The Albanese Government handed down its second budget this week following its election last year.
There has been a lot of fanfare in the media about what would be in the Federal Budget. As usual there were some well-placed leaks about important measures like the increase in wages for aged care workers and changes to superannuation.
Now it’s time to consider the Federal Budget and what it means to members.
There were many items in the Budget that make a significant difference and provide important steps for further action in the future in key areas. The Albanese Government has taken steps towards delivering on its mandate to “get wages moving” for working people and to provide cost-of-living relief.
Cost of living was a centrepiece of the Federal Budget with the Albanese Government focussing the Budget’s efforts on targeted measures.
There was a lot of optimism about wage growth and expected future wage growth. There remain concerns that there could have an inflationary effect should Australian workers see further wage increase, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia.
However, there is plenty of evidence to dispel such concerns with economic modelling indicating there is no risk of an inflationary effect from increasing wages further, and more of risk from corporate profits increasing.
Real wages have fallen for the past two years, and while tonight’s budget predicts real wage growth by early next year, there is a long way to go for workers’ real wages to recover fully from the past decade of neglect, and deliberate economic policy to keep wages and wages growth low.
But there is also an urgent need for action to deliver more secure jobs, stamp out wage theft and close loopholes that allow employers to drive down wages.
There are some significant investments in addressing and ending violence against women and girls. Funding has also been allocated to further improve women’s participation in male-dominated industries along with increases to single parent payments.
The Union supports the Government’s work on progressing gender equality through extending the single parent payment and lifting aged care workers’ wages.
There are additional important measures included in the Budget to address violence against women and girls, with funding to address sexual violence and improving child support and making childcare more affordable.
However, we know that more action is needed to properly value women’s work, pay superannuation on paid parental leave and remove the activity test for childcare.
We support important measures to alleviate cost-of-living pressures, including energy bill rebates, cheaper medicines and the significant investment in Medicare that expands access to free healthcare.
Increasing access to Medicare and lifting the bulk-billing rate means lower paid and vulnerable Australians can access free healthcare, with the long-term impact of reducing the strain on our public hospitals’ emergency departments.
Increases to JobSeeker and rent assistance are a start, but more is needed to lift people out of poverty including making further increases to JobSeeker and considering a national freeze on rent increases.
It is pleasing to see the government taking action to address housing affordability to further alleviate cost of living pressures.
However, we know more work needs to be done to increase the social and public housing stock and ensure that there are long-term options for people needing housing and support.
The Union backs the establishment of the National Net Zero Authority to support workers and communities affected by the move to a net-zero economy.
There is also funding directed towards addressing transport emissions, develop a climate adaptation plan, transitioning to net zero that includes support for workers in key industries, addressing household energy performance, and delivering energy bill relief.
One of the areas that isn’t often spoken about is the resources sector, and the imbalance in profits gained by huge multinational corporations and the taxes they pay.
The Union welcomes the government’s efforts to ensure companies that profit from selling Australia’s resources and multinationals pay their fair share of tax.
Changes to superannuation, which were already announced, to make sure payments are paid on payday will mean greater certainty for workers about their superannuation payments. It’ll make it easier to track payments and help cut the amount of superannuation workers lose each year to what is effectively superannuation theft.
Another area of the budget that has not received the attention it deserves are the changes in migration with the Government funding changes to improve pathways to permanency for Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) (subclass 482) visa holders and visa changes for graduates and students.
These changes are expected to help further address workforce shortages across critical industries including health care in the short term while providing steps to deliver better outcomes over the long term.
As can be expected the Budget included funding to undertake further reform of Australia’s industrial relations system.
The Budget provides funding for a review of modern awards and support for the Fair Work Commission to conduct a targeted review of modern awards.
The review will consider whether modern awards provide a fair and relevant safety net in the context of the new job security and gender equality objects in the Fair Work Act 2009, and the updated modern awards and minimum wages objectives.
The review will also include research on the impact of modern awards on work and care.
The Budget provides $79.4 million over 4 years from 2023–24 to support Primary Health Networks to commission allied health services to improve access to multidisciplinary care for people with chronic conditions in underserviced communities.
This will see a potential increase in demand for Dietitians and Audiologists over the coming years, highlighting again the need for further efforts to encourage people to take up these careers. It’ll be important to ensure that there are measures to address existing Allied Health workforce shortages.
Funding has also been allocated to further increase access to mental healthcare and address the shortage of psychologists in the mental health system. The Government will provide $556.2 million over 5 years from 2022–23 (and $36.0 million ongoing) to strengthen Australia’s mental health and suicide prevention system.
The budget allocates $91.3 million over 5 years from 2022–23 for additional psychology placements, including 500 psychology post-graduate placements, 500 one-year internships, and 2,000 supervisor training sessions (1,000 of which will be refresher places), and a redesign of psychology higher education pathways.
This funding acknowledges there is a significant need to boost the mental healthcare workforce, especially for psychologists. While more funding needs to be allocated to further improve mental health care access, the Budget provides further steps in the right direction.
The additional funding also acknowledges the ever-increasing mental health needs of Australians, and the very real impacts of issues like the recent bush fires, the COVID-19 pandemic and threats like climate change have had on our collective mental health.
However, there remain concerns about the reduction in the number of subsidised psychologist sessions and the potential impact this will have on those seeking out mental health care.
The Union will monitor the proposed redesign of higher education pathways and the potential impacts it may have for members. We will also monitor the roll out of funding programs in Allied Health, especially as they relate to potential changes in workloads and workforce in the Public, Community and Private sectors.
In a couple weeks the Victorian State Budget will be handed down, and we will provide members a breakdown of the key elements of interest for our disciplines and the state’s healthcare system; and how they may impact members.