This is no ordinary Budget. It comes at a time when Australia is caught in the turmoil of a global pandemic with severe impacts on our economy and our way of life. We now face the first recession in 30 years and we do so from a weak foundation as a result of stagnant wages, low productivity, under-investment in education, and galloping debt.
There is no doubt the Morrison government will be defined by its response to the Morrison recession.
We know the health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have been most acute for older Australians. We know the economic impacts right now are sharpest for younger people and for women. Sectors like tourism, higher education, arts & creative industries have been hit very hard, and we’ve seen those effects in Fremantle. Unemployment is projected to keep rising and yet we’re still waiting for a comprehensive plan for jobs.
In these circumstances it is vital that government decisions are made carefully and that government decision-makers are held to account. Proper democratic processes and scrutiny are essential for that to be the case. Labor has been constructive throughout this emergency by supporting decisions that need to be made, by putting forward suggestions that have been adopted in areas like tele-health and wage support, and by calmly pointing out risks and errors.
Having written to the Minister for the Environment to advocate for a heritage infrastructure component in the recovery package I am glad there is an additional $33 million for national and world heritage sites, including $1.6 million for Fremantle Prison.
Everyone in our community wants government action to be successful at this time, and no one is inclined to play politics. It is welcome that the government has focused on providing tax relief for low- and medium-income households, and has listened to Labor’s caution about rushing tax cuts for high-income earners. It is welcome there is additional funding for initiatives like the Clontarf Foundation that seek to increase the opportunities for young Indigenous Australians.
But there are some plain shortcomings and harmful blind-spots in this Budget.
It is a mistake to ignore the economic and social value that would be created by an investment in social housing. It is a mistake to leave the arts and creative industries without support. It is a mistake to ignore unemployed workers over the age of 35 when this covers more than 900,000 Australians. It is a mistake that at a time of a profound health crisis there is so little support for aged care reform measures and for Indigenous health, when we know these are areas of critical need.
Sadly, while there is $2 billion in funding for roads and $2 billion in funding for dams, there is only $0.2 billion in support for women most affected by the pandemic. The government has missed an opportunity to look to the jobs of the future in clean energy and advanced manufacturing – which is particularly disappointing as both of these sectors should be areas of strength for Western Australia.
If we’ve learned anything from this global health crisis it is that the most important things are the things we share: our public health and education systems, including early childhood education; our environment and biodiversity; our workplace protections and the social safety net, including aged care and disability support. Yet none of these areas have been the focus of the Morrison government’s recession Budget.