing – often life-saving – assistance that comes with Australian aid.”
Mr McMillan observed that while the Budget provides generous tax cuts to middle income earners and small businesses, programs to tackle climate change and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were largely absent.
“The Budget contains no new social programs aimed at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who are the most persistently disadvantaged Australians,” Mr McMillan said.
“Instead the government is foregoing revenue through a long term commitment to cutting company tax rates to 25% and tax concessions for half a million middle income earners.
“I’m afraid that the 2016-17 Federal Budget falls short of what I had hoped for in terms of support for the most in need.”
Mr McMillan did welcome a number of specific measures, such as funding for a sustainable National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and greater tax compliance and countermeasures aimed at multinational and corporate tax avoiders.
A new diverted profits tax law starting in July next year will penalise multinationals that shift their profits offshore at a rate of 40 per cent. They will also be monitored by a 1,300-member Australian Tax Office (ATO) taskforce to ensure private companies pay the right amount of tax.
“While the overall foreign aid funding situation is regrettable I’d single out for praise extra funding for humanitarian assistance in Syria and neighbouring programs and for community support programs for newly arrived Syrian and Iraqi refugees,” Mr McMillan said.
“Measures to address youth unemployment are also welcome, but need to be closely monitored to guard against abuses.”
Rob Floyd, national director of UnitingWorld, expressed his disappointment with the government’s decision to proceed with a $224 million cut to foreign aid. This is the fourth time the government has cut Australian aid and comes on top of the $11 billion cut by the Coalition since coming into office.
“This is the lowest level we have ever given as a nation,” Mr Floyd said.
“As we near the federal election, we call on all major parties to reaffirm their commitment to Australia’s aid and development efforts.”
The Budget outlines a number of measures that will affect the UnitingCare network.
UnitingCare Australia associate national director Martin J Cowling said the Budget paints a selective picture of “living within our means”, with cuts to health, aged care and disability payments outweighing new spending in these areas by at least $1 billion over four years.
“New spending on public hospitals is offset by $3.2 billion in cuts to funding for aged care providers, family support, and Medicare benefits,” he said.
“We welcome the funding for the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme. However, it is concerning that the funding is sourced from savings in other areas of social welfare, including cuts to the Disability Support Pension and Carers Allowance.”
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