Critics blast budget’s missing measures to close the gap, zero money for federal anti-corruption commission

By Melissa Coade

March 31, 2022

A round-up of the main takes from Tuesday’s budget. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

From experts, advocacy groups, minor political parties, to the opposition — here’s a round-up of the main takes from Tuesday’s budget.

Labor MP Linda Burney issued a statement declaring that if the 2022 budget were the Liberal government’s election pitch, then there was an audible silence on Closing the Gap matters. 

She pointed to the budget’s spend on health and housing issues specifically targeting First Nations, noting that since there were no measures for either portfolio that dealt with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voters, then Closing the Gap was out of reach.

“The government that has failed to close the gap in life outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians has simply decided to give up trying,” Burney said. 

“By giving up on tackling these fundamental challenges, Scott Morrison has shown he doesn’t care about the lives of Indigenous Australians — and given that this budget is purely about getting Scott Morrison re-elected, it shows he doesn’t care about winning their vote, either.”

University of Technology Sydney academic Professor Alan Morris, from the Institute for Public policy and Governance, said the budget did virtually nothing for millions of Australians in the insecure rental market, those who were struggling to repay their mortgage payments or younger people who lived at home with their parents because cost of living expenses were too high.

“The amount allocated for social housing and homelessness is negligible and will have no impact. There is no endeavour to dampen housing being a major site of speculative investment,” Morris said. 

The impact of policy announcements backed by money in the budget in fact further benefited wealthy investors who were already benefiting from the tight property market, Morris added. Notably, Australia’s housing crisis was ‘cementing’ the class division with only middle-class parents capable of helping their children enter into homeownership. 

“Negative gearing and the generous capital gains tax means that investors will continue to view residential property as a primary site for investment and price out people trying to enter the market,” Morris said. 

Pointing to a 2019 Productivity Commission report, Morris said more than 1 million low-income households, comprising 2.65 million people, rented in the private market. About two-thirds of this group outlaid more than 30% of their income on rent in 2018, Professor Morris said. 

“For more and more low-income households, homeownership is elusive. A large proportion of low-income households now accept that they could be dependent on the insecure and expensive private rental sector for the remainder of their lives. 

“They will never be able to afford to purchase a home and the intense scarcity of social housing means that this option is also not available,” Morris said. 

Commenting on the budget’s response to climate change and the more extreme or severe weather events walloping the Australian continent, psychology expert Professor Navjot Bhullar from Edith Cowan University explained this would certainly impact the population’s mental health and wellbeing. Flash flooding has recurred in Lismore and Byron Bay just as parts of NSW and Queensland thought they had turned a corner following weeks of major deluge

Bhullar said researchers understood well that contact with nature made people feel better.

“So, what happens when this connectedness with our natural environments is disrupted by unprecedented climatic events that are becoming common occurrences these days? An understanding of our deep connection and symbiotic relationship with nature and its psychological benefits make it personally relevant to protect and conserve our precious natural environments and help build and sustain climate awareness and collective action,” she said. 

Mission Australia has called on the government for stronger targets and fair and inclusive policies to cut climate pollution this decade. Its CEO, Sharon Callister said she was disappointed to see so little funding for emissions reduction and climate change. The budget was an opportunity for the government to invest in a liveable and sustainable future for Australia to live in, she said, and that opportunity was wasted.

“Through our work on the frontline, Mission Australia staff know the effects of climate change exacerbate disadvantage and impact acutely on the most vulnerable members in our communities.” 

“We are incredibly concerned that extreme climate change impacts like the catastrophic East Coast floods, WA’s scorching heatwave and the 2019-2020 bushfires are increasing homelessness, poverty and inequality. 

“People on the lowest incomes are hit first, worst and longest and have very little resources behind them to survive, adjust and recover,” she said. 

The problem of well-planned, well-designed social housing stock that is built in low-risk geographical areas needed to be fixed if the government was serious about building resilience in the face of these extreme events, Callister added.

“An increase in this type of social housing would go a long way in helping to house people on low incomes, help end homelessness and build resilience to the effects of climate change and natural disasters.

“An adequate increase to JobSeeker and disaster payments is also vital to give people the best chance of recovering after severe floods, bushfires and heatwaves,” she said. 

Women’s budget statement does not go far enough

Mission Australia welcomed the extra investment in initiatives for domestic and family violence including funding for emergency accommodation. But the group said boosting social and affordable housing was also a critical policy impacting this portfolio of social and justice issues. Emergency accommodation was only one part of a longer survival plan for these vulnerable groups, Callister said.

“Everyone knows that domestic and family violence is one of the main reasons women and children are pushed into homelessness in Australia. Our government must do more to help prevent homelessness from occurring when people are escaping violent situations. 

“The severe shortage of long-term housing means women and children escaping domestic and family violence are often left with nowhere suitable to live.

“The federal government still must do more to help people safely escape domestic and family violence without facing the prospect of homelessness by increasing the supply of social and affordable homes,” she said. 

Ashlee Donohue, CEO of Mudgin-Gal (meaning women’s place) in Redfern, said it was a shame the women’s budget statement lacked financial support for a more holistic approach to Aboriginal community-led organisations like her own. 

“The one-off $5000 financial assistance for women leaving violent relationships is helpful but not enough,” Donohue said.

