Budget Reflection 2024

Gershon Nimbalker, Common Grace National Director, reflects on the 2024 Budget and the impacts across our key justice areas - 'A step forward in a nation still in need of a bigger imagination'.

A step forward in a nation still in need of a bigger imagination.

 

Sifting through the pages of last week’s Federal Budget, on one hand, makes for really dry reading (for all but the most wonky amongst us).

The budget runs to over 900 pages, and is a document mired in politics, influenced by vested interests and rarely does anything more than make incremental tweaks on what has come before.

On the other hand though – budgets of modern nation states are extraordinary documents. They are statements about how millions of people will coordinate and direct their collective energy and resources towards common goals.

Those of us that are part of the Common Grace movement are animated by a vision of the world filled with the goodness that God intends for it - where all people and the rest of creation flourish.

We know that Australia’s budget is a far cry from this vision, but we read it with an imagination of what it could be and a determination to move it in that direction.

As we read the budget and the commentary around it, we are paying particular attention to
the ways it moves us towards justice and how it impacts the most vulnerable and the creation
we are called to steward.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice

The budget has earmarked $2.4 billion towards improving outcomes for First Nations peoples. This includes investments in jobs, housing, education, and justice. Much of this funding had been previously announced as part of the government’s response to the Closing the Gap report, but these investments are a significant step up. Of particular note in this budget are the substantial investments in economic opportunities, including a $777.4 million investment to support the creation of 3,000 jobs and a substantial investment in more and better housing.

Sadly however, money previously set aside to support the Uluru Statement of the Hearts calls for Voice, Truth and Treaty has all been redirected towards Closing the Gap initiatives. While more funding for Closing the Gap is welcome, the need to progress truth, treaties and new forms of voice are acute now as they have ever been.

In the wake of the referendum’s no vote, our nation, including our government, will need to imagine new paths forward to progress these calls – rather than retreat from them.

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Climate Action

This budget makes good on the governments promise of ramping up investments to address the climate crisis. More is needed – much more, but this is a big leap forward. The most significant measure is the government’s previously announced ‘Future Made in Australia’ funding. This includes almost $20 billion dollars over 10 years to scale up industries vital to transitioning to a clean energy future, such as solar panel production, green hydrogen and the extraction of minerals crucial for green energy infrastructure.

There’s also work being undertaken to make transport cleaner. This include $100m of funding for active transport like bike paths, $154m of support for the new national vehicle efficiency standards that will lead to cleaner, cheaper to runs cars and infrastructure investments for electric vehicle charging.

Of note is that despite the government’s widely panned announcement of a ‘future gas strategy’, there was no new funding for gas. Hopefully this sends a signal to the economy, that fossil fuels are on their way out.

All in all, the budget is consistent with Australia making the transition to a new energy future free from carbon pollution. While more work needs to be done to accelerate the speed of that transition, we should celebrate that it’s underway.

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Refugee and Asylum Seeker Justice

Sadly, in a world where more people than ever before have been displaced, over 100 million, Australia’s humanitarian intake remains inadequate and unchanged. After increasing the permanent humanitarian intake from 13,750 to 20,000 when Labour came into government, the number has stayed constant. The Labour party platform calls for an increase to 27,000 plus an additional 10,000 places through complimentary pathways (such as the community support program).

The budget did include a welcomed $4.8 million of funding to support people displaced from
the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Ukraine.

The government is also investing $854.3 million over four years to see protection claims processed faster. Current processing times can blow out to a decade and more, leaving refugees stuck in a state of uncertainty and insecurity. These long process times also create an incentive for some to put in false protection claims in order to stay in Australia longer while a determination is made (about 90% of asylum claims are found not to be owed protection).

One of the most significant and concerning insights in the budget is the amount of money Australia spends on locking up and monitoring asylum seekers. Australia is spending about $600m a year on maintaining offshore detention facilities, and a further amount of around $1.2 billion a year on onshore compliance and detention costs. We’re also spending tens of millions more on on-water patrols and aerial surveillance. Around a $2 billion annual spend that dwarfs the amount we support for Asylum Seekers in Australia and abroad.

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Domestic and Family Violence

Domestic and family violence remains endemic in Australia, and the horrific and vivid reminders we have seen in recent months catalysed marches across our country demanding more be done to end the scourge. The government have responded and there are commitments to do more.

The budget has allocated $925.2 million over five years to support those fleeing violence, made available as payments of up to $5,000. There’s also an increase of $44.1 million to support community legal services and funding for research and prevention.

Sadly though, many frontline services are saying they are experiencing growing demand to support women, and government funding is simply not keeping up.

The increasing funding for domestic violence and the growing emphasis on gender equality in Australia is welcome. Amid the heartbreaking stories, there is data to say these investments and the shifts in culture are having an effect. According to the Australian Institute of Criminology’s Homicide in Australia Report, Intimate partner homicides against women have fallen by 2/3rds (despite our growing population) since 1990. A reminder that we shouldn’t despair, and that our efforts and advocacy are having an impact.

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Budget’s are always a reflection of our values. And there’s a lot in our budget that does speak to the quality of our collective values.

We’re finally transitioning our energy systems away from carbon pollution, we’re investing to address domestic violence, and for those lucky enough to be counted a refugee in Australia, we have a strong resettlement system. But each of these investments are tiny compared to other areas of spend. The tax cuts in this budget are estimated at costing $105 billion over four years, and originally were estimated at $260 billion over 10 years. We’ll also spend upwards of $368 billion on nuclear submarines.

As we reflect on our vision – where all people and creation flourish as God intends – we welcome the ways this budget helps the shift towards this while also acknowledging how much more is needed.

We firmly believe this budget like the ones before it are a reminder of why our advocacy is needed. Not just for the gentle nudges that help to help tweak the current system– but to help Australia rethink and reimagine more deeply what we value and what we prioritise.

 

Gershon Nimbalker is the National Director of Common Grace and founder of Sojourners Social Change Consultants. He has more than 15 years of experience working in advocacy, policy and research, as well as leading and growing grass roots movements to campaign on issues of social justice. 

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