NEWS Welfare groups have accused the Abbott federal government of dumping Australia’s sense of a fair go after targeting payments to unemployed young people, families, pensioners and people with disabilities in its first budget delivered last Tuesday. According to St Vincent de Paul Society chief executive Dr John Falzon, ‘There are measures in this budget that rip the guts out of what remains of a fair and egalitarian Australia’.
Dr Falzon says this budget is deeply offensive to the people for whom every day is already a battle. “The government would like us to believe that this Budget is tough but fair but for the people who struggle to make ends meet it can only be described as being tough but cruel,” he said.
“There are measures in this Budget that rip the guts out of what remains of a fair and egalitarian Australia.These measures will not help people into jobs but they will force people into deeper poverty. You don’t help young people or older people or people with a disability or single mums into jobs by making them poor. You don’t build people up by putting them down. And as even the OECD acknowledges, you don’t build a strong economy by increasing the level of inequality. You don’t create a strong country on the backs of the already poor,” said Dr Falzon.
“There’s nothing human or humane about humiliating people because they are outside the labour market or on its low-paid fringes. There’s nothing smart about making it unaffordable for people to see a doctor. We are not in the throes of a fiscal crisis but if we embark on this treacherous path of US-style austerity we will be staring down the barrel of a social crisis,” said Dr Falzon.
St Vincent de Paul Society National President, Mr Anthony Thornton, said: “Governments must do what markets cannot. We are saddened to see the government walking away from its responsibility to its people.
“It has shied away from the challenge to build a broader and more sustainable revenue base so that no one misses out on the essentials of life such as a place to live, a place to work and a place to learn. This Budget hurts the people that the government should be helping,” said Mr Thornton.
Nation-dividing budget – ACOSS
In a statement titled Budget divides the nation, young and old, rich and poor published on on its website on budget night, the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) said it was deeply concerned that those in our nation who carry the greatest burden from spending cuts in the Budget are those who can least afford it.
“The Budget divides rather than mends. It entrenches divisions between those with decent incomes, housing and health care and those without them. It undermines the fabric of our social safety net with severe cuts to health, disability support, income support, community services and housing programs,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.
“A few measures are in the right direction, targeting those for whom the age of entitlement should be coming to an end: Abolishing the Seniors Supplement, Capping Family Tax benefit part B at $100 000, introducing a levy for people earning over $180,000, and taking super payments into account in assessing eligibility for the Senior’s Health Card. Corporate welfare is also shaved. However, most of these measures will inflict little damage or will only be felt for a short time.
“The real pain of this budget – crushing and permanent – will be felt by people on low incomes, young people, single parents, those with illness or disability, and those struggling to keep a roof over their heads. These are the groups doing the heavy lifting’ for the Budget repair job.
“One of the most disturbing targets of this budget are our young people. The new rules will deny income support to young people up to 29 years, for six months of every year, unless exempted, and then force them into work for the dole. It will deny them Newstart Allowance until 24 (a loss of $48 per week), and move more young people on DSP to Newstart or Youth Allowance, a cut of at least $166 per week. We are excited about the investment for older workers who lose their jobs, but why treat the young and the old so differently?
“Poorer families will also be worse off as a result of the freezing of family payments for 2 years, the $7 co-payments for doctor’s visits and other services, the fuel excise, and the increasing costs of PBS medicines. And no investment in lifting the abysmally low unemployment benefit (Newstart Allowance) for the individuals and families living the most meagre lives, in an otherwise wealthy country.
“For people on low incomes, housing is the biggest cost of living problem. Yet, this Budget offers no guarantee of future funding for homelessness services, and cuts funding to the NRAS, the one bright light for creating new affordable housing.
“To then cut funding for community services, including financial counselling and emergency relief – small amounts in big budget terms – just seems a cruel blow.
“We were told on election night that the new government would not leave anyone behind, now we find its first Budget places the most vulnerable directly in the firing line,” Dr Goldie said.
“The Government managed to find room in the budget to deliver a $4 billion tax cut for business, and major investments in infrastructure and defence.
“For a decent society, we need a budget that brings us together, rather than pulls us apart,” Dr Goldie said.
Budget of Broken Promises
Richmond MP Justine Elliot has accused the government of delivering a ‘budget of broken promises’ that will ‘hurt pensioners and families already struggling to make ends meet’. She added the measures were ‘cruel and unfair’.
The Greens say the budget has been ‘written for big business’ with the young the sick and the vulnerable hardest hit.
Even the Liberal state government has complained about the budget, accusing its federal counterparts of ‘cost-shifting’ by effectively abandoning its traditional funding of hospitals and schools.
‘Earn or learn’
Tough new work-for-the dole measures will force people aged 18-30 to ‘earn or learn’.
Those wanting government assistance will now have to wait six months before qualifying for support and will then have to undertake a six-month compulsory participation program.
‘This is the harshest cut of all,’ ACTU president Ged Kearney said.
Families are also in the firing line but parents receiving assistance towards the cost of raising their kids have won a small reprieve before budget pain begins for some from next year.
