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The Budget of social exclusion


While I entered the Budget lock-up with a little excitement, my emotions quickly switched to disappointment as I began to read the approximately 25cm high stack of Budget papers. No bringing along the battler or the underdog here. No promises to end child poverty. No indignation at the of treatment asylum seekers. Just the simple economics of global risk and uncertainty, followed by fiscal caution, and a budget bottom line to bring political comfort.

With the exception of the substantial new initiatives in the Health Portfolio, this Budget presented very dry economics. That is to say, the Budget presents a vision that is based almost entirely around economic goals, rather than social goals. Unlike the previous Budget, there is very little effort made to even dress the economics in social rhetoric.

Perhaps this will be the most damaging and lasting legacy of the Global Financial Crisis. Apart from the human cost that the Global Financial Crisis has wrought in the homes of those left unemployed or those suffering under mortgage or rental stress, the Global Financial Crisis seems to have allowed a shift in public priorities. It seems a treasurer can now be rewarded (politically) for 'fiscal responsibility' as an end in itself, rather than as a means to achieving greater social goals.

I suspect that one of the reasons many voters were originally attracted to this government was because in opposition, and even as a new government, they conveyed a strong sense of a broader social vision for a more inclusive Australian society. I suspect many of those same voters may find it hard to see that vision reflected in the new Budget.

The team I work with at Catholic Social Services Australia made some very direct claims on the government in the pre-Budget process, but this Budget has not responded to those claims.

We asked for increased incomes for the poor, especially the unemployed. The Newstart allowance for the unemployed and other government benefits are too low and trap many people in poverty. This Budget fails to deliver even modest increases to the Newstart allowance. We maintain that an Independent Entitlements Commission should be established to make objective recommendations regarding an adequate level of payments from government.

We asked for more opportunities for people to enter paid work and supported employment. As the economy now begins to grow there is a risk that some Australians will be left behind. This is what happened with previous recessions. This Budget fails to deliver real opportunities to those long term unemployed who are unlikely to gain work without intensive support programs and intermediate labour market programs. A rising tide does not lift all boats. Some are damaged and need special care and repairs before they can have any hope of floating again.

We asked for greater support for housing. While we acknowledge that the previous Budget made an historic investment in social housing and homelessness, this Budget fails to sustain that momentum. As housing affordability declines government must increase its support for those facing higher rents and higher levels of mortgage stress.

We asked for greater help with mental illness. Measures in tonight's Budget go some way to strengthening the level of clinical support for those living with mental illness, but much, much more is needed. We desperately need a National Mental Health Initiative that includes community based mental health care and support, delivered by community based workers and agencies. Many clients in our agencies need much more than a referral to a counsellor from their GP. Without intensive community based, long term support, many will continue to fall through the cracks.

We asked for support for the community sector. While our agencies are facing increased demand for services, they also face increased competition for skilled workers. The Productivity Commission Report and the Henry Review have made many recommendations to support the sector, but this Budget fails to fund any significant reforms. A plan to do nothing is a plan to place the sector under continued and unsustainable pressure. If all the government did was to cut the onerous burden of red tape and administration, many more services could be delivered to those in need.

If a 'fiscally responsible Budget' can increase spending on Australia's representatives in elite sports by $237 million, it is hard to imagine that there is not room for our unemployed to eat a little better, or for social services to shorten their waiting lists. Consumer and peak groups will be pleased to receive $500,000 to help them with the implementation of the National Disability Strategy, but may be disappointed that $6.2 million is being spent on the office in the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs that will be responsible for receiving their input.

One of the concerns with budget commentary is that it can take some time to separate out new spending from old; real programs from phantoms; and to find the hidden bombshells. There was no 'Fact Sheet' printed to explain the proposed cuts to the Family Relationships Services program. We are concerned that such cuts would see troubled families with less support right when they most need it. It may take us some time to learn what this will really mean in practice.  

My computer based word search did not find any reference to 'social inclusion' in any of the 16 mb of papers that we were provided with at the Budget lockup. My real disappointment is that it won't be found in the days that follow either.

Frank QuinlanFrank Quinlan is the executive director of Catholic Social Services Australia.

Topic tags: Frank Quinlan, Catholic Social Services, Budget, Wayne Swan, Kevin Rudd



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Existing comments

Frank, after 11 years of Howard/Abbott combo, what 'social inclusion' did they leave us. If you think this lot is bad, wait until the other comes back to rue the day for us! I do agree with you that spending all that money on sport sounds too much like vote-getting. But be thankful for little blessings!

Alex Njoo | 12 May 2010  

Alex, suggest you look objectively at the actual social record of the other lot compared to what we have now. Don't be taken in by the spin. Research the facts. And consider how a political party that espouses 'social inclusion' can be out-performed in this area by one that doesn't, at least in the popular view....

