The Guardian • Issue #2100

Budget 2024-25

More for war in a class budget

Broken piggy bank

Photo: Joe Shlabotnik – flickr.com (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

“In a cost-of-living crisis, the Labor government is choosing to remove $14.4 billion in funding from the NDIS that will lead to disabled people not getting the support they need when they need it”: Senator Jordon Steele-John, Australian Greens Spokesperson for Disability Rights and Services.

“The ALP have decided that it is more important to fund billions in handouts to weapons manufacturers then it is to support our community and the many disabled people that rely on the NDIS to live happy and healthy lives.”

This so-called “cost of living budget” contains pre-election sweeteners in an attempt to dilute the bitter hardship that millions of Australians are experiencing. The budget measures range over energy costs, climate change, women, housing, health, tax cuts, aged care, child care, supermarket monopolies, Indigenous Australians, and student debt, giving the impression that the pressing issues are being addressed.

“This government and this Budget delivers for every Australian,” Treasurer Jim Chalmers claims in his budget speech. In fact, it delivers to the wealthy, to fossil fuel corporations, and military expenditure.

The economy is stagnating, while unemployment and inflation are on the rise. Millions of Australians are in recession with a decline in their purchasing power.

Treasury has revised its forecast of real household consumption growth down from 1.5 per cent in the last budget to just 0.25 per cent in 2024-25, despite strong migration, raising the question of a wider recession.

The government is spending $925.2 million over five years from 2023–24 to establish the permanent Leaving Violence Program. $925.2 million sounds like a lot, but over five years, it’s a drop in the ocean. It will not meet the needs of women fleeing domestic and family violence.

In a budget spend of $726.7 billion, and with a surplus of $9.3 billion, the government could not find a cent for public housing, or include dental care and mental health in Medicare, let alone universal bulk billing. Nor does it have the political will to increase JobSeeker and the Youth Allowance payment.

The centrepiece of the budget is the one-off $300 energy bill rebate for all households in the form of four quarterly payments of $75. Every dollar helps, but Labor is not addressing the causes of high energy bills, not daring to risk losing lucrative political donations and post-parliamentary six-figure jobs for MPs from the fossil fuel corporations that are wallowing in record profits.

DISGRACE

It is a disgrace that Australia has the lowest benefits for the short-term unemployed among 34-member countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The government continues to refuse to increase the rate.

More than one million people in Australia rely on JobSeeker and related payments.

There are a few crumbs for the unemployed in the form of the energy rebate and a small increase in rental assistance. At $386 a week for a single person, the dole is 26 per cent below the OECD poverty line.

The treatment meted out to the unemployed is punitive. “Each month, about 80,000 people are sent Robodebt-like notices threatening to take away their income support, for allegedly missing an appointment with a provider or failing to submit enough job applications. In most cases, they have actually met the requirement or have a good reason for not doing so,” Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) CEO Cassandra Goldie said.

The government’s own Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee has recommended lifting Jobseeker and Youth Allowance.

“The Committee found that lifting JobSeeker and related payments to 90 per cent of the pension rate ($72 per day) would improve their adequacy and help people afford the essentials,” Goldie said.

HOUSING

Anglicare Sydney has confirmed that rental affordability and housing supply have fallen even further in the past 12 months. Of the 10,735 available rentals, only 11 were affordable and appropriate for a couple on the Age Pension, 7 for a couple with two children on JobSeeker and 14 for a single person on the minimum wage.

The money allocated for housing is for “affordable and social” housing which is more expensive than public housing.

Funding for survivors of domestic and family violence falls far short of what is required.

“Raising JobSeeker and related payments to liveable levels in the federal budget would help lift about half a million women out of poverty. Bolstering women’s economic security is crucial to giving them the means to leave and remain free of violence,” Sex Discrimination Commissioner Anna Cody said.

The government claims that it will spend an additional $6.2 billion on housing. It is offering those on rent assistance an additional $1.30 a day. There are no measures to cap rent increases nor to cut the billions of dollars in negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions for people with investment properties.

There is a commitment to offer 20,000 additional fee‑free TAFE and VET places to train more construction workers to build the additional houses and infrastructure. There are no plans to make post-secondary education free or even substantially cheaper.

Adjustments to the indexing of student debt amount to more tinkering, doing little to wipe out the burden of massive debts that many former students are saddled with their whole life.

Labor’s main measure to address the housing shortage is to cut the number of migrants and impose on universities a requirement to build more student housing. Not to be outdone, the Coalition’s policy is to cut migration faster and harder.

MADE IN AUSTRALIA

The Future Made in Australia policy is focused on ‘defence’ (read military), renewables, green energy from green hydrogen and critical minerals. $13.7 billion in production tax incentives for green hydrogen and processed critical minerals are up for grabs – with Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest the main beneficiaries.

The Future Gas Strategy (See Guardian #2099) is a blueprint for the ongoing expansion of gas production through to 2050 and beyond. Fossil fuel tax credits have now passed $10 billion.

This is a missed opportunity to build a manufacturing sector providing essentials such as pharmaceuticals.

HEALTH

The co-payment on prescriptions is usually indexed annually in line with the Consumer Price Index. The cost of PBS prescriptions for pensioners and concession cardholders will be frozen at $7.70 for 5 years. For everyone else it will be frozen at $31.60 for 2 years, far too high.

The remaining changes in funding for health care are relatively small and miss the mark. There is the promise of some services for mental health commencing in 2026 but the maximum number of visits to a psychologist under Medicare remains at 10.

On a positive note, there is a commitment to fund a further increase in the award rate for aged care workers and early childhood education and care workers, an increase those workers have striven for and demanded for years. These measures should be of benefit to women in two predominantly female workforces.

An additional 24,100 Home Care Packages will be provided in 2024 - 25, falling far short of needs.

The government will pay super on government-funded Parental Leave which it estimates will benefit 180,000 families.

TAXATION

The tax cuts due to commence on 1 July this year further increase existing inequalities. The lowest 40 per cent of income earners will receive less than 10 per cent of the benefits. People earning between $45,000 and $150,000 a year will get an extra $804 cut compared with $4529 for those on $200,000 or more.

A worker with an income below the tax threshold of $18,200 – most likely a woman in casual employment – receives nothing. Worse still they have lost the low-and-middle-income tax rebate of up to $1,500, leaving them worse off.

The wealthy continue to benefit from negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions.

There is however, a massive hike in military spending which threatens the security and well-being of Australians – the budget’s elephant in the room (see page 3 this issue)

This is a class budget. It redistributes wealth created by workers to the wealthy and large corporations. It is not a budget “for every Australian.” Nor is it a “cost of living budget.”

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