When a magician wants to distract the audience’s attention away from their sleight of hand, they create something showy to grab their attention. They create a ‘look over here’ moment, so you don’t notice the trickery. This is a distraction budget.
It is designed to look like it’s fixing a growing list of problems, but the ‘fix’ is only political. It is designed to distract from the fact that nothing substantial is being done.
The federal government has been neglecting a growing list of real problems. Problems in aged care. Problems with gender inequality. Problems in disability care. And that’s before you get to the problems the government isn’t even pretending to fix like climate change, wages growth, inequality and rising poverty.
To fix these problems the government could knuckle down, take advice from the Royal Commissions and other experts, and get on with the hard task of reform. Or they could throw small amounts of money at as many problems as possible and hope that people don’t notice that nothing is shifting in the long run.
The Morrison Government has unfortunately gone with the latter. These policy performances are everywhere. Let’s look at a few examples.
The women’s safety package loudly announces spending of just under a billion dollars over the next four years. That’s an average of $250 million per year. But how much of that funding is designed for the long haul? How much of it is sustained? In the year after the four years of the budget forward estimates funding falls to $2.3 million. You read that right. A 99% reduction from an average of $250 million a year to just $2.3 million.
Maybe the government thinks that the women’s safety crisis will be solved in four years. Or maybe it is hoping by the time the funding runs out, the pressure for action will subside.
The government has also trumpeted $148 million over five years for women’s health. But digging into the fine print only $32.9 million is new money. And how sustainable in the long run is it? Only $4.2 million committed in the year after the forward estimates. More smoke and mirrors.
But if there was ever a metaphor for the government’s commitment to gender equality it is its funding for the Office for Women. The Office for Women is the part of Commonwealth Government tasked with advancing gender equality. With women’s economic security, safety and health the supposed focus of the budget, you would imagine it would be in for a big funding boost. After, all Prime Minister Morrison recently announced three new ministers for women, and even suggested we have a new Prime Minister for Women.
What has happened to the budget for the Office for Women? Funding for the office of women will halve over the next four years.
Aged care is an area that the Royal Commission identified as in desperate need of reform. It looks like a big winner from the budget. It will get an additional funding of $17.7 billion over five years. Sounds impressive, but the bare minimum identified by the Commission to fix the problems in aged care was $10 billion a year or $50 billion over five years. The additional funding is only about a third of the bare minimum required. How will this solve the problem? The answer is it won’t. But the announced funding sure looks like a large amount of money.
Fixing problems is called reform and this budget is big on distraction and short on real reform.
At its heart it’s a lazy budget. It does not attempt reform; it only tries to distract. It is a budget of cheap magic tricks. A bit of razzle dazzle, “look over there” and “now will you please look happy and amazed when I pull this funding out of my hat?”
If you really want to solve a problem, you fund it properly and you commit to the long haul. Avoiding reform will only deepen the mounting economic, political, environmental, and social crises gathering frightening momentum in Australia