Ian | 12 May 2010  

Frank Quinlan has good reason to deplore the lack of greater help for the disadvantaged in the Budget, especially the unemployed. I share his regret, but politics has been well defined as ‘the art of the possible’.
Both sides seek the support of the unattached, including those who judge a Budget only by assessing its effect on themselves in dollar terms.
As the hard-bitten old political campaigner, Pat Kennelly, said to me many years ago, wagging a finger, ‘A party can stay completely loyal to its beliefs – but never win an election.’

Bob Corcoran | 12 May 2010  

It says a great deal about Australian values when further generous increases in the public subvention of elite athletes are given priority over the desperate needs of those suffering from mental ill-health.

David | 12 May 2010  


colleen | 12 May 2010  

Ian, I'm surprised at your suggestion that 'the other lot' did much for 'social inclusion'. Certainly they dished out a lot of 'middle-class welfare', but 'inclusive' is not a term that I would readily use about them.

Can you give us some examples, especially ones that relate to marginalised people?

Ginger Meggs | 12 May 2010  

I wish I could name the economist who said words to the effect: "Politics is about having the power to decide who gets what, when, where and how much." I would like to appeal to his authority to support what I'm about to write. No matter what political party is in government it uses its budgetary power to ensure as far as possible that it remains in power. Every threat/request/plea a government receives it examines through the prism of its political consequences. Every Cabinet Submission contains a section headed "Political Implications". The ideas put forward by Catholic Social Services Australia would have been considered on their social, economic and political merits and would have been weighed up against the requests put forward by other supplicants including elite sporting bodies.

The government knows and anticipates the flack it is going to get for its decisions. The one thing it will not admit is "In the end it was a political decision." Better to hide behind "fiscal responsibility" than appear to be manipulated by some favourite part the body politic.

Uncle Pat | 12 May 2010  

Good luck to Australia's representatives in elite sports.

Envy will not provide shorter waiting lists for social services or better food for the unemployed.

Nathan Socci | 12 May 2010  

Well $1 billion to keep breaking the law and locking up refugees, not a spare zac for my unemployed grand daughter.

Marilyn Shepherd | 12 May 2010  

Uncle Pat - It was political scientist Harold Lasswell who said "Politics is the study of who gets what, when and how."

Don | 13 May 2010  

Thank you for the run-down. In The Monthly, October, 2006, Rudd praised and quoted Bonhoeffer "Obedience to God's will may be a religious experience but it is not an ethical one until it issues in actions that can be socially valued." Rudd described him as a "...man for all seasons" in this article. Our prime minister is relatively young but his actions offer no memory of his then ideal.
Australia has some 600,000 seriously mentally ill people. The mental Health Council of Australia estimates that now fewer than half receive any specialist mental health care.

Some 60,000-70,000 are homeless and remain our most vulnerable persons. They appear to be basically ignored by Rudd and Brumby in Vistoria, where the estimate is 14,000 SMI homeless. The clinical support you mention is to be given to the less seriously mentally ill who have anxiety disorders and depressive problems. The seriously mentally ill, spoken of here, suffer from the biological, incurable, treatable mental diseases of schizophrenia, bipolar 1 and severe clinical depression...for them there is nothing, unless they are under 25.
Shame on all who are willing to allow them to remain untreated. They are aware many deaths will result.

Caroline Storm | 13 May 2010  

As a public servant working with disadvantaged families and children, who has had the task of trawling through the budget papers, I can report (at least) one reference to social inclusion - in the Attorney General's Department overview. This is in relation to legal assistance initiatives.

But having said that, I completely agree with your article and am also amazed that this government has allocated funds this way. Sport is great - we all know that - but there are much more pressing priorities. Safety, food, housing, health to name a few.

Aunty vy | 13 May 2010  

Raising the dole is an incentive to remain unemployed, or so the old cliche goes. I'd love to work, I've been moderately successful career-wise, have two degrees including 1st class honours, but cannot find work for love or money, been bullied by the Job Services Australia, suffering bouts of severe depression, am 50, too old I suppose, can't pay bills, have a dependent teen age child still at school, am a poor role model for him, get more depressed, need occasional financial support from aged parents, feel lower than ever, can't even buy birthday and christmas presents for kids, applied for 500 or more jobs, get reply-due to the high standard of applicant please f off, feel useless, need psychological help, no money for this, get lower, suicide is painless goes the theme of MASH, more money for guns and armed forces, less for the likes of me, can't bear the callous treatment from Govt/CLink/JSA, feel worse, made to attend training courses for 19yo illiterate foul mouthed year 10 drop-outs, feel life at lowest ebb, can't get to sleep at night, can't wake up in morning, feeling crazy, suicide may hurt, feel useless, washed up, almost dead, dead, dead,dead

JDG | 13 May 2010  

This will sound really weird, but I was excited for the “budget night” … I sat down listening to Swan with an open mind hoping that some of my concerns that I have as a social worker and a settlement officer that works with venerable people on a daily basis would be funded by this budget. I really wanted the budget to also focus on youth mental health, homelessness, assistance to students, dental care and natural heritage and wanted to see what assistance is there for our Aboriginal communities.

