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A Budget that balances obligations and assistance for disadvantaged Australians

10 May 2011

‘Today’s Federal Budget has taken the initial steps of establishing a new welfare morality for our nation which is long overdue’, said Tony Nicholson, Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

‘As our labour market tightens and with the prospect of good economic growth,  the Government has recognized that now is the time to recast our understanding of rights and obligations in welfare to ensure all Australians are provided with the incentives and the capabilities to participate in the mainstream economic and social life of the nation.

 ‘At long last we see policy initiatives that recognise that the most disadvantaged in our community have modest mainstream aspirations and that they won’t shy from increased obligations in welfare if they are matched with more and better assistance.

‘This is the test of the new welfare morality: that increased obligations are commensurate with the additional assistance on offer. It’s a test that the welfare initiatives in the Budget pass.

‘The new obligations on sole parents, teenage mums, youth and the disabled are matched with appropriate financial incentives to take on work and additional investments to improve their literacy and numeracy and vocational skills. My experience suggests if implemented sensitively, most will relish the additional support.

‘The measures to bring into line with others the expectations on recipients of the supporting parent benefit who were previously exempted to look for work until their youngest child is sixteen years, is long overdue and provide a realistic lead time for these parents to prepare for moving back into work.

‘The implementation of these sound policies will be critical to their success. In a break from “Canberra knows best”, I’m encouraged to see that a number recognize that in communities of concentrated disadvantage, the implementation will have the capacity to be tailored to suit local circumstances, and that local people, with local knowledge, will have a say in this.

‘More broadly, much of the implementation of the Budget’s welfare initiatives falls to Centrelink and Jobs Service Australia. It will be critically important that their performance in implementation is monitored closely.

 ‘Many Australians find themselves excluded from the mainstream by dent of poor mental health. For them, the new investments in mental health prevention and treatment are critically important. People who experience both poor mental health and homelessness stand to particularly benefit from the increased funding to Headspace, the Personal Helpers and Mentors program, and the initiatives that integrate housing and mental health assistance.

‘With its funding of Saver Plus, the innovative matched savings scheme for low-income families, the Government has signaled its support for forms of assistance that build the capacities of the disadvantaged to manage their finances. Delivered by the Brotherhood of St Laurence in partnership with ANZ and community organisations, Saver Plus is a matched saving and financial education program which boosts savings habits of low-income families, helping them better weather financial difficulty such as unexpected expenses or a sudden loss of income. The Budget’s commitment to Saver Plus means that personal support and savings incentives will be available in 60 communities in every state and territory, reaching up to 10,000 people over the next 4 years.” Mr Nicholson said.

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