Centacare Chief Executive 2017 Budget Response

The release of the 2017 Federal Government budget comes with balance, questions and mixed results for pockets of society.

Off set by policy that aligns with society’s common beliefs about corporate profits, empowerment through education foundations and addressing concerns surrounding abuse of the welfare system. There are questions and frameworks that require clarification.

The announcement to fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme off the back of the 0.5% increase to the Medicare Levy comes with the elation of delivering quality services and choice to those in the community who live with a disability, however lower income earners and in particular families may struggle with additional financial loads.

To soften the impact on families extra funding for schools will build equality with standardised funding models and access for all. Over the longer term the benefit to the community of increased investment in the education system will flow positively to our clients.

The government’s identification of the need for psychological support for those with mental illness who do not qualify for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is a positive outcome. This includes improving telehealth access for psychological services in regional, rural and remote communities directly benefiting many of our clients.

Building the healthcare system and reducing out of pocket expenses by lifting the freeze on Medicare rebates and improving GP incentives to bulk bill will benefit the elderly, fragile and low income earners. We welcome these changes.

Two issues raising concern for the vulnerable and disadvantaged in the community are housing affordability and the intended changes to welfare payments.

Housing affordability speaks to concerns for many low income earners and those on welfare. Being able to afford comfortable private rental accommodation on a long term lease remains a real concern.  The government’s 1.3 billion continuation for the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement will hopefully make headway into this pressing issue for so many.

To impact the undersupply and expense of the private rental market the government needs to place the microscope on increasing availability for all in our communities. A failure to do so creates a sub class system with greater long term implications for those experiencing financial hardship and difficult life situations.

Constructive approaches to tackling unemployment form a key part of the government’s strategy with the introduction of a ParentsNext pre-employment program, the extension of support for indigenous job seekers, a new Career Transition Assistance Program for mature age jobseekers and the expansion of the National Work Experience Program.

The governments introduction of the Personal responsibility Phase (demerits phase) for jobseekers and the new ‘Work First’ approach to income support highlight the intention that each individual has ownership and responsibility for their employment journey. We will await clarification and details on how these policies will be implemented and affect our regions to comment further.

The governments proposed policy on welfare recipients and random drug testing possess a multitude of ethical dilemmas and questions.  Is it ok in our society to deem someone at risk of substance abuse and then to place drug testing as a compulsory component of them receiving funds? This is a question for our community to answer.

Should we not be treating each individual with equality and respect? Making welfare recipients lives more difficult could be placing yet another barrier in the way of those who are already vulnerable and disengaged with our community.

The support frameworks, process and policy surrounding any changes in this system need to be clearly defined in order to maintain some semblance of a respectful community that provides equal opportunity for all.

Centacare will continue to advocate on behalf of our clients and be a voice for the marginalised and disadvantaged in our community.

Tony Fitzgerald, Centacare Chief Executive Officer