Budget 2022 is a bit like that last lolly bag at the party. The one with the bottom falling out of it. The one that's therefore not only joyless, but useless, because it promises everything and contains next to nothing.
Whether it's a one-off $420 or $250, or a temporary 22 cents off at the bowser, one-off fixes are no fixes at all. They're like bandaids on a gaping wound.
Government is the means by which we can achieve collectively for all what we cannot achieve individually: a place to live, a place to learn, a place to heal, and a place to work, in a secure job with decent pay and conditions, and adequate (as opposed to derisory) income support for those not in paid work.
The Morrison government has never been much of a fan of this model of government. It seems to be more enamoured of the neoliberal model, whereby government does all it can to support the major owners of capital, knowing full well that, regardless of the bluff, the enormous wealth they are able to lay their hands on does not trickle down to the rest of us. In fact it is quite the reverse. Those handsome profits are precisely the result of keeping wages as low as possible, prices as high as possible and public subsidisation and infrastructural support as generous as possible, as long as it is directed to them and not to us.
But you don't build a strong economy by leaving workers, including those not in paid work, unable to afford the essentials of life. And you don't build a strong economy or a fair society by denuding and residualising essential infrastructure.
But in this budget, despite the government's obvious attempt to paint itself as Santa Claus on steroids, public school funding has been cut by $559 million over the next three years. This in itself is gobsmacking. But paired with the increase to private school funding of $2.6 billion over the forward estimates, it is beyond reprehensible. Hatred of public education is a core neoliberal doxa. One cannot help but suspect if they could, they'd do away with it completely and give it away to the commodifiers.
Similarly, Services Australia, which plays such a crucial role in the lives of all who need support, including, for example, the people currently in flood-affected areas, has been gutted in this budget, which has cut a further 2719 jobs - 9.4 per cent of total staff.
Health and aged care remain in crisis, with inadequate funding for public health and maternity systems and complete inaction on the desperately needed wage rises and mandated staffing ratios in private aged care. It is women especially who are impacted by poor wages and appalling working conditions in this, and similar, industries.
There has been a cut in real terms to Aboriginal Legal Services and services for First Nations Women seeking safety.
And the Australian Human Rights Commission is having its budget cut by more than one-third, from $32.6 million in 2021-22 to $20 million in 2025-26. The Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman is also the target of cuts over the forward estimates.
The government's absence of vision in response to the housing crisis and, bigger still, the climate emergency, poses an incalculable risk to public health and wellbeing.
Even if we analyse this budget according to the government's own framing, namely the cost of living, it is a kick in the guts to most households. You don't create an architecture of fairness unless you systematically and substantially lift wages and social security payments.
The government says it wants to provide relief. You don't give relief by leaving 3 million people below the poverty line or by leaving nearly 1 million workers having to work multiple jobs; insecure jobs with deliberate cuts in pay and conditions, designed by the big end of town and dutifully delivered by this government. You don't give relief to households by accelerating this trajectory. You can't give ongoing relief without secure jobs!
And you don't give relief by doing nothing to address the fact that, on the government's own numbers, workers' wages will be cut by around $500 in real terms in the first half of this year, on top of an average cut of $800 last year, due to cost of living increases outpacing wages growth.
It remains to be seen whether this is the Morrison government's last budget. If, however, that proves to be the case, then it is clear it has opted to go out not with a bang but a whimper, having quietly given up on the simple, long-term aspirations of ordinary people.
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