The Coalition’s budget has ensured that its neoliberal agenda remains in intact. It has deepened cuts to social spending while given tax breaks to high income earners and greedy corporations.
Meanwhile, the cost of living for ordinary people is rising, real wages are falling and those on social security benefits remain below the poverty line.
Despite a growing national campaign to raise the rate of Newstart, the Coalition has refused to budge. It is under no pressure to act, largely due to Labor’s unwillingness to commit to raise Newstart.
The most we can expect from a potential Labor government is a “root and branch review” of Newstart, which is currently less than $40 a day for a single unemployed person.
The budget spin and one-off payments are designed to mask the fact that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s tax breaks are directed to those with the most capacity to pay tax.
The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) criticised the budget for giving more dollars to people who already have the most, and giving nothing to those on the lowest incomes.
ACOSS said: “The government confirms its vision for our country is cuts, tax cuts for people who don’t need them, guaranteeing more cuts in [the] future to essential services and our safety net for people who rely on them.”
The budget offers a further $158 billion in tax cuts to the rich, on top of the $140 billion already legislated. This means that nearly $300 billion will not be going to fund essential social services.
Unpacking the tax cuts reveals that more than half of Australian workers — those earning between $50,000 and $75,000 a year — will receive a measly $4 a week tax cut.
Low-waged workers earning between $25,000 and $37,000 a year will only receive an extra 50 cents a week.
The biggest “winners” are those on $200,000 a year, who stand to get an extra $104 a week.
On climate change, the budget raises the climate-damaging diesel subsidy and paves the way for public money to be used to support coal and gas projects.
Coalmining companies will receive more than $1.5 billion a year in diesel fuel subsidies over the forward estimates and for every dollar it spends on climate action the government plans to spend $4.36 subsidising pollution, according to the Australian Conservation Foundation.
Morrison is intent on playing the race card and preying on people’s fears to win an election.
Before the budget he announced that a reelected Coalition government would repeal the law allowing refugees from Manus Island and Nauru to be medically evacuated. This was presented as a budget “saving”, to enable it to close the Christmas Island detention centre.
And just weeks out from a federal election, it has been revealed that the Coalition has locked in $40 billion in untendered defence contracts, the bulk of which is going to US arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin for the controversial Joint Strike Fighter program.
Coupled with the rise in revenue for ASIO, it shows where the government’s spending priorities reside: national security, anti-terrorism and border protection.
Imagine, however, if budget time was the culmination of a popular process of planning and decision-making about national spending priorities, rather than an event where we dread how much the government will slash and burn while disguising its handouts to the rich.
A future where the needs of people and protection of the environment are put at the centre is the kind of future worth fighting for.
To help this fight, Green Left Weekly strives to shine a light on injustice, connect the struggles and inform the activists.