Health, welfare, and education organisations praised the 2023-2024 Federal Budget delivered by Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers for shining a spotlight on the cost of living crisis but said it will not to be enough to alleviate the strain on many Australians, especially the most vulnerable.
Catholic Social Services Australia welcomed the social security and cost of living measures, which include increases in JobSeeker and youth allowance payments and praised an expansion of JobSeeker eligibility saying many helped by it will be women, those who face more barriers to employment and those at risk of homelessness.
It also welcomed the additional $4 billion over four years for the community services sector to help them meet the cost of inflation and increase staff wages.
“I recognise that solving persistent disadvantage is complex,” said Monique Earsman, CSSA executive director.
“We see hope, and this budget signals that the Government is listening. We will continue to advocate for increased social security payments in future budgets.”
The St Vincent de Paul Society NSW also welcomed measures to provide assistance to people struggling with cost-of-living pressures such as raising the age of the single parenting payment from eight to 14, and retro-fitting public housing to improve energy efficiency and living standards.
Also welcomed is the expanding of bulk-billing GP consultations and doubling the amount of medication available through prescriptions.
But CEO Yolanda Saiz said more is needed to address the needs of the community’s most vulnerable members.
“Four in five people are coming to us for support with food, while one in three rely on the JobSeeker payment, which the Government’s own Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee found to be seriously inadequate,” she said.
“Increasing income support payments by $40 a fortnight comes out to $2.85 a day – greater action is needed to give people the basics needed to live with dignity.
“The Federal Government needs to commit to on-going assistance for our most vulnerable.”
Mission Australia’s CEO Sharon Callister said that the 2023-24 Federal Budget contained a number of positive but relatively small-scale measures that fall short of addressing the “devastating” homelessness and poverty rates the organisation and others like it are seeing rise across the county.
“We acknowledge the Government’s intent to ease some of the pressures for people who are doing it tough, and their genuine discussions with the community sector,” she said.
“However, the lack of a serious move to address poverty by making substantial increases to JobSeeker and other income support payments is a sharp and continuing disappointment.”
Small steps to boost social and affordable housing supply, will do nothing to alleviate the current “devastating housing emergency” in which more people are being pushed into homelessness across the country, Ms Callister added.
“This budget is a missed opportunity to do more for people who are homeless and at risk.”
She praised the upscaling place-based community-led work to strengthen communities and a $732.9 million investment into a reform of the NDIS.
Caritas Australia commended the ongoing commitment of the government to humanitarian aid and development in the region, and in particular a focus assisting Pacific nations to adapt to the effects of climate change in this budget.
“Additionally, the $4 million increase for gender equality, disability, and social inclusion, along with an $8.8 million increase in Disaster Risk Reduction, is encouraging,” said Richard Landels, Caritas Australia’s advancement director.
“We remain hopeful that the government will see the need for further commitment to the global hunger crisis. Displacement and hunger loom large, and the international community must act now to prevent catastrophe.”
“The Federal Budget has shone a spotlight on the cost-of-living crisis here in Australia, and for good reason, but we are not alone. Already vulnerable regions are also facing their own cost of living crisis with little to no support. They are suffering from the same impacts of the war in Ukraine and COVID-19, but then must deal with conflicts and climate change on top of this.”
In education, Professor Mary Ryan, Australian Catholic University’s executive dean of education and arts, welcomed measures to boost the qualifications and experiences of early childhood workers.
Professor Ryan said funding including $33.1 million to support up to 6000 early childhood educators to complete paid practicums in initial teacher education courses at a bachelor or postgraduate level would help the vital workforce to upskill.
“This measure will help to ensure our youngest students are taught by educators who themselves are able to pursue opportunities for advancement and lifelong learning,” Professor Ryan said.
She also welcomed funding allocated to the National Teacher Workforce Action Plan to help reduce workloads and improve conditions for teachers, increases to Austudy payments to help university students with the cost of living, and $10 million to support phonics, classroom management, and leadership programs.
Catholic Health Australia welcomed the budget as a positive one, highlighting the $11.3 billion to fund increased wages for aged care workers.
“Tonight over 250,000 age care workers feel valued and respected, knowing that they will receive a much-deserved pay rise on 1 July,” said CHA aged care director Jason Kara.
“This changes the negative narrative that has been dominating the aged care sector. It’s an excellent first step toward improving attraction and retention of aged care staff.”
The troubled aged care sector will receive $827.2 million over the next five years in the delivery of aged care services and implementing the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, $309.9 million over five years to improve regulation, $536 million over two years to address the ongoing cost of COVID, $48.6 million to establish an Aged Care Complaints Commissioner and the Inspector-General of Aged Care and $312.6m for improving aged care ICT and better information for consumers
The financial wins were matched by a range of policy wins, Mr Kara added, including pausing the international student visa restrictions due to commence on 1 July to 31 December for students working in the aged care sector.
National president of the National Civic Council Luke McCormack said that while the budget “looks good”, the structural issues with the Australian economy remain.
“A focus on tax and spend rather than implementing creative but realistic policies to boost industry, employment, and education continues to limit Australia’s ability to achieve its potential and improve wellbeing,” Mr McCormack said.
“Challenges in the global environment, such as an increased likelihood of conflict, coupled with the obvious domestic problems with inflation, housing, wages, and energy make it more obvious the Federal Government is running a dangerous game that cannot continue.
“‘Winners and Losers’ thinking is all well and good – but a house built on sand is a house that can fall.
“Labor to their credit have introduced a minimum 15 per cent tax on multinationals who operate in Australia, a measure that in principle NCC’s founder BA Santamaria argued for decades ago.”