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Budget enshrines neglect of older women

  • 12 April 2019


Each year since the 2014-15 federal budget, the government has published its spending data in a file that can be used to make the budget searchable. Most reporting focuses on the short-term winners and losers through cuts or increases in spending. These announcements are usually all the public hears about the budget and the politicians probably like it this way as the lack of context allows them to score political points.

After all, if people knew that the latest spending announcement constituted less than one per cent of the overall budget spend (as 414 of this year's programs do) would it sound so impressive? One of the fascinating elements of working with the budget data is the understanding it provides of the relative size of various programs.

Each year there are over 400 programs in the federal budget and most people, regardless of their educational background, have no idea which of those programs constitutes a significant proportion of the total cost, or which are a fraction of a percentage. However, there are lessons in this type of analysis that need to be heeded if, as a country, we are going to face up to future funding issues.

The ABC 7.30 Report has been running a series on superannuation, featuring retirees who are not able to rely on superannuation and must fall back on the age pension. Featured prominently throughout, former federal treasurer Peter Costello states that if people want to be fully independent of government and not rely on the age pension, they will need to put money into super above and beyond the compulsory system for their entire working lives.

The budget data is useful in providing context around this issue. A simple listing of the budget programs by size highlights a little-known fact that Income Support for Seniors (which is essentially the age pension) alone constitutes over eight per cent of the whole budget spend. In fact, it is the second biggest spending item in the budget, eclipsed only by the GST (General Revenue Assistance) collected by the federal government for distribution to the states.

The GST provides around half of the funding spent by state and territory governments who also shoulder responsibility for emergency services, health, housing and education. That gives you an idea of just how much money, comparatively speaking, goes into funding the age pension.

The reason this is important is because we have an ageing population. It is now becoming obvious