Budget reactions: Union slams Services Australia cuts, Labor targets missed opportunities

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday May 12, 2021

Josh Frydenberg reflected in water.
Josh Frydenberg reflected in water. (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

Responses to Tuesday evening’s 2021 federal budget have been a mixed bag, with the Opposition highlighting areas where it argues the government has failed to deliver, the Community and Public Sector Union raising concerns over staff cuts at Services Australia, and a range of positive reactions to investments in areas such as mental health, and domestic violence services.

Read the initial reactions to the budget below, from politicians, unions, industry, and more.

The CPSU welcomed the government’s acknowledgement that staffing levels needed to be raised — with an increase of 5,364 APS jobs — but argued that the response was not enough to fix the damage caused by staffing and budget cuts.

CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly said the new jobs restore less than half of the 13,000 jobs that the Liberal government has cut since coming into power in 2013, and raised concerns over cuts to Services Australia and Centrelink.

“Before the budget we heard a lot from Treasurer Frydenberg about increasing services and investing in community to stimulate our economy, but tonight they are cutting 800 jobs from Services Australia and Centrelink,” she said.

“At a time when the community has never relied on Centrelink and Services Australia more than ever, they are cutting the very services people need. For those hundreds of thousands of Australians still recovering from this crisis, these cuts mean that you will continue to face long call queues when calling Centrelink, and more unanswered calls.”

The union has labelled the budget as a missed opportunity to offer certainty to the 25,000 labour hire workers who are employed by the government. It has also argued that the budget has done nothing to address low wages.

“On this government’s watch wages have stagnated for the longest period on record, and tonight there is no plan to change that. The government is asking business to do the heavy lifting on wage growth while refusing to do any themselves,” Donnelly said.

READ MORE: ‘Operating at our ASL limit’: Services Australia on APS staff cap

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the budget was a ‘missed opportunity’ when it comes to addressing long-term issues, noting that, for example, the cost of living will rise faster than wages.

“There will be low wages, there is nothing there to grow productivity, there is nothing there to advance new industries, there is nothing there to build back stronger,” he told Sunrise.

“If you are going to have $1 trillion of debt, you want a legacy to show for it, and there is nothing that in this budget to indicate anything other than low wages, low wage growth, low economic growth into the future and no real plan beyond getting through the next election.”

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers and shadow public service minister Katy Gallagher argued that the government would have accumulated less debt ‘without Morrison’s slush funds, rorts, dodgy land deals, advertising and JobKeeper payments to already profitable businesses’.

“That waste is set to continue, with 21 new or topped-up slush funds totalling $4 billion,” they said in a joint statement.

They said the budget was a marketing exercise rather than genuine reform, and highlighted areas where the government has failed to deliver on their announcements.

“After their last budget centrepiece ‘JobMaker’ created just 1,000 of the 450,000 jobs promised, Australians can’t believe any jobs promised in this budget. Morrison and Frydenberg won’t tell Australians when they will be vaccinated, haven’t secured more vaccines, haven’t come clean on the cost and risk of delay, and are failing to deliver fit for purpose quarantine facilities,” they said.

“For eight long years, this government has overseen record low wages growth, chronically high underemployment, and it still doesn’t have a credible plan to create secure jobs. For eight long years, this government has presided over an aged-care crisis, an energy crisis, a housing crisis and a skills crisis. And for eight long years, this government has overpromised and underdelivered on critical infrastructure and this budget actually cuts funding by $3.3 billion.”

READ MORE: Federal Budget 2021: Designed to support the economy

The Greens have labelled the budget as a ‘pre-election sweetener’ that benefits billionaires and big corporations while failing to address inequality and climate change.

“The Morrison government is handing $1.1 billion in new money to the oil, gas and coal industry, $11.4 billion next year alone, and with a total of a $51 billion across the forwards, this is one of the biggest handouts to the fossil fuel corporations in a budget ever. Meanwhile one of the few paltry investments in the environment is for trashing our environmental laws,” Greens leader Adam Bandt said.

“The economic forecasts are built on sand and on an assumption our failed quarantine and vaccine program will miraculously start to work and that rest of world overcomes the pandemic. Wages go backwards for years, while more than $62 billion in handouts are directed to the billionaires and the big corporations.”

The Australia Institute’s Ben Oquist said the budget has failed to deliver any meaningful tax reform, describing the government’s extended tax break for low and middle income earners as ‘band-aid tax policy at best’.

“A fairer and simpler tax system would wind back tax concessions; tackle inequities; ensure public goods are supported; discourage polluting and destructive activities; and collect more revenue more fairly. On any of these measure the budget has failed,” he said.

“Too many tax reforms have been taken off the political table. Resource tax reform, wealth tax reform, property tax reform and carbon pricing have been put in the ‘too hard’ basket. From affordable, quality aged care to climate change, policy challenges cannot be best addressed without a better tax policy.”

READ MORE: Federal budget chance to restore long-standing APS and public sector pain points

Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil said the government has missed the opportunity to make the big structural changes that are needed by women.

“This budget contains $17.9 billion in tax write-offs for big business, and only $1.1 billion for women’s safety over the next four years,” she said.

“The billions provided to business in this budget are given without strings attached and risk again ending up in the pockets of shareholders and CEOs.”

Chief Executive Women has taken a different stance, welcoming investments in childcare, continued universal access to preschool education, and women’s workforce participation, education and training. It also praised the decision to abolish the minimum threshold for superannuation payments, and the Women’s Budget Statement.

Australian Council of Social Service CEO Cassandra Goldie said the budget has provided the funding needed to ‘start fixing some of the gaping holes’ in Australia’s aged care, childcare, mental health, and domestic violence services.

“[But] we are worried about the government clawing back hundreds of millions of dollars out of social security and employment services, when there is a need to be increasing this funding,” she added.

READ MORE: Federal Budget 2021: Broad definitions, patronising rhetoric. Monumental moves on ‘women’s issues’ are still faulty

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry welcomed incentives to increase workforce participation, promote business investment and boost productivity. However, they wouldn’t be enough to secure Australia’s economic success.

“We are a middle-sized country and rely on open borders – we need to address our international border restrictions by gradually reopening international travel, and also work towards a bigger Australia,” acting CEO Jenny Lambert said.

“We need to boost migration numbers and fill urgent skills gaps much sooner than the forecast. We can’t go it alone if we are to remain globally competitive in a post-COVID world.”

Mission Australia has welcomed a number of initiatives outlined in the budget, including the reinstatement of funding for Equal Remuneration Order supplementation for homelessness services, the new National Recovery and Resilience Agency, and investments in domestic and family violence prevention and mental health. But the organisation said it was disappointed in the lack of leadership on addressing rising homelessness.

“The essential social infrastructure of social housing has been ignored yet again while the federal government continues to heavily invest in other infrastructure. Where is the leadership and innovation which this issue desperately requires?” CEO James Toomey said.

“While we acknowledge the government’s investment in measures to help support people into home ownership, including single parents through the Family Home Guarantee, these do not go far enough to address the structural problems with housing and homelessness in this country.”

READ MORE: Public sector winners in big spending budget


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