Budget 2016: Do you know what’s missing?

Aid & development, Analysis & Opinion, Inequality article written on the 06 May 2016

By Campaigns and Community Engagement Manager, Conor Costello

Budget 2016, it had it all: “the economy”, bracket creep, innovation, nimbleness, agility, debt and deficit. Surely that’s everything, right?

Well, not quite. What’s been forgotten — once again — is real action to end extreme inequality, both here in Australia and in our region.

Some questions. Is the Budget:

  • Making our tax system fairer by cracking down on Australia’s tax dodging multinationals?
  • Winding back the deep cuts to Australia’s Aid budget to help some of our poorest neighbours like East Timor to access healthcare, education and improved livelihoods?
  • Taking real action on climate change here and in our region?
  • Improving outcomes in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community by reducing incarceration rates and improving life expectancy?

Verdict on all counts? Not really.

So how did the budget stack up on some of these key ways to tackle extreme inequality?

On tax dodging by multinationals

In the wake of the Panama Papers leak, the Government and others have been talking tough on tax dodging. With the Budget, the Treasurer again stated the need for everyone, and specifically multinationals, to pay their fair share of tax. The sentiment is welcome, but the government has failed to back this up with comprehensive action to deal with tax abuse at the global level.

Developing countries miss out on $100 billion of revenue each year because of multinational tax avoidance in their own countries — and this includes large Australian companies operating overseas in places like Papua New Guinea. Money that should be spent on schools, hospitals and roads is instead enriching the coffers of big business.

We need transparency on just how much Australian companies are earning and how much tax they’re paying (or not) both at home and abroad. So while there were baby steps on tax dodging, what we really need is leading action to address this on a global scale.

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On Australian Aid

It wasn’t mentioned in the Treasurer’s speech, but last night, Australia officially became the least generous we’ve ever been when it comes to Australian Aid. Cuts of $224 million — slated in the 2015 Federal Budget — will now be implemented.

That means just 23 cents out of every $100 will go to support saving lives and supporting development in countries in our region and beyond.

This is heartbreaking when you consider the tens of thousands of lives that Australian Aid has saved and supported over the years. The result is a scaling-back of lifesaving programs by us and other organisations in countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and sub-Saharan Africa.

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On our response to climate change

In recent times, our region has been hit by several severe storms made worse by climate change including Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu and Cyclone Winston in Fiji.

You would think the magnitude of the damage and the financial and other costs, together with the new global climate agreement would have led our government to scale-up its funding to tackle climate change wouldn’t you? Wrong.

This Budget saw no significant increase in support for developing countries to adapt to climate change. And remains focused more on subsidising old polluting industries than investing in a clean energy future.

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In relation to First Australians

Did you hear what the Treasurer said about support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in the Budget? You didn’t? That’s because he didn’t mention it: at all.

This is despite the Indigenous incarceration crisis, child removal rates, and the very sluggish progress towards closing the gap in health and wellbeing for the First Australians. Despite strong words from Prime Minister Turnbull in his Closing the Gap speech just a few months ago, with this budget, the Prime Minister has rejected the opportunity to take real action to repair the damaging cuts made in the 2014 Federal Budget.

That’s incredibly disappointing. But more than that, it means the Australians our government could and should be supporting, have once again been ignored.

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In summary, this budget fails the fairness test.

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