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Have-a-go budget under fire

NEWS | Anne Lim

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Christians should be outraged at the huge cuts to Australian aid programmes in Tuesday night’s federal budget, according to Tim Costello.

“Joe’s have-a-go budget – boy, he really had a go at the poorest people,” the World Vision Australia CEO said.

In sentiments echoed by other Christian organisations, he said the cuts were wrong and betrayed “a profound loss of perspective. Any Christian should be outraged.”

The big losers in the $1 billion of previously announced cuts were Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Myanmar, while aid to Africa and the Middle East was slashed by almost 75 per cent.

“We’ve withdrawn totally from Africa – one of the neediest regions in the world – and 60 per cent from our region. That’s educating girls and it’s clean water and lifesaving things like malaria nets,” Mr Costello said.

He credited Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for protecting the pool of funds allocated to humanitarian relief, but pointed out that “it’s all the same pool – if there are more disasters, then that just will rob the budget for development projects. We know that the boys Joe [Hockey], Tony [Abbott] and Mathias [Cormann] rolled her, that she didn’t want these aid cuts, but she did a good job in protecting that humanitarian relief side and the government funding for charities – we thought it would be cut 40 per cent, it’s only about 5 per cent.”

… with these [aid] cuts we’ve gone down to 21c in $100, so we’ve just become a nation of shirkers of our national responsibility…

Mr Costello declared himself puzzled. “We’ve got the most Christian Catholic Coalition cabinet in our history and a Pope who says there are a billion people going to bed hungry and that should be the focus; you’ve got David Cameron in Britain who wins an election refusing to cut aid back. A conservative prime minister said ‘we won’t balance the books on the backs of the poor’. That’s a Jesus thing – good news for the poor.”

He noted that Britain spends 70c in every $100 of national income on overseas aid, with a far greater debt burden than in Australia. “And with these cuts we’ve gone down to 21c in $100, so we’ve just become a nation of shirkers of our national responsibility.”

The Micah Challenge coalition of church and Christian organisations also strongly condemned the cuts to Australia’s aid programme, as did Baptist World Aid and TEAR Australia.

“The Government is implementing the largest ever cuts to aid in Australia’s history – including a $1 billion cut from the aid budget immediately, and a total of $3.7 billion being stripped from aid over the next three years. These cuts will take Australia’s aid to the lowest ever levels in our nation’s history,” said Micah’s Challenge’s national coordinator, Ben Thurley.

“This is a deeply ungenerous and short-sighted act. The world’s most vulnerable people are yet again being asked to pay for our Government’s skewed priorities as it balances its budget on the backs of the poor… At a time when Australia has a growing economy worth $1.6 trillion and the sixth-lowest debt in the world, it is shameful that we are making such savage cuts to aid.”

In other reactions to the budget, the Australian Christian Lobby bemoaned its unfairness to single-income families with a stay-at-home parent.

… I think parents should have the choice to have a parent at home and the tax system should encourage that…

Managing director Lyle Shelton said while many families would benefit from the generous new childcare subsidies, they would widen the inequity gap between dual-income families and those with one parent working in the home looking after children.

“I think parents should have the choice to have a parent at home and the tax system should encourage that and instead we’re discouraging it and putting pressure on single-income families,” Mr Shelton said.

He said it was disappointing that the Liberal Party had walked away from Howard-era tax policy aimed at assisting families with young children. “Now we’ve walked away from those policies and geared the whole system to childcare subsidies where both parents are working. It puts pressure on families to get everyone out the door early in the morning for two jobs and childcare and it’s not good social policy.”

Mr Shelton said he hoped the Nationals and crossbench senators might be able to redress the inequity when the budget measures come before them.

“Income splitting for single-income families would go a long way, rebalancing the inequalities already in the tax system made worse by last night’s budget,” he said. “Our tax system and budget measures should deliver the choice of getting off this treadmill, not pushing them onto it.”

On a positive note, HammondCare welcomed the budget’s move to allocate 2000 more restorative care places for older Australians, calling it a “transformational change”. Including short-term restorative care in aged planning ratios will increase the number of restorative care places by 2000 to 6000 by 2021.

“It is vitally important that restorative care has a firm place in our aged care system, so embedding it in planning ratios is a great step forward,” HammondCare chair of positive ageing, Chris Poulos said.

“But what I am particularly excited about is the new form of short-term restorative care because it addresses an important unmet need.”

… I am particularly excited about … the new form of short-term restorative care.

Professor Poulos defined restorative care as sitting between intense rehabilitation and programmes to promote keeping physically active and independent.

“One of the problems with existing rehabilitation models is that to get access you need to have something bad go wrong, like a stroke, a hip fracture or an amputation. Then you go to hospital and you have really good access to rehabilitation services,” he said. “But probably half of people are ageing with chronic diseases and they gradually lose the ability to get around and remain physically active and this impacts on their quality of life and ability to be independent.”

The key change to aged-care measures introduced in the budget was that you would no longer need to be in hospital and could have restorative care in your own home. These services would include physical therapy, retraining and assistive equipment to help people overcome limitations and would benefit people with conditions such as arthritis, heart disease and early memory loss.

Professor Poulos said the new programme, which HammondCare had been advocating for years, was the “missing link” in our system and would allow many more people to remain living at home rather than in residential care.

Wesley Mission also found things to praise in the budget. It welcomed the provision of $212 million over four years from 2015-16 for a new intensive support service to help young people at high risk of long-term unemployment and welfare dependency.

This includes $19.4 million over four years for two trials to help improve employment outcomes for young people up to the age of 25 with mental illness, who are at risk of disengaging from education and/or at risk of long-term welfare dependency.

Wesley Mission also welcomed the two-year extension to the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, allowing frontline housing support services to continue to women and children suffering domestic violence, and homeless young people.

“The face of homelessness today is that of a mum with children in tow escaping domestic violence,” Wesley Mission CEO Keith Garner said.

Wesley Mission’s recent report on financial stress found that 44 per cent of NSW households were suffering financial stress and 38 per cent were spending more than they earn. Housing stress is a key contributor.

“Unfortunately this budget had no improvements for rent assistance. Too many households in our capital cities are struggling to pay rent. The current level of assistance is inadequate, creating financial and housing stress,” Dr Garner said.

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