Finding a new way forward

The latest Budget is a step forward from where we were, but still well short of where we need to get to. To change Australia for the better, we will all need to play our part in advocating for fundamental structural reform of our Federal Budget, writes CCA CEO David Crosbie in Pro Bono News:

Finding a new way forward, Pro Bono News, 25 October 2022

The federal budget has become almost ceremonial, a play performed by actors always in the same roles, but with different lines. 

 It’s a performance, a marketing exercise, a fundraiser for political parties and consultancy firms alike, but it is also the most important policy document of any federal government. 

Regardless of the political rhetoric, the budget numbers do not lie.  When we follow the money, we see exactly what the government does or does not prioritise.

It took me a few years of attending budget lockups (I have been to thirteen) before I knew what to look for in the budget papers. 

While the coverage across the media is usually focused on top line income and expenditure figures and their associated assumptions, what really matters to most charities is exactly how much the government intends to spend in their areas over the coming three to four years.  

While a lot of information has been deliberately leaked before budget night, seeing the final budget tables detailing actual government expenditure over the next three to four years is always revealing. 

This was an unusual budget – the first Chalmers / Albanese budget, and the fourth federal budget in two years. In many ways this budget was a full stop to the work of the previous Morrison government, a reorientation to the new federal government agenda and workplan.

The reality is that there is only so much you can change in a federal budget without major structural reforms. Fundamental areas of government responsibility like health, aged care, defence, social security all grow by at least 7 per cent a year and income from the current tax system is increasingly falling short of what is needed to offer effective services in these areas.  

What the new government has done is focus more resources on critical areas like early education and parental childcare, family and domestic violence, affordable medicines, aged care staffing, renewable energy, affordable housing, TAFE and higher education, manufacturing, and disaster readiness.  

This was not a ‘well-being budget’ but as the budget papers point out: The Treasury will continue to work and consult with a range of stakeholders to inform the development of a stand-alone Measuring What Matters Statement in 2023. 

There are quite a few specific measures outlined in the budget that will benefit charities and the communities they serve.  

Some of these measures are long overdue and will be very welcome. Some offer only part of what is needed, and some, like the affordable housing measures, fail to adequately address the chronic shortage of public housing that causes and exacerbates so many other social and health problems and issues.  

With this budget, the government has laid out its initial spending priorities, and ended some previous government programs, but so much more needs to be done.  At a time of relatively high and increasingly expensive government debt, rising cost of living pressures, growing inequality, and increasing pressure to meet community expectations for government services and support, the budget is a step forward from where we were, but still well short of where we need to get to. 

It is unrealistic to expect reform in what is really a budget reset, and this budget delivers some good news for the charities sector.

And yet, it feels as though we have been left out at sea trying to swim back to shore and this budget has offered us a life buoy.  We can now stay afloat, but we are still battling waves and a long way from land.    

To change Australia for the better, we will all need to play our part in advocating for fundamental structural reform of our Federal Budget.  Otherwise, as this budget demonstrates, we risk perpetuating the current limitations of government, and failing to fully realise the vision outlined by Treasurer Jim Chalmers in his budget speech – A stronger, more resilient Australia. With more opportunities for more people, in more parts of our amazing country.

 

Read on Pro Bono News: finding-a-new-way-forward