Post budget blues: crucial omissions

May 22, 2023
Budget 2023 text on wooden blocks in vintage background.

Albo, the socialist, has omitted too many social factors in his first full budget, a year after his election.

In choosing to focus mainly on economic factors, with some adjustments to very real inequitable payments, he is ignoring the problems created by four decades of neoliberal assumptions. This emphasis on the economy over society puts democracy at risk. This can be seen worldwide, where we are seeing the quality of governance decline and very few stable democracies, even the US and UK are wobbling.

The assumptions of the neoliberal market model were that big businesses (many of which are now international), were better able to satisfy voters’ desires as they are characterised as self-interested customers. Here and elsewhere many previously public and community-based services were privatised. The bits of government that valued the social and the people behind ‘the electorate’ were sold off one by one: healthcare, childcare, aged care, transport, roads, housing, prisons. So, the rising distrust levels of voters derives from their concerns about the commercialisation of what had been their public and community services.

The choice of AUKUS as the basis of our future defence problems is expensive, potentially fragile, and worrying. The current Ukraine war and the somewhat odd mix of alliances show how, as international tensions rise, democracies become less stable.

Yes, this is oversimplifying the last four decades, but the evidence of potential serious conflicts internationally adds to anxieties as we see the collapse of too many democracies.

At the same time, our government is failing to address the problems of privatising two clear areas of high-need services that have been shown to be in real trouble – aged care and child care. Rather than signalling that these need to be non-profit services that are part of local communities, or public services, the budget offers extra cash for workers but has no way to ensure that this money won’t just be added to the shareholders’ returns.

Albo’s failure to address privatisations doesn’t bode well for any future social policy strategies. Making moves to return the bulk of community/social services to public and communal management would be an obvious return to the social contract that underpins good societies.

As I write this, the radio discussion is on the use of outside consultants to create policy, rather than the public service. The way in which PWC misused the information it was privy to is just one indicator of the failure of this approach and other such peccadilloes. These are social issues that should enhance trust of the public services and community organisations. It is not fair to use commercial giants that create non-competitive markets to increase their profits!

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