Mixed bag of carrots and sticks in Federal Budget
The CEO of Wesley Mission the Rev Keith Garner has labelled the 2017-18 Federal Budget “a mixed bag of carrots and sticks.”
While the budget includes much welcomed initiatives in mental health, suicide prevention, homeless services and banking reforms, it still wields a stick against unemployed people.
“Wesley Mission welcomes the Government additional $115 million in mental health, including funding for rural telehealth psychological services, mental health research and suicide prevention services,” Dr Garner said.
“We also applaud the government for addressing one of our important but often unnoticed social issues – the mental health and wellbeing of our nation’s veterans.”
Funding for programs for treating veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and depression will get an extra $350 million.
During the last 12 months Wesley Hospital Kogarah in Sydney’s south has treated some 82 veterans for PTSD, anxiety, depression and anger management. It is one of only a handful of hospitals accredited to provide programs to veterans in Australia.
The Government is also to be congratulated for providing $263 million for the national expansion of the ParentsNext service. This service provides parents of young children with tailored support to improve their work readiness, to 20 new locations.
Wesley Mission currently operates the program in two locations – Bankstown in Sydney’s west and on the NSW Central Coast. The program is proving to be a successful initiative since it began last year.
The program aims to break generational unemployment and welfare dependency by connecting parents with local organisations and services, such as TAFE colleges, secondary schools, training providers and employment service providers, so they can upgrade or learn new skills for the modern employment market.
Wesley Mission also welcomes the Government’s provision of $5.5 billion over two years from 2018-19 to extend the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) There is also a new framework and funding model for the Disability Employment Services (DES) program from 1 July 2018 which will make it easier for job seekers to move between providers, payments will be indexed, weighting on long term outcomes increased, trial scope expansion for school leavers with less significant disabilities.
The Commonwealth has also increased funding by $375 million for state homelessness initiatives. There will also be reform of the National Affordable Housing Agreement - the NHHA will combine funding currently provided under the National Affordable Housing Specific Purpose Payment (NAHSPP) and the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH).
Wesley Mission also supports the Government’s commitment to fully fund the NDIS and the range of banking reforms, particularly the establishment of a Complaints Authority.
“Wesley Mission has called upon governments in the past for an independent and accessible authority to deal with complaints,” Dr Garner said.
“We need a plain-English approach to what is often a complex and vexed area for most Australians who are alienated by the language of the banking and finance sector. Our financial counsellors often tell us that people come for financial counselling too late because they are simply overwhelmed and intimidated by legal and finance language.
“The Complaints Authority must be adequately funded and be independent of the banking and finance sector.”
However Wesley Mission is disappointed that the Government continues to a punitive campaign against the unemployed.
Unemployed people will face a demerit system, which will cut off their payments for up to two months when they lose all seven points. The penalties will be for not turning up to an interview with Centrelink or a job provider.
“That can be a tough call, particularly if you live on our cities fringes or in rural or regional areas with poor public transport. It is of particular concern for older Australians, particularly women, in these areas who have little or no family support,” Dr Garner said. “The system itself can be overwhelming and complex for many people, particularly Indigenous and non-English speaking Australians, and older unemployed Australians.
“The fact remains that there is only one job available for every 10 unemployed people and more than 1.1 million Australians who are underemployed – people who would want to work more hours but can’t because the work is unavailable.”
In total there are 1,861,700 people who are either unemployed or underemployed but only 167,800 jobs.
“After 20 years of sustained economic growth, inequality is as high as it had been in the 1950s and over three million Australians are living below the poverty line.”