Budget 2017 fails the fairness test

Analysis & Opinion, Aid & development, Blogs article written on the 10 May 2017

Right now, just eight men own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the global population — a whopping 3.6 billion people combined.

And here in Australia, the latest data shows that the wealthiest one per cent of Aussies have more wealth combined than the poorest 70 per cent of us. That’s a whopping majority of all Australians.

Last night’s Federal Budget was chance to act on rising inequality. It was a chance to champion fairness and to recommit to Australia being a good global citizen.

Oxfam’s verdict: the Budget was a massive fail.

From yet more aid cuts, to failing to introduce stronger measures to clamp down on multinational tax avoidance, to ignoring the need to act on devastating climate change and refusing to reverse cuts to essential Indigenous programs and organisations, Budget 2017 failed the fairness test.

Oxfam’s policy team have pored over the Budget, and here’s our take:

Australian Aid

Aid is one way we express our values of fairness and equality to the world. In a time of unprecedented global humanitarian crises, and where more than 1.3 billion still live on less than $2 a day, there’s never been a better time to increase our contribution.

But this Government made their 5th consecutive cut to Australian Aid in Budget 2017 — reducing aid over the coming four years by $303 million. Their onslaught of aid cuts already had Australia’s aid contributions at their lowest ever level in this nation’s 60-plus years of aid giving. Now, they have broken their own historically low record, with aid to sit at just 22 cents in every $100 of national income from July 2017. This is bad news for long-term aid programs the world over, where Australians are making a real difference in changing people’s lives.

Cracking down on multinational tax cheats

The Government is moving forward with some of their commitments to stop big companies from avoiding paying tax — and this is a welcome move. But last night’s Budget contained no major new initiatives to crack down on corporations who are ripping billions from both Australia and the poorest countries in the word — and the initiatives announced so far simply do not go far enough.

The ‘Google tax’, announced last year and continuing in this budget, is aimed at stopping big companies from diverting their money overseas to claim less profit made in Australia. It will reap some positive benefits, but the current rate it’s set at still allows many companies to divert significant funds. It also does nothing to stop the process of big companies diverting profits from some of the poorest countries in the world — effectively robbing them of money that is needed for schools, hospitals and other essential services.

Oxfam is calling for tougher action by requiring all Australian-based multinationals to publish their profits, taxes and other important information for every country in which they operate. This would give the public and tax authorities, at home and abroad, a better picture of where money is really going.

Our response to climate change

Against the backdrop of an imperilled Great Barrier Reef, extreme weather disasters, and the risk of climate change pushing millions more people worldwide into poverty, the budget fails categorically in Australia’s responsibility to tackle the climate crisis.

The budget contains no new funding or initiatives to support Australia’s transition away from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy, and maintains subsidies for big polluters. The budget also shows no increase in Australia’s support to developing countries with adapting to the impacts of climate change, despite the escalating need and our responsibility to provide a fair share of international climate finance.

What’s more, this support will be drawn from a heavily diminished aid budget. As a wealthy developed country with among the world’s highest per capita carbon pollution, Australia must do far more to transition away from fossil fuels and support our neighbours with building the clean economies of the future. This budget fails on both counts.

First Peoples and Closing the Gap

One the eve of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum, First Peoples hoped this Budget would put the government’s Indigenous agenda on a new footing. After all, it came just weeks after the disappointing Closing the Gap report on Indigenous health, jobs and education.

But all we got are piecemeal measures that don’t amount to much. There was no reversal of the savage $564m cut to funding in 2014, and there was also no long-term funding to close the gap on the dire health outcomes for First Peoples.

To add insult to injury, we got $40 million for more evaluation of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy. Oxfam thinks some of this money could be used to build capacity so that Indigenous groups can better compete for funding.