Reflecting on the Federal Budget

This reflection on the Federal budget is jointly prepared by the Synod Social Justice Forum and Uniting’s Centre for Innovation, Research and Advocacy.

Last week saw the unveiling of the Federal Budget. Media reporting on the budget often starts with something along the lines of…. “The Federal Budget: here’s what’s in it for you!”

At its inauguration the Uniting Church pledged itself “…to hope and work for a nation whose goals are not guided by self-interest alone, but by concern for the welfare of all persons everywhere.” More specifically, that statement in 1977 pledged the church to seek the correction of injustices and work for the eradication of poverty and racism. And with notable foresight, it also talks about safeguarding the rights of future generations, protection of the environment and the wise use of energy.

So, if we are a member of this church, with these concerns, our interest in the Federal budget will be correspondingly broader. Along with the question of what’s in it for me and my family, we will want to add:

  • What’s in it for everyone, especially the poor and vulnerable?
  • What’s in it for the environment and for future generations?

Having this wider perspective and asking questions like these is consistent with our Synod theme of uniting for the common good. The concept of the common good is shaped both by our biblical and theological traditions as well as by secular thought.

In the book of Jeremiah the Jews in exile are urged to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7)

The Hebrew word translated here as welfare is ‘shalom’, an incredibly rich and multifaceted concept with no adequate equivalent in English*. It comes from a verb meaning to ‘bring to completeness’ or ‘to make whole’. For individuals it represents integration of mind, body and spirit, attuned to nature, open to others and living in joy with God. Between persons it means justice and peace, harmony and reciprocity. It is the opposite of oppression, selfishness and indifference. It underscores the essential mutuality and interdependence of human beings and indeed of all life.

Within the Catholic tradition the common good is a core element of social justice teaching. It is described as the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment, to flourish. Catholic ethicist John Rawls says this requires having the social systems, institutions and environments on which all people depend, working in a manner that benefits all people. This obviously has implications for the role of the state and the policies of government, including the Federal budget.

The whole Uniting Church and each member of it has a role in critiquing the policies and decisions of government of the day in the light of our faith and mission. Assessing policies from the perspective the common good is part of that.  Uniting has a particular role, delegated from the Synod, to promote the welfare of people who are vulnerable, needy and disadvantaged. For a brief overview of the budget from that perspective, see below. Please note Uniting is conducting separate analysis on how the budget impacts on its capacity to provide services within our Synod.

What the budget means for…

  • Taxpayers: The announced cuts may stimulate economic growth by giving those with lower incomes (who usually spend a greater proportion of their incomes) more money to spend. However, the cuts make our tax system less progressive overall by removing an entire tax threshold. While a modest tax benefit (around $10 a week or less) will accrue for low and moderate income earners in the early years, most of the benefits will flow through to higher income earners in later years (e.g. more than $80 per week for someone earning $180, 000 per annum).1
  • Older Australians: The 14,000 new home and community care packages are welcome. However they are only a small proportion of the 104,000 people on the waiting list, which grew by 20,000 people last year. The government also announced two measures which will benefit those older Australians who are already advantaged by good health or home ownership: a bonus for those who work after pension age, and a government-backed loan scheme to allow people to use equity in a home to increase their living standards.
  • The unemployed: There has been no increase in Newstart or Youth Allowance, which are widely acknowledged to be inadequate, including by business groups. A very high proportion of children in unemployed families will continue to live in poverty. There are reports of a further $270m cut to TAFE.
  • People with a disability