Of course I did leave the night thinking about this budget and thinking of how great it would have been if the government did consult a group of professionals that know what is happening on the grass roots level, but that would not happen any time soon. As we do know that the economy is very important to a lot of governments because it generates a lot of income. Yes working on the health system is great, but also working on other important/ essential issues that tap into people’s life daily would have been much better.

I believe that Rudd wanted to show the public that have elected him that he is “keeping up” to his election promise of fixing the health system, however disregarding a lot of other important topics....

salam | 13 May 2010  

Generating more jobs and paying less tax is a promise that has not been kept, making sure that the government would work on environmental issues has also not been met, closing the gap for our Aboriginal communities has also not been met.

With the gap between poor and rich increasing this budget simply does not fix any problems for the poor. Public housing is a major issue! A person that is at risk of homelessness now a day is for sure going to become homeless because the housing list and waiting period is enormous and at the same time we need more public houses built! This also taps into mental health and the increasing levels of young people becoming homeless and at the same time experiencing mental illness.


salam | 13 May 2010  

I sympathise with your situation, JDG and I urge you to persevere. As a man, I know your situation is more common than many people realise. But good can come from it and your ability to endure severe hardship may be the best role model you can provide for your children. Life is real. Whether rich or poor, happy or sad, we all die in the end anyway, so why not play on until stumps.

If you're having trouble coping get in touch with Centrelink, your jsa and your GP. Between them they should be able to refer you to a councillor or psychologist without charge.

Nathan Socci | 14 May 2010  

An interesting article containing observations that someone in Frank's position really has to make in the interests of his clients. It's no secret that there is little practical difference between the major parties in this era and that while both love Australiana and mateship, neither appears to have little genuine regard for the concept of a fair go or a hand up. Therefore it shouldn't be a surprise when the Rudd Government fails to deliver on the rhetoric or hype. But for commentators to then put on their parochial goggles and suggest that the Liberals would either do better or do worse is disingenuous. For example Governments of all persuasions have failed miserably in the area of homelessness and social and affordable housing over the past 10-15 and even now, in the midst of a nationwide crisis, it is an issue that is not given sufficient prominence and resources. As voters we should be up in arms about that and demanding solutions, but we're not. That makes the "art of the possible", frankly, very easy for our politicians. So maybe instead of being busy watching elite sports with our mates,we should be adding our voices to Frank's?

Alan Melton | 14 May 2010  

How many hospital beds are taken up by those who are addicted to elite sports?

Joyce Parkes | 14 May 2010  

I'm totally opposed to the huge money allocated to elite sports. Let the sports allocation go to increasing participation overall, e.g. to programs which enable the children of first generation migrants to join sporting clubs. Enough, enough, of spending endless dollars on elite sports : a self-indulgent activity for a few. Lets go for overall health and participation.

June | 16 May 2010  

Thanks for this great article. This is the best article on the budget that I have seen anywhere. This budget was very much a neoliberal budget, even the allusion to the public sector crowding out private investment comes straight from neoclassical economics and rational expectations. The government's whole rheotric is infused by "capacity constraints." You would think then that maybe a Labor government would use the proceds of its resources rent tax, for example, to provide active labour market programs devoted to helping the long-term unempoloyed enter the labour market. Instead the tax is basically being used to support big business. Notice also that Lindsay Tanner the professed socialist played a key role in bringing this neoliberal budget about, even his blog he entitles with reference to "the razor gang" hence "the razor's edge." Tanner might have added that the razor's edge applies to the broader population, especially the poor. For business the government is to spend big in order to ease "capacity constraints". If that spending benefits the population then that would be an incident not an end.

MarkoB | 16 May 2010  

Brilliant article. I felt exactly the same way as I read through this year's budget. I've always been a leftist, but I will be voting for the opposition this year, this was the nail in the coffin for me!

Falon | 17 May 2010  

I know my words can't change your situation but hang in there! I spent an excruciating time doing Job Capacity Assessments for Centrelink clients and saw many people become increasingly depressed by a system that fails to support them appropriately.

As an occupational therapist, I believe in the value of work and support Australia's Welfare-to-Work reforms. The Job Capacity Assessment, carried out by a suitably qualified health professional, has great potential for assisting people to move forward. In practice, unfortunately, it has become a shameless money-spinner for private providers/ contractors who simply perpetuate a person's journey on the Job Services Australia merry-go-round. Assessors are rewarded for QUANTITY not quality.

Taking time to link a person with a service that might actually meet their needs (outside of a mandatory Job Services Australia referral) is discouraged. Follow up on other recommended interventions is NOT MEASURED by DEEWR so few seem to bother with it.

KTBT | 20 May 2010  

To JDG, how courageous you are, and what an example to your children. Your perseverance is your good example. That is the most difficult thing. You are doing just that. Keep going. Will pray for blessings.

Bernie Introna | 05 June 2010  

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