I believe the Abbott Government has, in its first budget, made a pedestrian and uninspired start to getting the financial well-being of our nation back on track. On any reading it seems those most in need will be forced to bear the greatest burden of the spending cuts delivered by the Treasurer.
Yes, one should welcome this budget statement as t it does start the conversation about how we as a nation will refocus our efforts towards a more sustainable economy over the longer term. It does however remain to be seen if the Abbott Government can deliver on the promise of improving the efficiency of government service delivery.
I would argue that for the Abbott Government to be credible in their attempts to return the budget to surplus it must do more to address the fundamental imbalance on the revenue side of the budget equation – moving away from the populist and short term political focus it currently exhibits.
Disappointingly, this budget contains little for small business, and shows no insight into the opportunities investment into the sciences, innovation, and the creative industries will bring our nation and the Australian economy. The budget also fails to address important issues for primary producers around Australia, who form in large part the backbone of the Australian economy.
Also forgotten in this budget are rural and regional communities who will see the full effects of the Abbott Government’s decision to tighten the screws on the states. The health of every Australian matters, regardless of where they live in our great nation. We need to create a system that assures quality healthcare is as viable in the bush as it is in our capital cities.
Building a healthier Australia is not merely a matter of treating illness, it is about the prevention of illness in the first place. So, while welcoming the establishment of the new medical research future fund, it is difficult to approve of the Abbott Government funding this program off the backs of those least able to afford Medicare co-payments.
With short term “levies”, and cuts to health, education, community broadcasting the ABC & SBS, and the public service, this budget appears to be yet another example of short-term gain rather than long-term solution. We will see many Australians let down by these ad hoc measures.
In congratulating the attempt by the Abbott Government to continue the conversation about the critical steps needed to address the long-term challenges Australia faces, such as from an ageing population, we really do need a serious national conversation, based on the national interest and policy, rather than short term political point scoring.
Further, it must be a concern that the substantial surplus projected is largely reliant on cutting health and education funding to the states. Health and education are important to all Australians, where ever we may live. While responsibility for the delivery of these services currently resides with the states, it is irresponsible of the Federal Government to use the national funding of these services to push state governments towards radical changes to GST arrangements.
Ultimately, health and education must be recognised as continuing national priorities, and not merely left to the states. With this budget, the Abbott Government is setting the scene for a new round of cost shifting and disputes about future funding levels. It is not too difficult to predict that these short term political measures to put financial pressure on the states will only cause further operational shortcomings and will herald a new low for the delivery of these services to taxpayers, who pay for these services with their tax dollars and care little about which government logo appears on the name badge of the under paid and under resourced doctors, nurses, and administrators delivering the medical care.
It is relevant to note that many in this country, such as the Australian Democrats, have long advocated for the abolition of the states and the development of national, regional, and local governments instead. Australia is one of the most over governed countries in the world. We have hundreds of Federal MPs, nearly three times that amount of State and Territory MPs as well as hundreds and hundreds of local government entities – all engaged in governing a country with small population not much greater than the state of New York.
If the Abbott government was truly serious about balancing the books of the nation, then they would undertake to extinguish the huge waste inherent in this un-necessary government overlap and eliminate all the red tape these redundant bureaucracies generate.
Sadly, it was not really expected that the Abbott Government would alter course on the inhumane and ineffective approach to asylum seekers first initiated by the various Labor Governments. All Australians who value the notion of the ‘Fair Go’ and who have compassion in their hearts continue to look forward to an Australian Government whose asylum seeker policies are reasonable and humane.
I believe we need to be committed to building a better world and a stronger humanity; protecting those persecuted across the world, and supporting those who by no fault of their own live in deep poverty. In this regard, I am disappointed by the Abbott Government’s lack of commitment to what are reasonable obligations, including our international obligations.
The budget is about how our Government places value, by spending money, on people and programs on behalf of the nation. In this budget tonight we see a clear indication of the focus and ideological bent of this Abbott Government.
In particular, it is difficult to see how the Abbott Government can continue to justify the extraordinarily expensive offshore processing and “Border Protection” schemes. These schemes continue to receive obscene funding increases in this unbalanced budget. One has to ask why the Abbott Government continues to place hard line ideology before genuine fiscal responsibility and basic human decency. It is further distressing that these illogical decisions will be affirmed silently by the ineffectual and acquiescent opposition led by Bill Shorten.
Clearly what is needed for responsible government is a sense of balance and fairness. Sadly, we see little of this balance and fairness in this budget.
Stuart Horrex in Online Opinion
15 May 2014