The 2021-22 budget continues to support the Queensland Government’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery.
Recovery from COVID-19 should be for all Queenslanders. While we have benefited from a remarkable health response and associated economic recovery, jobs created and gained are not the same jobs that were lost and not for the same people. This means that many Queenslanders are continuing to struggle to rebuild their lives and recover from the COVID-19 shock.
There are significant initiatives in this budget that will benefit Queenslanders who are experiencing disadvantage in our community.
The state budget is a beacon of hope for Queenslanders living through the housing crisis.
While the investment will not solve the crisis, accelerated output and greater options for investment by the private sector, and greater involvement of the community sector, will result in more houses for more Queenslanders sooner.
The budget ties in with the strategies identified in the new Housing and Homelessness Action Plan 2021-2025, which seeks to grow housing supply and commit to greater service integration across government and community.
This budget, read together with the Housing and Homelessness Action Plan 2021-2025, creates the potential to move the dial on homelessness and housing insecurity with further sustained investment over time.
Increased investment to boost support for victim-survivors of violence and funding for peak, representative and disability advocacy organisations is welcome. However, it does not go far enough.
A missing element of this budget was investment in Neighbourhood and Community Centres, vital place-based infrastructure and essential first responders in times of crisis.
The 2021-22 Budget has missed the opportunity to invest heavily in the community services sector – a measure that would create jobs in our feminised workforce, while also providing the social supports that Queenslanders need.
The budget reveals that Queensland government total grant funding for expenses to private and not-for-profit organisations has steadily declined since the 2019-20 budget, from $2.297 billion in 2019-20 to $2.065 billion in 2021-22. Similarly, grant funding to private and not-for-profit organisations for capital has declined from $430 million in 2019-20 to $379 million in 2021-22.
The Annexure to this report provides an overview of new and additional funds being committed by the Queensland Government in the 2021-22 budget. These reflect policy decisions with budgetary impacts made by the government since the 2020-21 budget. However, budget documents provide limited information on how funds will be used or who the beneficiaries are. Therefore, we cannot identify funds allocated to community services.
While further detail is required to understand the impact of declining grant funding, it is clear that now is not the time for cuts to community services.
To support the immediate strengthening of the community services sector, QCOSS recommended the establishment of a Community Resilience Fund to enable projects that create jobs and address emerging issues in local communities. This initiative has not been funded in this budget.
The government has committed $320 million over four years towards Skilling Queenslanders for Work and $140 million over four years on the Back to Work program.
Absent from this budget is a gender analysis, which is critical to understand the budget’s impact on indicators of women’s equality, such as workforce participation, employment and the gender pay gap.
Gender gaps in economic outcomes for women in Queensland persist and have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the following weeks, QCOSS will publish a detailed paper providing a gender analysis of the 2021-22 budget. This paper will provide an overview of policy measures in the budget to identify how policy can either advantage, or potentially disadvantage, different cohorts of the Queensland population on the basis of gender.
The focus on providing financial, employment, housing and mental health assistance to asylum and humanitarian entrants in Queensland is a highly welcome initiative, as we know that these groups often face significant disadvantage to social and economic participation.
In addition, the funding provided to the Celebrating Multicultural Queensland program will contribute to creating a diverse and inclusive society.
Additional funding provided to alleviate financial hardship for disadvantaged households over four years is welcome.
However, the budget has missed an opportunity to invest in cheaper and smarter energy initiatives, such as smart energy meters and solar upgrades on social homes across Queensland. QCOSS’ emPower Homes proposal recommended a $215 million investment over 2 years to install energy efficiency upgrades and rooftop solar panels on social housing as an initiative to stimulate jobs and drive down power prices. This initiative has not been funded in this budget.
The budget also has not provided funding to expand financial resilience services for vulnerable Queenslanders, including financial counsellors and the No Interest Loan Scheme staff. This is a serious gap that must be filled since the federal government funding cuts to financial resilience programs. It is noted that the 2020-21 State Budget reflected an investment that should result in 20 new financial resilience workers across Queensland. This initiative is yet to be implemented.
