Deep disappointment at aid cuts and 'light and meaningless' budget

Christian agencies have responded to the Federal Budget with a mix of disappointment and welcome.

By Roland Ashby

May 4 2016Christian agencies Micah Challenge, Anglicare Australia and the Brotherhood of St Laurence have responded to the Federal Budget with a mix of disappointment and welcome.

The Micah Australia coalition of churches and Christian agencies has expressed its deep disappointment at the Government’s decision to proceed with the scheduled $224 million aid cut in the 2016-2017 Federal Budget.

“These cuts will take aid to its lowest level and will make our nation the least generous we’ve ever been. Coming on top of more than $11 billion in cuts to aid since coming to office, this will be the fourth time the Government has targeted Australian aid for cuts,” said Ben Thurley, National Coordinator of Micah Australia.

As a result of the Treasurer’s latest budget delivered last night, Australia will give just 0.23 per cent of overseas aid as a share of national income – the lowest level ever recorded in Australia’s history.

“While many other countries are increasing their international assistance towards the fight against poverty, Australia is stepping back its role in building a fairer world,” said Mr Thurley.

“The reality is that it’s people and communities struggling against poverty in our region and other parts of the world who will bear the consequences of these cuts.”

According to Mr Thurley, the repeated cuts made to Australian aid damage and undermine the effectiveness of programs which have a direct impact on the lives, livelihoods, security and opportunity of many of our region’s poorest and most vulnerable people and communities, including women and girls and people with disability.

“The Micah Australia coalition, alongside our supporters, remains determined to reverse these damaging cuts. We call on all political parties to commit to restoring Australia’s aid program – which is one critical way that we work with others to tackle poverty,” said Mr Thurley.

A ‘lightweight and meaningless’ budget

“This year’s budget is lightweight, with next to nothing on what we see as the vital issues – affordable housing, secure work and adequate income,” Anglicare Australia Executive Director, Kasy Chambers said today.

“No homes for the homeless, only tinkering to taxation and the benefits are still mostly for the big end of town.

“The superannuation changes are a step in the right direction; removing government subsidy for people with very high incomes and providing a bit of support for those at the other end. However, it doesn’t do enough - those with minimum wages and a broken work pattern will not see any real difference.

“The emphasis on pathways out of youth unemployment is also welcome, although it comes at the cost of other employment programs.

“NDIS is a similar story – robbing Peter to pay Paul – with a savings plan to be funded by Carers, and those on DSP and other benefits. That’s pretty mean.

“Australia has a proud culture of equality, but this is being sorely tested.

“This budget hasn’t really delivered outcomes for the common good, and there are still large sections of our community being left behind, for all the smoke and mirrors that suggest otherwise.”

Youth jobs measures welcome, big picture still challenging

Budgets are not just about bottom lines, the Brotherhood of St Laurence said in response to the budget.

A key priority for any government must be to build the skills of all people in our nation so they can take part in economic and social life, and contribute to and benefit from prosperity, said Brotherhood of St Laurence chief Tony Nicholson.

“The rhetoric of jobs and growth needs to be matched by recognition that the most disadvantaged Australians in our prosperous country need assistance to fully access economic opportunities,” he said. “This requires ongoing and comprehensive attention.”

“In this budget, we welcome the Turnbull Government's announcement of a new youth employment package building on the substantial youth unemployment strategy in the 2015 budget. It's pleasing that policy makers are now recognising that the transition from school to work is much riskier than in previous decades. We know in the modern economy, employers need workers with skills and work experience that so many of our young people find harder to acquire.

“While the details are yet to come, the commitment to help 120,000 young people over four years by building employability skills, offering internships and making available wage subsidies to employers is a positive step.”

A new initiative to establish a fund to test approaches to assist highly disadvantaged groups move into work also holds promise if implemented wisely, but the design of programs will be critical, Mr Nicholson said.

“We can't lose sight of the big picture, however.

“As the Brotherhood has repeatedly noted in its campaign for youth employment, there are more than 250,000 people aged 15 to 24 who are unemployed today. 

“The youth unemployment rate, at around 12 per cent nationally, remains above the levels seen before the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Disturbingly, almost 50,000 young people have been without a job for more than a year, and rank as ‘long-term unemployed’”.

Mr Nicholson said that more than 720,000 Australians of all ages remain unemployed. Within this group, more than 180,000 are long-term unemployed.

“At the Brotherhood of St Laurence, we know from experience that disadvantaged people overwhelmingly share mainstream aspirations, to have a sense of family, a home – and for those who can work, a job,” Mr Nicholson said.

“The benefits of economic growth must reach the most vulnerable people among us. As we steer towards the 2016 federal election, that's a bottom line that neither the Government nor the Opposition nor any minor party should forget as they set policy priorities.”