- by Anna Pha
- The Guardian
- Issue #2040
Schoolchildren line up for free issue of soup and a slice of bread in the Depression, Belmore North Public School, Sydney, 1934. Photo: Sam Hood – State Library of New South – no known copyright restrictions.
In the February Monthly Essay, “Capitalism After the Crises”, Treasurer Jim Chalmers refers to “hard decisions” that “will accompany hard times ahead” and “the unsustainable state of the nation’s books.”
“In 2023, every fifth [housing] loan will roll off low fixed rates onto higher variable rates, which will inflict significant pain,” Chalmers warns.
For anyone expecting progressive reforms, the Treasurer says: “the federal budget is deep in debt and under pressure – so the options for large, broad new programs are limited.”
The truth is, hard times are already here. More than 3.3 million people, 750,000 of them children, are living below the poverty line. (ACOSS Poverty in Australia 2022: A snapshot, December 2022)
Foodbank Australia CEO, Brianna Casey, says, “On any given day, over half a million households in Australia are struggling to meet their food needs and 306,000 are receiving assistance from food relief organisations.”
Under-funded and under-resourced community services including homelessness, financial, legal, emergency support, food, and domestic and family violence are stretched beyond their limits, unable to meet the ever-increasing demand. Their staff and volunteers are burnt-out.
Millions of people are struggling with a cost-of-living crisis – sky-rocketing power bills, higher petrol prices, rising food costs. Decades of stagnating or declining wages and growth of precarious employment have exacerbated the situation.
We’ve been repeatedly told that the rising costs of the NDIS, aged care and Medicare are unsustainable – what Chalmers refers to as the “the unsustainable state of the nation’s books.”
Public hospitals are stretched with COVID cases and thousands of people presenting to emergency departments who cannot afford or do not have access to a general practitioner. There is a “blow out” in NDIS and aged care costs along with unmet needs.
ACOSS (Australian Council of Social Service) Deputy CEO Edwina MacDonald said the report laid bare the shocking impact of the cost-of-living crisis. “Government relies on our sector to serve the public interest on its behalf. It is therefore vital that it properly fund services and invest in service sector staff who have been doing an incredible job in tough circumstances.”
“But the challenges of demand, complexity of need, poverty and disadvantage, combined with the past decade of chronic underfunding, are pushing community services beyond breaking point, and that cannot be tolerated,” MacDonald said.
The hard times and pain are already here.
IS MORE PAIN UNAVOIDABLE?
Australia is a rich country. There is no excuse for the government relying on charities or crying poor when it comes to essential services and people’s well-being. With a shift in priorities from the big end of town to people’s interests the books (budget) could be sustainable and people’s needs be met.
The stage three tax cuts are highly inequitable and regressive. They are a gift to those on taxable incomes of more than $90.000 to those on $200,000 or more a year. Workers on the minimum wage receive nothing. Repeal the $254 billion in tax cuts for the rich over ten years! Tax the big corporations!
The costs of the health system, aged care, and the NDIS could be sustainable and meet people’s needs by cutting out the layers of profit. Nationalise health care, aged care, and the NDIS!
The environmentally destructive war machine with its forces of mass destruction, is unsustainable – more than $500 billion over the next ten years. That is without taking into consideration the tens of billions of dollars on nuclear-powered submarines. Its cost in dollars, in lives, and to the environment is unsustainable. Cancel the subs, slash the offensive war preparations!
Negative gearing, rorted by the rich will cost the public purse $130 billion or more over the next decade. Abolish negative gearing!
Fossil fuel subsidies are estimated to cost $11 billion in the current financial year and continue to rise in coming years. Abolish the fossil fuel subsidies! No new gas or coal projects! Phase out existing projects by 2030 to save the planet!
Redirect the savings to improving services. Increase all income support payments such as age pension, JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, Austudy, and energy and rent assistance. Provide the necessary mental health services and dental services under Medicare. Redirect funding to priorities such as public housing; funding Indigenous communities; and research and development of renewable energy.
At a time of record profits there is no argument against workers’ wages catching up with those lost decades and keeping up with price inflation and productivity. Time for a living wage and secure jobs!