Uniting Church responds to 2021 budget

Uniting Church responds to 2021 budget

On Tuesday, 11 May, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg handed down the Federal Budget for 2021/22.

The budget lays out a number of key priorities for the Morrison Liberal Government over the next year, as Australia continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Uniting Church’s National Assembly issued a budget response welcoming the budget’s, “record investment in vital services that will make a difference for many Australians.”

Uniting Church President Dr Deirdre Palmer welcomed record investment in aged care, mental health, women’s economic security, safety and participation.

“One of our key learnings from the past 12 months is that we are only as strong and healthy as the most vulnerable members of our society, and we welcome investment in measures that will improve the well-being of our whole society,” said Dr Palmer.

Dr Palmer said there were also missed opportunities in areas which might bring about the flourishing of all people and all creation.

“It is disappointing to see there is next to no funding for renewable energy in the budget and no real plan for how Australia can invest in a more sustainable future and strengthen our response to climate change.”

Dr Palmer singled out for criticism a measure that will prevent new migrants from being able to claim benefits for their first four years in Australia.

UnitingCare Australia has similarly praised key parts of the budget but suggested that it will nonetheless leave many Australians in a vulnerable position.

In its budget commentary, released on 12 May, the national body of the Uniting Church’s services arm suggested that, “For the elderly and those in work this is a positive budget. For those on the margins, such as those without secure accommodation and reliant on JobSeeker payments, they will continue to struggle.”

“This year’s Budget is one with a clear focus on the next federal election. The Budget is underpinned by an economy which is stronger than many had predicted as well as a Government willing to borrow funds to support many of its measures.”
 
“As with all budgets, this Budget is founded on a series of positive assumptions about the capacity of the Australian economy continuing to grow.”

“The unpredictability of the global economy and the ongoing effects of COVID 19 could quickly dampen economic activity in Australia.”

“The record high debt and deficit underpinning this budget could create vulnerabilities in our economy, particularly if future governments seek to impose austerity measures through cutting government expenditures.”

Australia’s education sector has largely argued that the budget neglected tertiary funding.

An emergency $1billion grant was provided to universities in 2020 for research, during the peak of the pandemic. The measure was not renewed in Tuesday’s budget. According to Universities Australia, the government’s assumption that international borders will remain closed until mid-2022 means university finances “will get worse” in real terms.

One area of the budget saw an industry receive some new relief, as Australia’s video game developers will be able to take advantage of a 30 per cent refundable tax offset from 1 July 2022.

The offset will apply to eligible business spending $500,000 or more on “qualifying Australian games expenditure.”

The Interactive Games & Entertainment Association’s CEO Ron Curry welcomed the new measure, saying that it would, “underpin a new wave of Australian video game development, leading to even more amazing Australian-made games to take to the almost $250 billion global video games market – which is arguably the largest entertainment market in the world – and bring new Australian voices and stories to a truly global audience.”

With a federal election due by 3 September 2022, some commentators have speculated that this budget might serve to effectively launch the government’s re-election campaign.

Sydney Morning Herald economics editor Ross Gittins wrote that, while it was “not a bad budget” the government has missed bigger opportunities.

“Politically, this budget had to offer a convincing response to the report of the royal commission on aged care,” he wrote.

“Reports have suggested fixing the broken system would take extra spending of about $10 billion a year.”

“Had he accepted that challenge, Morrison would have put himself head and shoulders above his Liberal and Labor predecessors. He settled for spending an extra $3.5 billion a year. Major patch-up at best. The scandals will continue.”

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