Labor’s budget: ‘An unearned veneer of humanity’

May 21, 2024
poverty line graph

Treasurer Jim Chalmers described Labor’s third budget on May 14 as “responsible” and “all about easing cost-of-living pressures”.

Chalmers gloated about the budget’s expected $9.3 billion surplus, claiming it shows “responsible economic management”.

He said on X it “shows [Labor] are realistic about the pressures people face” and that it provides “meaningful cost-of-living relief for people across the country”.

However, it did not include any raise to JobSeeker or other Centrelink payments, despite recommendations from the government’s own advisory committee.

Fortnightly JobSeeker and other payments are still far below the poverty line — $225 below — which means millions of people are still struggling to afford basics such as food and housing.

Youth Allowance, for students and apprentices under 24 years old, is even lower.

Meanwhile, the government is spruiking the Stage 3 tax cuts as “cost-of-living relief”, with one of Labor’s key talking points being that “every Australian taxpayer gets a tax cut”.

This is misleading, as it erases the difference between the $4529 tax cut for those on more than $190,000 a year and the $1304 cut for people on the median income of $65,000 a year.

It is also a lie.

Those earning less than $22,575 — including those on JobSeeker and Youth Allowance — will not receive a tax cut, despite paying a higher proportion of their income in Goods and Services Tax than those on higher incomes.

The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) pointed out this is being done when the government is deliberately raising unemployment, ostensibly to curb inflation.

ACOSS said the budget will deliver “eyewatering tax cuts to the wealthiest people in the country” and, at the same time, deny any raise in income support to more than 1 million people “struggling to survive” on JobSeeker and Youth Allowance.

It said the $300 energy rebate is “extraordinarily wasteful” as it does not target people most in need. The wealthy don’t need this token amount to help with their energy bills.

Labor’s response to skyrocketing rental prices and a record low vacancy rate is to apportion a tiny rise to the Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) payment.

This works out to an extra $9.40 a week for a single person on the maximum rate.

It brings the maximum rate of CRA to just over $100 a week for a single person.

This means a single person on the maximum JobSeeker rate would receive about $480 a week, while the median rent for housing across the country is $580 a week.

The Anti-Poverty Network South Australia pointed to a recent ACOSS survey that showed more than 40% of respondents on JobSeeker had their rent raised by at least $40 a week in the past year.

How will an extra $9.40 a week help these people?

The Antipoverty Centre said Chalmer’s “empty words” about the budget surplus “mean nothing … while people can’t afford food, rent and other essentials.”

It said the one-off $300 energy payment and CRA rise “achieve little more than giving the government an unearned veneer of humanity”.

It pointed out that almost 60% of all payments received by people on JobSeeker and CRA are spent on rents. This means that $16.4 billion is transferred to landlords each year.

ACOSS said Labor “has failed to take the bold action required to address the housing crisis … many people will still be without an affordable home after this budget.”

The Antipoverty Centre said lifting Centrelink payments above the poverty line would be the fastest and most effective measure to support low-income people, prevent and reduce homelessness, address the mental health crisis and support people leaving violent homes.

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