The government has indicated a renewed focus on the collection of debts owned through the State Penalties and Enforcement Registry (SPER) by full payment, rather than by instalment or other arrangement. This is concerning for low-income and disadvantaged households who are disproportionately impacted by fines and penalties that significantly impact financial hardship. Further, the budget does not explicitly provide funding for improved access to the SPER Hardship Partnership Program. This program is required to ensure this revenue base for government is fair.
The announcement that the Skilling Queenslanders for Work program will be permanently funded is a commitment that will support up to 15,000 disadvantaged job seekers to up-skill, re-skill, and gain the necessary qualifications and experience they need, including new programs to build foundational skills in literacy and numeracy.
However, despite the community sector’s contribution to employment in Queensland, there is little focus on community sector jobs. In 2018, community organisations reported employing 119,281 full- and part-time employees and 39,037 casual staff. Healthcare and Social Assistance is the largest employer group in Queensland, and it should be considered a priority sector for government investment, particularly if employment opportunities for women are to be accelerated.
Also, the budget has no mention of programs to help Queenslanders build digital skills. These are not only important skills for securing employment, but increasingly essential for accessing government services. Recent QCOSS research shows that the digital divide is a critical issue for the sector. Implementation of digital innovation without appropriate supports risks exacerbating existing vulnerability and inequality within the community. Targeted programs to enhance the digital capacity and capability of Queenslanders to engage with online processes must accompany digital advances.
The biggest announcement is the establishment of the $300 million Path to Treaty Fund that will generate estimated returns of between $6-12 million per year. The revenue from the fund will be invested into supporting the implementation of Path to Treaty actions. We welcome the Queensland Government’s commitment to the Path to Treaty and the decision to create a mechanism for long-term funding of Path to Treaty actions.
How this expenditure is allocated will depend on options put forward by the Treaty Advancement Committee in their report to government, which is expected to be finalised later this year. QCOSS urges the government to back this promising financial commitment with a strong commitment to adhering to the Committee’s recommendations and implementing their proposals.
The budget makes small investments to continue and expand initiatives under the Youth Justice Strategy, including the Youth Justice Five Point Plan, Conditional Bail Program and Family-led Decision Making Trial. There is also an increase of $4 million over four years for Victim Assist Queensland to provide support to victims of crime and their families.
However, this budget continues to have a disproportionate focus on increased policing, building youth detention centres and establishing electronic monitoring trials to address youth crime. These are punitive measures and will not resolve the underlying issues faced by children engaged in the youth justice system. More investment is needed to address these issues through increased community service supports.
The primary purpose of fines and penalties and their enforcement is to ensure public wellbeing and safety, not as a source of revenue for the state.
While the government provided an additional $74.95 million in the last year’s state budget in the Office of State Revenue’s debt recovery and compliance program, absent from this year’s budget is any mention of the SPER Hardship Partner Program. This program aims to support people in hardship to repay their SPER debts through participation in training and support services. As revenue from fines and forfeitures is less than 1 per cent of the total revenue for the state government, the SPER Hardship Program provides the government with an important opportunity to alleviate and address hardship instead of resorting to punitive debt collection measures.
Gender Responsive Budgeting
A key element of QCOSS’ budget submission was that the Queensland Government introduce gender responsive budgeting.
This would allow Government to assess any unintended consequences that might result from implementing policy measures that inadvertently worsen the gender gap in Queensland.
This paper outlines how gender responsive budgeting can lock in progress towards gender equality.
With more than $2.9 billion committed towards social housing in today’s state budget, we welcome the Queensland Government’s commitment to addressing Queensland’s housing crisis.
“This budget signals a new approach to housing and homelessness in Queensland,” said QCOSS CEO Aimee McVeigh.
“This is the first step we have been calling for and provides opportunities for the community, government and private sector to work together toward solving a previously intractable problem.
“The $2.9 billion investment outlined in the budget will lead to more houses for more Queenslanders sooner. The Government has effectively tripled its investment into social housing over the next four years.”