Budget 2024: Passable at best

This is a budget of stunted aspiration.

It is as if the government has talked itself out of ambition, for fear of taking the steps needed to find the revenue required to underwrite a cleaner, greener future and the pathway to prosperity for our children, without reigniting inflation.

It’s a delicate moment requiring cautious calibration, but when people are looking for vision and hope, this document does not provide it.

For example, the government could have imposed a more than reasonable windfall tax on multi-national gas exporters rather than relying on the Stage 3 tax cuts and a mystifyingly un-means tested $300 energy bill rebate.

That would be a vote winner and an economic windfall.

But it would take courage.

Meanwhile, where is the funding for frontline domestic violence services?

Ahead of the budget, the government allocated $185 million a year for five years to fund the Leaving Violence Program, and additional funding for crisis and transitional housing for women and children escaping violence.

But with a woman being killed every 4 days, there’s no boost to support services after she leaves.

Rightly, those who work on the frontline of women’s support services are outraged.

Meanwhile, with a thousand women a week being turned away from women’s legal services, $44.1 million for “the national legal assistance partnership and family violence prevention legal services” is at best opaque and at worst, paltry.

$1.3m has been allocated for an expert panel to review the approach to violence prevention and the Office of Women in the Prime Minister’s Office gets $3.9 million over the next four years to co-ordinate efforts for women’s safety.

For God’s sake, they better get somewhere.

I am pleased that the government is addressing the issue of gender-based violence on university campuses with a total of $38.1 million allocated for a National Student Ombudsman and for the development of a National Higher Education Code to address gender-based violence.

Still on universities, the budget gives effect to the proposal I took to the government before the last budget, which was backed in by my colleague Dr Monique Ryan via her recent mega petition, to ease the pain being faced by people with HECS/HELP debts because of recent once-in-a- generation inflation.

Backdating of indexation to the lower of either CPI or the Wage Price Index to last year will save people with HECS/HELP debts $1200 on the average debt, or a total of $3 billion.

The announcement of a Commonwealth Prac Payment of $319.50 is also welcome.

It will enable more students in feminised professions like nursing, teaching, and social work to undertake their mandatory practical training and encourage more people to complete their courses in these essential services.

The $55.6 million over four years for the Building Women’s Careers program to drive structural change in work and training environments, including male-dominated industries, is something I’ve been pushing for two years.

Girls will want to work in the climate and energy sector if we make it work for them.

I very much welcome the steps on early childhood education and care, specifically a significant rise in wages for the mainly female workers in the sector.

An undisclosed amount of money has been set aside to underpin the increase once the Fair Work Commission has determined just how much the increase should be.

I urge the government to get this wage increase done quickly.

Educators have waited long enough.

It will have to be substantial if it is to stop ECEC workers drifting away to the aged care sector where workers were last year granted a 15 percent pay rise.

I am extremely disappointed that the government did not accept the recommendation from stakeholders and its own advisers to end the Activity Test, which means that children from lower socio-economic backgrounds miss out on the lifelong benefits of early childhood education.

I am also disappointed that the government has rejected appeals from its own advisers to boost JobSeeker above its current level, which many economists acknowledge is so low that it’s a barrier to recipients getting jobs.

The 10%  increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance is welcome and gets us closer to the 40% increase I have been advocating since last year, but it’s only $11 a week for a single mother with one or two children.

I am relieved that the government has not ignored health, with a one-year freeze on PBS co-payments for most of us and a five-year freeze for pensioners and concession cardholders.

Beyond the ambition of its Future Made in Australia program, which remains disappointingly short on detail, there is little in the budget to drive us towards net zero.

The $27 million investment to support better connectivity of household rooftop solar and batteries to the grid is not ambitious enough to maintain Australia’s position as a world leader in rooftop solar uptake.

It does nothing to increase access to solar and batteries for renters and Australians in shared-living arrangements, such as apartments and public housing.

Household electrification is the low-hanging fruit here – means test the $300 energy rebate and spend the rest of the money on the household transition!

The $6.7 billion to support a domestic renewable hydrogen industry in the form of a Hydrogen Production Tax Incentive appears interesting, but the devil is likely to be in the detail.

The Government’s $20 million investment toward developing voluntary national developer standards for renewable infrastructure projects is not the meaningful partnership with regional communities Australia needs to make reach net-zero together as one nation.

The Commonwealth must adopt a fresh and substantive approach toward building genuine social license with regional communities living on the frontline of the renewable energy transition, including lower energy prices, and expanded community programs.

Overall, this budget is frustratingly all over the place.

Where’s the vision? Where’s the hope?

$300 off a power bill does not provide it.

Meanwhile, I’m receiving messages tonight from people wanting to donate their $300 to frontline family violence services.

That says it.


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