Labor’s budget provided few surprises on May 9. Many of the measures had been judiciously leaked, hoping to dampen any outrage from the corporate sector, in particular.
Most were nonplussed at the breaking news, that morning, that the budget would be in the black — by $4.2 billion — for the first time in 15 years. For Labor, it’s more important to be seen as “good economic managers” than to lift people out of poverty.
The already rich will receive $25 a day, compared to those on the lowest incomes will receive $2.85.
The Australian Council of Social Service’s (ACOSS) Raise the Rate Open Letter to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to lift JobSeeker and other payments to address “structural injustice” and “increased deprivation” signed by an impressive list of MPs (including Labor, Greens ans independents), economists, academics, philanthropists, businesses, unions and First Nations' leaders, was ignored.
Job seekers and those on Youth Allowance will receive a miserable $20 more a week, nothing near the 90% increase ACOSS had been urging in the current cost-of-living crisis. The increase is also lower than the rise allocated by Scott Morrison’s government in 2021.
There were also some sweeteners for those struggling on low incomes: a 15% rise to rent assistance; $500 in energy bill relief for concession card holders; $3.5 billion over five years to encourage doctors to bulk bill and 320 medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme halved in price.
But, as ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said, the measures “will still leave more than one million people in poverty, unable to afford three meals a day and a roof over their head”. Australia is one of the richest countries in the world, she said, yet unemployment benefits are among the lowest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Wringing his hands, Treasurer Jim Chalmers made a point of repeating that Labor’s cost-of-living relief “doesn’t add to inflation”. Yet these sweetener sums — totalling about $14.6 billion — are paltry when stacked up against the Stage 3 tax cuts — a $254 billion cut to the federal budget over the next 10 years.
The tax cuts, introduced by the Coalition, were supported by Labor then, and continue to be now. The already rich will receive $25 a day, compared to those on the lowest incomes will receive $2.85.
It shows where Labor’s class sympathies lie.
Even the Australian Financial Review joined the call to scrap tax cuts for a raise in JobSeeker payments.
Labor claims to be the party for workers, because of its commitment to social welfare and the environment. But example after example in this budget show Labor is tinkering around the edges while window-dressing big-ticket items — such as the $11.3 billion for aged-care workers’ wages — to try and sell the idea it is addressing the working people’s needs.
On the urgently needed transition away from fossil fuels and carbon emission reductions, the budget allocations are minuscule — in the millions only.
However, $2 billion has been allocated to driving the development of clean hydrogen. Hydrogen is a marginal alternative energy and it can be powered by “brown” or “green” energy: there are big profits to be made by private corporations if Labor pours in subsidies.
Apart from the anti-China push and militarisation of the Asia-Pacific, Labor’s $368 billion commitment to the AUKUS nuclear-powered submarines is another looming environmental disaster: no First Nations community wants nuclear waste dumped on Country, and a nuclear war with China will certainly be one to end all environments.
By refusing to budge on the Stage 3 tax cuts, Labor is sending a message to capital (and us) that it can be relied on to protect their interests.
A small surplus, and the barely discussed $17.8 billion savings across government agencies, tells big the corporate sector it has their interests at heart if there is another global financial crisis: there’s plenty of money in the kitty if corporate Australia needs to be bailed out.
How else can Labor’s refusal to spend just $24 billion to lift JobSeeker to a living wage be understood?
This budget betrays renters, job seekers and people doing it tough. It leaves millions stuck in poverty while billionaires get tax cuts. The challenge is to build a united mass movement that can force Labor to act for the millions left behind by this budget.
[Sue Bull is a member of the Socialist Alliance National Executive.]