On the day the Reserve Bank of Australia once again kept the base rate at 0.25 per cent the government brought down what has been called by many, including the government, the most important budget since World War II, if not the depression days. The catalyst for this statement is the worldwide pandemic, a result of Covid-19, that has sunk our country to the largest deficit and debt situation we have ever known.
The reasons for the massive turn around from an expected surplus last year to our present situation of approaching one trillion dollars in debt are well known to everybody, unless you have been under a rock for nine months. There will be discussions and debate of the reasons for a long time but, hopefully, all that is in the past, for tonight was Budget Night 2020, when we all looked to the government to bring about a reversal to put into motion workable actions creating hope.
The government had the opportunity to spend in a manner unthinkable only nine months ago, knowing that criticism would be minimal as nobody had been there before. They were entering uncharted territory, particularly for the Liberal Party, for whom the worker had traditionally been the drones for economic growth.
With such freedom it would seem to be an easy budget with the availability to think out of the box and change so much for the good in our country. Everyone will have their own opinion but there is one thing that we all agree on: that the whole of the budget depends fair and squarely on a vaccine being found and delivered. If not, nothing that was said tonight will work or count for anything.
Another barrier is the lack of common ground between states. Restrictions and isolations are still active and unlikely to be released this year. Particularly my state Victoria that seems to many to be in a death roll with a stubborn government. Continued closure of borders will affect the success of government expectations, for to succeed free travel is a must.
Considering the above, tonight’s Budget should have been one of the easiest budgets for any government, with the freedom and ability to commence Australia’s return to a strong industrious and economic state over the next decade.
The chronological delivery of the Federal Budget sounded fair and indeed good at times, but as time went by holes appeared and questions came to mind. This budget just will not work, it will divide the country into the haves and the have-nots, like never before. The weight of the Budget was wrong. Middle-aged to elderly Australia were being given nothing, no help, no incentive and no confidence in the future.
The crux of the Budget was employment. Nobody would disagree that our unemployment problem is a major concern. The Budget attempts to solve unemployment of the young by providing financial incentives to employers. However, as always, employment depends on the ability and willingness of employers to do so. Financial incentives cover employment of new apprentices and employment of workers between the age of 16 and 35 years where employment must be for a minimum of 20 hours. Part time work, therefore little change from what has been happening for years.
Businesses small and large now have numerous financial incentives to improve their bottom line with the hope that businesses will use savings to employ. To be fair, the Budget has some extremely good business incentives but I doubt if they will create expected employment, particularly small business who have been rupturing for a long time. There is little to help the single trader who in many ways is the backbone of our country. Recent times have been the hardest on this sort of business; The husband and wife business team that may employ one person.
Unemployment is stated at between 6 and 7 per cent and quoted at 1,008,000 persons currently. This figure has been cleansed, massaged, seasonly adjusted and bears little resemblance to the real figure which is estimated at double. I hope for all the people unemployed that the strategies work but I have reservations at least for the next few years that they will continue to be hard.
Major tax benefits have been given to what is commonly known as middle to high-end earners giving tax benefits of up to $2600 a year. These tax benefits have been given with the intention that the extra money in the pay-packet would be spent to help the economy. That of course will not happen, these income earners do not spend money.
More importantly is why a person earning up to $190,000 per year is considered by the government to need a tax cut when so many people are potentially looking down the barrel of going back to live on $40 per day. Good people, who often for no fault of their own find themselves in an un-natural position. These tax cuts are not warranted under present circumstances and a lack of compassion and common sense by the government. Give money to a person living on $40 per day and it will be spent, that is an absolute guarantee.
There is much more in this Budget, items that are easily missed. The token gender equality is included and is needed. Export of plastics, tyres and glass for recycling has been banned – I believe other countries had already banned import anyway. A sum of $250 million has been allocated to help this industry to employ 10,000 people. We can always hope, will we receive a decrease in our rates, I expect not.
