A statement from the National Assembly, Uniting Church in Australia, in response to this year’s budget, with comments from key leaders in the Assembly (originally published on the UCA Assembly website):
Dr Deidre Palmer, UCA President;
Claerwen Little, UnitingCare Australia National Director;
Pastor Mark Kickett, Interim Chairperson
Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress;
Jannine Jackson, Frontier Services National Director ;
Sureka Goringe, UnitingWorld National Director.
Jim Wallis (Sojourners) has said, “A budget shows who’s important, who’s not, what’s important, what’s not.” It’s helpful to remember that the Federal Government acts on the specific mandated responsibilities it has (as outlined in the Constitution) and does not act outside of those defined areas. ‘Who’s important, who’s not, what’s important, what’s not’ needs to be understood within the specific responsibilities of the Federal Government.
In considering the budget presented to Parliament, there will be matters of relevance affecting the work of the UCA agencies and networks.
Addressing aspects of the budget, the Uniting Church in Australia has welcomed the Federal Government 2021-22 Budget with its historic investment in social services as part of a range of measures focused on rebuilding the economy.
“We welcome this recovery-focused Budget particularly the record investment in vital services that will make a difference for many Australians” said UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer.
Dr Palmer welcomed record investment in aged care, mental health, women’s economic security, safety and participation.
“One of our key learnings from the past 12 months is that we are only as strong and healthy as the most vulnerable members of our society, and we welcome investment in measures that will improve the well-being of our whole society,” said Dr Palmer.
At the same time, Dr Palmer said there were also missed opportunities in areas which might bring about the flourishing of all people and all creation.
“It is disappointing to see there is next to no funding for renewable energy in the budget and no real plan for how Australia can invest in a more sustainable future and strengthen our response to climate change.”
Refugees and people seeking asylum are no better off from the Budget, with the Government continuing to invest in offshore and onshore detention and the absence of any new reforms to the community sponsorship program.
In their response to the Budget, UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little welcomed the Government’s focus on essential services and the Government’s comprehensive response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
“As part of the Australian Aged Care Collaboration, we are pleased to see the $17.7 billion investment in aged care over five years and commend the Government’s commitment to transformation,” said Ms Little. “We are now on the pathway to address many of the challenges facing aged care.”
Ms Little also welcomed investment in homelessness services, mental health and policies that support women saying these measures will support thousands of families, individuals and communities.
In respect to funding for First Peoples, Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) Interim Chairperson Ps Mark Kickett welcomed some measures including a new Remote Jobs Program, but expressed disappointment that the Budget lacked the scope and scale to deliver lasting change.
“Sadly, this budget fails to deliver on Closing the Gap for First Peoples including a lack of funding for measures to address the overincarceration of First Peoples, such as support for justice reinvestment,” said Ps Kickett. “For there to be tangible and lasting change we need to invest in community-led programs and services across all key areas of policy, including health, mental health, justice, employment, disability, early childhood care and development, and families.”
Frontier Services National Director Jannine Jackson said the Budget had some steps in the right direction for people in rural and remote Australia but fell short of meeting the need. Ms Jackson welcomed the increased spending on digital mental health support targeted at fly-in and fly-out workers but said this was not enough to address the growing mental health crisis.
“While we appreciate the response, there is limited access to reliable internet and our concern is that when in a crisis, communication is critical. When you are dealing with delicate issues like suicide, having ongoing access to real people is essential.”
UnitingWorld National Director Sureka Goringe expressed concern that while COVID-19 escalates for our closest neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region, the Government’s international aid spending continues to decline.
“We acknowledge the work that is being done by the Australian Government to help our neighbours respond but greater investment is needed to manage the scale of the crisis which has plunged 120 million people into extreme poverty.”
“As a nation we are rightly proud of how we have managed the pandemic, but we believe we have a responsibility to leverage this success and contribute in ways that will ensure an equitable and just recovery for all.”