As we approach the Federal budget, whatever happened to ‘Measuring What Matters’?

Apr 22, 2024
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With the federal budget just over three weeks away, researcher Chelsea Hunnisett has some pointed questions for the Albanese Government, including: what happened to plans for a wellbeing economy, and where is your commitment to intergenerational investment for health and wellbeing? Hunnisett is a Laureate PhD Candidate and Government Relations Specialist in the Planetary Health Equity Hothouse at The Australian National University.

Chelsea Hunnisett writes:

When the Albanese Government was elected in 2022, civil society seemed to sigh a collective breath of relief.

After 10 years of conservatism, it seemed that we may finally have a government who wanted to get ambitious about intergenerational policy – think climate change, First Nations justice and Australia’s diplomatic role in the Asia Pacific. Areas long neglected but crucial to the wellbeing of future generations.

But almost two years later, we must start to ask ourselves – is ‘better than the other guys’ really enough?

This past weekend, Australia’s Treasurer Dr Jim Chalmers, appeared on the ABCs Insiders to reassure the public that taxpayers money – in the cost of living crisis no less – was being put to good use in the upcoming Commonwealth Budget. Treasurer Chalmers spruiked the ‘Future Made in Australia’ plan and affirmed it was ‘obvious’ that the public would get value for money in their latest ‘vague enough to be non-committal’ but ‘sounds exciting enough for us to think things are happening’ plan.

In the second half of their term and in the lead up to budget night on 14 May, it’s not surprising that political spin doctors are creating a brand identity for the ALP’s approach to nation building. And to be fair – it’s not a sin to try to make what is a complex economic policy into a digestible morsel of good ideas. But that’s not what concerned this author most.

What does concern me is that in the PR campaign for this Budget, we still haven’t heard anything on the much lauded ‘Measuring What Matters’ Framework this budget season.

In fact, we haven’t heard much of anything since its last iteration 12 months ago, neither in policy intent nor in policy outcomes.

Shifting the metrics

The Framework – Australia’s approach to the wellbeing economy – promised to “track our progress towards a more healthy, secure, sustainable, cohesive and prosperous Australia” and was hailed as the answer to intergenerational inequity.

The proposal is fairly simple. If we can track the metrics of holistic wellbeing across demographics and throughout the lived experience, we can assess the efficacy of current policy and make the necessary shifts on the complex issues.

With Treasury at the helm of this progressive policy, we were assured that the status quo of an economic system that relies on consumptogenic systems could be moved to an inclusive growth model that can address intergenerational inequity.

Countries around the world are adopting this innovative approach to development, which moves the typical success metrics of government – like infinite economic growth – to more holistic measures connected to the day to day lived experience.

Wales has done this well through the establishment of their ‘Well-being of Future Generations Act’. The Welsh approach describes “a Prosperous Wales as an innovative, productive, and low carbon society which recognises the limits of the global environment and uses resources efficiently and proportionately – emphasising skills, education, and fair work in generating wealth”. Sounds good to me.

Wales also has a Future Generations Commissioner who can use both the carrot and the stick in getting compliance to the goals of the Act. Enforcement too – very promising. (Read more in this 2023 Croakey article.)

So what happened to Australia’s wellbeing economy?

Do better

To be fair to Treasurer Chalmers, it’s been a tough scene. Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and falling iron ore prices, coupled with inflation and a slowing China, make the current economic landscape tricky to manage.

On the other hand, the people of Australia elect our leaders to do the tough jobs.

During his appearance on Insiders, Treasurer Chalmers said the Government is “…prepared to consider the tax system as one of a whole range of levers that may be useful as we pursue a Future Made in Australia and make ourselves that indispensable part of the global net zero economy”.

This simply doesn’t live up to the promise of Measuring What Matters.

In the age of the Anthropocene, where global environmental change resulted in 2023 being the hottest year on record, the Albanese Government is ‘potentially’ going to ‘maybe’ look at the tax system as ‘one of who knows how many levers’ to be a tiny part in the global economy that has to push to some sort of unambitious emissions reduced economy. Please forgive the sarcasm, but this doesn’t sound very reassuring. Utopia anyone?

In a country as rich as Australia, where approximately $11 billion is being spent on tax breaks for fossil fuel industries, surely we can do better than ‘maybe perhaps’ looking at a small part of the consumptogenic system? The evidence clearly shows the links between consumption, excessive exploitation of earth systems, and harms to human health and inequity.

If the current political discourse is anything to go by, our political leaders are still very much stuck in the cycle of getting tough and balancing the budget this year. This approach seeks only to justify short-termism rather than courageous intergenerational change.

Ambition needed

Why can’t we have sensible economic policy that also invests in the future wellbeing of our children? The biggest social benefits – and part of what makes Australia one of the best countries in the world to live – have come from this kind of ambition.

Consider Whitlam’s Medibank (aka Medicare), Hawke’s Superannuation and Turnbull’s Medical Research Future Fund. Where would we be without these intergenerational investments in the health and wellbeing of all people living in Australia?

As we approach the 2024/25 Commonwealth Budget, this author urges the Albanese Government to remember why it was elected, and to honour the privilege that has been bestowed on them by voters around this great country.

In the lead up to this year’s budget, we need to hear about Measuring What Matters and how the Commonwealth is seeking to address intergenerational inequity. On budget night, we need to see budget papers that explicitly and honestly address the Framework, where improvements have been made and what work needs to be done.

As intergenerational inequity continues to worsen, we are relying on you to be ambitious and do what must be done for the wellbeing of current and future generations.

 

Republished from CROAKEY HEALTH MEDIA, April 18, 2024

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