“The first thing that DV survivors look for when leaving violent relationships is somewhere safe to go. This is where the funding should be going first and foremost, to provide a safe refuge in cities as well as rural and regional areas, along with transport to get to and from hospitals, police stations and courts.”

Donohue had also hoped to see mandatory education about mandatory domestic, family and sexual violence in high schools across Australia. But this was not included in Tuesday’s budget.

“We also need to invest in education for men as much if not more than women around DFV – most men do not believe that they are perpetrators because there are no substantial programs running that identify to men for men what a DFV is. Men need to be involved in the conversations and part of the solutions,” she said.  

Tasmania’s reef and ocean funding overlooked, Greens contend

The Queensland Labor government has made its views on the budget known, complaining its state has been shortchanged by the federal government. But Tasmania has also got a rough deal, according to Greens Senator Peter Wish-Wilson, who echoed Queensland’s complaint the federal budget was one that promised big spending for the next six weeks as a ploy for the Coalition to get back into office. 

The Greens want to know where in the budget the government plans to fund Tasmania’s Antarctic Gateway science programs. Money for protecting the Southern Ocean and the Great Southern Reef is also absent, the minor party claims. 

“The Great Barrier Reef again gets billions in Budget funding for “reef adaption” measures to combat climate change and invasive species, but Tasmania’s Great Southern Reef — which is critically important to our communities and fishing industry and faces equally critical threats — doesn’t get a cent,” Senator Wish-Wilson said. 

“Ultimately it’s a budget full of sugar hits and band-aid solutions — both of which are bad for the long-term health of Tasmania.”

Wish-Wilson’s primary concern about the 2022 budget was its lack of climate and environment spending measures. He said the last weeks of the federal government were focused on handing back powers to the states under the reform of commonwealth environments laws.

“Now [the government is] putting millions into deregulating and fast-tracking our environmental regulation process — in short, scrapping environmental laws by stealth,” Senator Wish-Wilson said. 

“Mark my words, this will be bad for Tasmania and will lead to more environmental conflict, destruction and exploitation of our wild and special places, which is the last thing our state needs.”

Commenting on the budget’s response to climate change and the more extreme or severe weather events walloping the Australian continent, psychology expert Professor Navjot Bhullar, from Edith Cowan University, explained this would certainly impact the population’s mental health and wellbeing. Flash flooding has recurred in Lismore and Byron Bay just as parts of NSW and Queensland thought they had turned a corner following weeks of major deluge

Bhullar said researchers understood well that contact with nature made people feel better.

“So, what happens when this connectedness with our natural environments is disrupted by unprecedented climatic events that are becoming common occurrences these days? An understanding of our deep connection and symbiotic relationship with nature and its psychological benefits make it personally relevant to protect and conserve our precious natural environments and help build and sustain climate awareness and collective action,” she said. 

What does the budget say about future prospects of a federal ICAC?

Labor’s shadow attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, highlighted the stark zero staff contained in a table in budget paper 4, confirming the government had no plans to establish the long-called-for national integrity commission in 2022-23. This was the second year the Coalition had failed to make any spending commitments on a new anti-corruption commission it had promised voters, Dreyfus said.

On 13 December 2018, Mr Morrison and his former attorney-general Christian Porter stood before the Australian people and promised ‘a robust, resourced, real system that will protect the integrity of commonwealth and public administration’.  

“Rather than keeping his election commitment to the Australian people, Mr Morrison’s government has voted 31 times to block the establishment of a national anti-corruption commission or prevent one from even being debated,” Dreyfus said.  

“In the 1,200 days since making that promise, Mr Morrison has never even brought a bill before the parliament to introduce a national anti-corruption commission and the Budget confirms that if re-elected, he has no intention of ever changing that,” he said.

Dreyfus added an ‘exposure draft’ from the government proposing the new national integrity body was so bad that the Centre for Public Integrity denounced it as ‘a sham designed to cover up corruption’ and ‘the weakest watchdog in the country’. Meanwhile, in the absence of a watchdog, more federal government scandals continued to go unchecked. 

“This is a government that lives in fear of accountability and what a powerful, independent, and transparent anti-corruption commission would reveal,” Dreyfus said. 

Economics expert asks if health spending headed in the right direction

UNSW’s Professor Gigi Foster observed that the federal budget contained a number of ‘hip-pocket salves’ for the immediate, short-term benefit of some voters. She said she was also amused by the government’s attempt to blame the faraway war in Ukraine caused by the military invasion of Putin’s Russian forces as the main reason cost-of-living expenses had become so high. 

Foster is sceptical about the amount of government funding used to respond to COVID-19, which, she says, was sunk during the height of the pandemic on ‘vaccines, PPE, and other items in that suite of failed and expensive kit that will further enrich the elites from whom we buy these things without making any of us healthier’.

“Frydenberg made a comical attempt to blame cost of living increases on the Ukraine war rather than admitting that the very woes he is styling himself as fixing have been caused, in the main, directly by government actions during the COVID era,” Foster said. 

“Turning around [spending for the health system] requires restoring the freedom of independent medical professionals by significantly reducing the power of AHPRA, and an abandonment by the government of the shameful role of personal medical advisor that it has been indulging in since the COVID vaccines were introduced,” she added.


READ MORE:

The learning vacuum of bushfire public inquiries — a review

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