‘Staying the course’ has been the Treasurer’s catch cry for the 2019-20 budget, and it’s true we see few new ideas in this spend.
QCOSS has asked – what is that course and we think we can do better.
We welcome new and continued funding targeted at outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the areas of housing, mental health, child safety and family support, early childhood and justice. In particular we are pleased to see references to reframing the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the government and funding provided for legislative change in this regard. We sincerely hope this points to a desire to enact real change to support healing and reconciliation with Queensland’s First Peoples.
With the Human Rights Act passed into law in February this year, the Government has new responsibilities to support the inclusion of the economic, social and cultural rights of all Queenslanders. We can see evidence of attempts to begin this process in the 2019-20 budget. However, there is a long way to go.
Inequality is rising, and many people feel left behind and powerless to influence their own lives or communities. There are systems and processes at play in Queensland that need a complete reboot to create equality, opportunity and wellbeing for all. A sentiment which is at times communicated by the Queensland Government but not supported by this budget.
Support for cost of living is not a strong focus this year, which is disappointing given the Treasurer’s rhetoric on this issue. We know that many people across the state, and especially in rural and remote areas, don’t have enough money to afford the basics and are not able to keep up with the price increases of their household expenses. We have written to the Premier twice and made it a priority in our Government Priority Statement for the Premier to publicly support increasing the rate of Newstart and Youth Allowance by $75 per week and so far the Premier has chosen to say nothing.
There remains a dire shortfall in funding for social and affordable housing. The 5,000 dwellings being constructed over 10 years represents a mere drop in the ocean and indeed sees us go backwards in the face of increasing demand. We know that ten times as many dwellings are needed if all Queenslanders are to be able to have their basic right to safe, affordable and accessible housing met.
We are also pleased to see a state-wide focus on health and wellbeing with a strong commitment to suicide prevention and the creation of a new statutory authority focussed on the broader social determinants of health.
Given the pain being experienced in regional communities, we are pleased to see spending on essential infrastructure, disaster recovery, and job creation measures outside of South East Queensland.
We are disappointed that the Treasurer has chosen not to back the Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors’ Thriving Communities agenda. There is little in the budget that is aimed at building an active role for communities in articulating their own aspirations and shaping their own destinies. Communities need to be supported if they are to lead change.
Sadly, we are seeing hundreds of millions of dollars directed towards the building of a new prison, against the findings of the Productivity Commission and other experts, who argue for more effective and humane ways of dealing with offending or even tackling the causes. We understand this is a response to overcrowding, but it is a missed opportunity to embed alternative approaches to imprisonment.
Transition to the NDIS has some way to go in Queensland. The provider market is still in a state of flux, particularly in regional and remote areas, and the workforce is not yet well enough prepared to provide the quantity of services that people with a disability need.
The successful industry-driven workforce strategy, WorkAbility, has not been funded in this budget, meaning there is no coordinated mechanism for ensuring people with disability in all communities have a workforce to provide for their needs.
We have repeatedly called for the Premier to articulate a clear vision for Queensland. The establishment of the Advancing Queensland Priorities goes some way to identifying priorities and a focus for government activity, but as we have said before, they are not enough. Not only are the Advancing Queensland Priorities only part of the picture, but this budget chooses to reference them at a superficial level only. This is a budget without a clear narrative. This is a budget without a vision for the future. This is not good enough. Queenslanders deserve better.
The Treasurer says budgets are about choices. Indeed, they are. In this budget, the government has chosen to focus on business and industry and systems at the crisis end. Creating jobs and regional resilience is important, however, an opportunity has been missed. A focus on supporting the Queenslanders who are doing it toughest, on local governance and building connections in communities is what is needed to transform this state. Inequality is not inevitable. Alternative social and economic structures can and must be prioritised and given effect.