Payment rates for the Family Tax Benefit will remain at current levels until July 2016, but a year earlier the government wants families booted off part B when their youngest child turns six.
Also from mid-2015 there will be a new part B income test of $100,000, down from $150,000.
There’s some good news for single mothers hit by welfare cuts under the previous Labor government.
Tens of thousands of single mothers were left $60 to $100 worse off a week when they were pushed off parenting payments and onto the Newstart Allowance.
From July 2015 single parents receiving the maximum rate of Family Tax Benefit part A will receive an extra $750 for each child aged between six and 12, once their youngest turns six.
Labor’s school kids bonus, worth $410 a year for primary school pupils and $820 a year for high school students, is for the chopping block. The payment was linked to the minerals resource rent tax which the Abbott government wants to abolish.
Meanwhile, Gen X and Y Australians on the disability support pension will be required to undertake work experience or some form of employment activity.
But people with severe impairments, terminal illnesses or who have the capacity to work less than eight hours a week will be exempt.
From January 2015, recipients will only be able to travel abroad for four weeks – down from six – before their payments are cut off.
The government is on a collision course with seniors after revealing it won’t be so generous with future increases to the age pension.
The coalition is sticking to its pledge to do nothing in its first term but big changes are in the pipeline.
From late 2017, and after the next election, indexed increases to the age pension will be linked to the consumer price index instead of the highest rate available, generally male average earnings.
Seniors intend taking the change on notice.
‘I foresee them now sharpening their pencils as they go into the ballot box,’ National Seniors chief Michael O’Neill said.
As previously flagged, eligibility for the age pension will increase to 70 years by July 2035.
There was some good news for the disability sector in the budget. The government has not moved to delay the rollout of the national disability insurance scheme.
Budget ‘for big business’
The Australian Greens say the federal budget has been written for big business, and young Australians, the sick and vulnerable are the hardest hit.
‘This is a divisive and brutal budget written in the boardrooms of big business,’ Greens leader Christine Milne said. ‘Tony Abbott’s rhetoric about sharing the burden is a lie.’
Serious challenges such as global warning and inequality were ignored and there was no plan for renewable energy jobs, Senator Milne said.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie does not support the changes to the disability support pension, payments to the aged and families, and Newstart.
‘To suggest we have a budget emergency is plain wrong,’ he said.
To say the so-called budget emergency is justification for targeting disadvantaged members of the community was ‘diabolically cruel’.
Independent MP Clive Palmer says the government has handed Australians a ‘budget nightmare’ based on a ‘debt-crisis fairytale’, arguing there is no need to introduce a deficit levy or a Medicare co-payment.
‘Mr Hockey has delivered a heartless and cruel budget that will cause many Australians undue pain,’ the Palmer United Party leader said in a statement.
Mr Palmer said Australia had one of the strongest low-debt profiles among OECD countries. ‘There is no debt crisis and therefore the excuse to impose a two per cent debt tax and introduce other harsh budgetary measures.’
Labor to vote against certain measures
Labor is vowing to try and block key measures of the Abbott government’s unpopular first budget.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has confirmed Labor will vote against the coalition’s move to introduce a $7 Medicare co-payment, as well as plans to hike the fuel excise and change the pension age.
‘Putting up everyone’s petrol bill we think is a bad idea in the current circumstances,’ Mr Shorten told the Nine Network on Wednesday. ‘We will fight, and I don’t know if we’ll win the arguments against Tony Abbott and their bad budget, but we will fight and fight and fight for Medicare.’
‘We get that you’ve got to improve the health system and make it more cost effective but you don’t do that by stopping people at the door of the doctor’s surgery.’
But Mr Shorten refused to confirm whether the party would support the deficit levy on high income earners. ‘What we think is it is a broken promise,’ Mr Shorten said when asked about the coalition’s plan to hike tax on people earning more than $180,000 a year. ‘We haven’t made a final position on that.’
Mr Shorten said the Abbott government was trying to return the budget to surplus with ‘broken promises and by slugging ordinary people’.
‘First of all Tony Abbott said no new taxes under a government he leads … he said no nation ever taxes its way to prosperity. It was a lie.’
Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the Medical Research Future Fund was a great idea, but should not be funded by the Medicare co-payment. ‘It should not be funded by Australia’s sick and vulnerable people,’ he told Sky News. ‘It should not be funded by people who may be on low and middle incomes who need to go the doctor.’
He said Labor would oppose increasing the pension age to 70 because Treasurer Joe Hockey had failed to justify the decision. ‘He says Australians should work longer than anybody else in the developed world,’ Mr Bowen said. ‘Not one country in the OECD has a pension age of 70.’
Mr Bowen later signalled that Labor would not stand in the way of the government’s deficit levy. ‘When this was first leaked it was going to apply to people over $80,000. Now that’s not a high income earner,’ he told the Nine Network. ‘We still don’t like it, we still don’t think it’s a good idea, but it’s not now a priority for us. Our priority is defending Medicare, defending pensions, defending family payments.’
[Source: www.echo.net.au and www.thechronicle.com.au]
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