Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
9 May 2012
The agencies claimed today the slim Budget surplus has been achieved by slashing spending on sub-acute hospital beds, putting a knife to the Medicare Safety Net and cutting millions from the GP Super Clinics program.
While giving generous hand-outs of as much as $2000 in benefits and bonuses to lower and middle income families, the poor and unemployed received virtually no help at all, according to the agencies.
International aid agencies said today the world's poorest communities have also missed out with $2.9 billion in foreign aid put on hold, despite the Government's reiterating its promise to pledge 0.5 percent of Gross National Income by 2015.
The Budget also failed to address an expected shortfall across Australia's public and private hospitals of more than 110,000 nurses by 2025.
Mr Laverty also expressed disappointment that only a modest $55.2 million in new spending has been allocated to the aged care sector, which he describes as being under immense strain and in urgent need of reform and additional funding.
Less than three weeks ago, PM Julia Gillard announced an ambitious $3.7 billion plan to overhaul the aged care sector. But the majority of the funding for the Government's heavily-promoted "Living Longer, Living Better" scheme turns out to be made up of redirected allocations from the scaled back Aged Care Funding Instrument Program, with only half a billion in new funding allocated over five years. Of this amount, just $55.2 million has been put aside for 2012-13.
Despite welcoming $1 billion in new funding over four years to kick-start a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), $225 million in new funding to give a $515 million boost to public dental care, and applauding improved access to free bowel cancer screening for older Australians, Mr Laverty is troubled that health issues at a wider level were not addressed.
The predicted shortfall was included in a report by Health Workforce Australia issued two weeks ago. But instead of confronting the issue, the Government responded with a Budget that cut back workforce spending in the sector by $68 million.
Health experienced more than $1 billion in cuts in last night's Budget, including trimming back the Medicare Safety Net and winding back the medical expenses tax offset.
Among the severest critics of Wayne Swan's Budget last night is Dr John Falzon, Chief Executive of St Vincent de Paul Society's National Council.
"The Government's bid to get back into surplus has come on the back of sole parents and the unemployed," he charges, sharply criticising the 2012 Budget for failing to deliver relief for people who are outside the labour market.
The Newstart Allowance has not been increased since 1996 and at $245 per week is less than half Australia's minimum wage. But despite Vinnies and welfare organisations lobbying the Government to give Newstart a much needed boost of $50 a week, the Budget increased the entitlement by just $4 per week.
As part of the Government's scramble to keep its promise and return the Budget to surplus by 2012-13, single mothers will be taken off parenting payments and forced onto Newstart once their youngest child reaches eight years of age. For mothers this means having to live on less than $38 per day while for the Government it represents a saving of more than $700 million over four years.
"The surplus has been achieved by skimming from the pockets of single parents and their children," Dr Falzon says. "There is nothing wrong with bringing home the bacon for middle Australia. But the people living at the rough end of Struggle Street are trying to get by on baked beans."
The earlier $2.9 billion pledged in foreign aid has been deferred.
Australians individually are among the most generous on earth but despite its wealth, as a nation Australia lags behind most other OCED countries. Despite being in a recession, Britain gives 0.7% of GNI in foreign aid while Australia gives less than 3.5% of GNI.
Of the 20 developing nations helped by AusAid, 18 are in our region and include Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and poverty stricken communities across Asia.
According to Caritas CEO, Jack de Groot, along with helping with agriculture, sustainability, health, education and job skills, foreign aid helps lift people out of poverty and in doing so, creates stability and security across the region.
"We would like Australians to understand they have been responsible for changing the lives of countless men, women and children through their generous commitment to helping those in need during natural disasters and through federally-funded programs that change lives in the long term," he says. "But put in perspective, the Budget potentially leaves us behind other comparable nations."
As one of the world's healthiest economies, Australia should be leading the push to address injustice and poverty, not following or lagging behind, he says.