Budget 2021: Corporate handouts disguised as solutions

May 14, 2021
Graphic: Viv Miley

The corporate media is giving the federal government’s latest budget a big thumbs up, despite its brazen hand-outs for billionaires and big corporations.

While worrying that the government is overspending, the Financial Review claims that “there’s no doubting the extent of the government’s pragmatic and urgent response”.

The Sydney Morning Herald asserts the budget “backs women”, is a “big win for older people” and includes “goodies for everyone”. News.com.au goes further, claiming that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s budget “throws in everything but the kitchen sink”.

The ABC’s Laura Tingle went so far as invoking the Stoic mantra that “virtue is its own reward”. The economic rescue packages used to counter the effects of COVID-19, she argued, were “wildly successful” and, as a result, “the community, as taxpayers, are rewarded with one of the stronger performing economies in the world, and a financial dividend in the budget which has covered the cost of massive new spends”.

Crikey saw the rise in spending as evidence of an ideological shift within the federal government. “The tsunami of borrowed money … is a final abandonment of the notion of ‘prudence’ that once underpinned the political right, both liberal and conservative.” This, it concluded, would make it “hard for Labor” to win the next election.

Despite Leigh Sales’ much acclaimed grilling of PM Scott Morrison on 7.30 on his failure to take responsibility for the stalled vaccine roll-out, gendered violence in parliament and bushfires, she did not adequately take up the budget’s failings on climate and inequality.

While none of these outlets were uncritical — feigned objectivity goes hand-in-glove with the corporate media — they nonetheless painted a picture that the budget was a “big spending” departure from neoliberalism.

This is not the case.

As Greens leader Adam Bandt pointed out, the budget fails to tackle inequality and the climate crisis. It also spectacularly fails to allocate funds for federally-run quarantine facilities to deal with the pandemic.

Even funding of aged care and childcare support reveals it to be a budget of corporate welfare.

Hopefully the rise in funding for aged-care — a response to real problems highlighted by the Royal Commission findings — will improve some conditions. But the extra funds are a subsidy to the bosses in the privatised parts of the sector, with minimal accountability demanded of them.

While “average care minutes” for each aged care resident will rise, the budget did not mandate staffing ratios, as the unions had demanded. It also failed to recommend a wage rise.

Annie Butler of the Australian Nurses and Midwives Association said: “If you don’t fix staffing, you can’t fix aged-care system. So, the announcement of a 200-minutes of minimum care minutes per resident is a step in the right direction. But why wait until 2023?”

Butler said the government had not delivered on the commission’s crucial recommendations.

The much vaunted “women’s budget” is, in reality, a thinly veiled vote-buying exercise after the 110,000-strong women’s march for justice, that called for an end to sexual violence and rape in workplaces, had piled the pressure on.

The new $1.7 billion over five years for childcare subsidies will increase choices for women, even though it is also in large part a subsidy for the corporate providers. The government calculates the funding boost will allow parents to work 300,000 extra hours each week and deliver an annual $1.5 billion boost to gross domestic product.

But throwing money at something is not the same as solving fundamental problems. Real justice for women would have to include: increasing JobSeeker to a living income; expanding public housing; ending the Basics Card; and restoring the stand-alone Family Court.

The budget also contains almost $18 billion in tax write-offs for corporations and billions more for the fossil fuel polluters.

The government can be relied on to look after the interests of the billionaire class, and the corporate media can be relied on to help them get away with it.

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