A further 10,000 home buyers will be given the opportunity to buy a house under the low deposit scheme with only 5 per cent. Sounds very nice but the price of houses makes this less attractive than a few years ago notwithstanding the lowest ever interest rates. One billion dollars will be put into affordable housing including $150 million for Aboriginal housing. With the massive amount of money the government is spending within this Budget I think spending several more billions of dollars to build sufficient government housing on unused Crown land would be of greater benefit. Rents to be fixed with the right to buy in the future. This system was used in the UK before WWII providing continuous work for many years and satisfying demand. Not everyone wants to live in a city and it was pleasing that some of the substantial infrastructure work announced was allocated to regional areas. However Victoria missed out, particularly Gippsland. Perhaps this was punishment for Andrews!
As for superannuation and those holding out to see if contribution by employers were on track to be increased were disappointed. There was nothing in the Budget about superannuation other than reference to the unacceptable fees charged. As a result the government has set up a help line, ‘Compare your super,’ to do just that. The Budget made reference to the fact that three trillion dollars is now held in funds. I wonder how long a government can resist the temptation before they take control of those funds and establish a delivery system to contributors. The advantage would be that any debt would be paid off.
I now come to those who have been through all that this country can throw at them. They have had to cope with many changes and often hardship during their life. The elderly, by their nature, do not ask for much but what they have is precious to each individual.
In this Budget their numbers have been boosted by those over 35 years old who have been offered nothing tonight, no hope, no future and no confidence. Over-35s are the family people with kids at school and mortgages to pay, spending most of their time keeping food on the table. They do not have time to complain, they hope for nothing more than a fair go and continued employment but recently unemployment in this bracket has increased bringing with it stress and mental health problems, often of an unimaginable magnitude.
The chance of people 35 years plus obtaining employment is decreasing. Over forty and you might as well be retired. It is clear the government do not see this bracket in their grand plan for recovery. So many exist on JobKeeper or JobSeeker and nothing in this Budget supports the current payment amounts beyond next year. It must be a harrowing position to be in, resulting in serious mental heath concern to whole families. Something the government must be expecting as they have doubled allowable consultations for help and allocated several billion dollars as finance assistance for mental health.
One extremely pleasing inclusion in the Budget was placement on the PBS system of a drug for women who have ovarian cancer . The drug that cost thousand of dollars is now available for $6.60 to concession holders and $41 to non-holders. This is probably the best news in the Budget and there should be more of it.
Pensioners and elderly people have all but been excluded from the Budget once again. As a token gesture, almost as an after thought, pensioners have been thrown a payment of $250 just after Christmas and a further payment of $250 in March next year. It seems the payments are intended to keep oldies quiet and I am sure there are many pensioners who will be pleased and grateful for the windfall. However in the magnitude of the expenditure, one would consider there to be other benefits for the elderly. For too long those who live solely on the pension have lived well below the poverty line. For them life is a struggle, particularly if rent has to be paid. This was an ideal opportunity for the government to make adjustments to the pension rates which would have barely cause a ripple within the magnitude of the Budget, but would do so much for the most vulnerable in our society. Gandhi said: “A society is judged by how it treats and shows compassion for those who cannot protect or fend for themselves.” How true, but apparently not in Australia.
The last few months have shown the problems many elderly people suffer when in aged care. Care establishments must be safe places where the elderly can live out their lives with dignity and not be exploited. The government has included in the Budget, provision for 23,000 home packages be be made available, which is great but falls well short of requirements. Many of our elderly, by choice, want to stay at home but the home care services are not adequate. Home visits by trained qualified personnel must be provided and dependant on the degree of requirement whether it be one, two or three visits a day. It must be catered for by state government or local councils and the government should make allocation for it. The Budget missed an opportunity for massive changes to be made. Our most elderly citizens deserve nothing less. I have great reservations about continuation of aged care being in private hands. Aged care and home care is a commitment which should be the domain of the public health service.
Because of our age, many of us will be gone before this country is anywhere near being in surplus. What cannot be qualified is the toll it will take on the very nature of our existence during that time. Before all else all states must synchronise and open our country again. We must be open and available for business and take our medicine – the vaccine – when it arrives.
I consider the Budget a genuine attempt by the LNP to install confidence in our population whilst pressing the need for employment which would of course help our economy but it falls short dividing the country and splitting the workforce. It was a high-spending budget, hopefully in the right areas. I certainly do not consider the other side of politics would or could do any better. We now have to wait and see, we should all support the government in its objectives and pull together. Last night’s budget was so near but so far.
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