This is a budget that has a hole in its heart

Read ACOSS Briefing Note, May 2024: Impact of major Budget cost-of-living measures on different households | View ACOSS budget analysis slides: ACOSS address, Post Budget Event, May 2024

The government has correctly identified a set of serious challenges: a slowing economy, rising unemployment, falling spending power, a housing crisis and a climate crisis.

This is a budget that has diagnosed the right problems but has failed to deliver the solutions we need.

There are some positive measures, including investments in Services Australia, the Remote Jobs Program, positive signals on employment services reform, a very modest rent assistance increase worth up to $9 a week for a single person, as well as additional investment in key services including homelessness, Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and emergency relief.

However, there is a gaping hole at the heart of this budget.

At a time when unemployment is being deliberately increased to curb inflation, the government is deliberately and cruelly denying people receiving unemployment payments decent income support.

This budget will deliver eyewatering tax cuts to the wealthiest people in the country and, at the same time, it cruelly denies the increase in income support that over one million people struggling to survive on JobSeeker and Youth Allowance desperately need.

The $300 energy rebate will be the only cash support the majority of people on JobSeeker and Youth Allowance will receive. Extending it to everyone – regardless of income – is extraordinarily wasteful. It does not target support to people most in need.

The budget’s investments in renewable energy are welcome and critical if we are to address the climate crisis. However, we also needed to see similar investment to support people on the lowest incomes to transition to renewables, including having rooftop solar on their homes. People on the lowest incomes are worst affected by the climate crisis but have the least resources to manage the transition.

The modest Commonwealth Rent Assistance increase builds on last year’s rise, giving a single person an extra $9.40 a week if they’re receiving the maximum rate. Based on median rents, private renters receiving JobSeeker or Youth Allowance will still be in deep housing stress because their base rate of payment is so low. Even with the increase, they will be paying half of their income in rent alone.

ACOSS welcomes the Remote Jobs Program, which delivers $777m over five years to create 3,000 jobs. People in remote areas are at highest risk of unemployment and this is a welcome step to improving employment opportunities. Disappointingly, Remote Area Allowance was not increased in this budget, despite having stayed the same rate for more than 20 years.

The extension of the higher rate of JobSeeker for people who cannot work more than 0 to 14 hours will support 4,700 people – not even half a percent of the more than one million people receiving JobSeeker and related payments unable to afford food.

People on the lowest incomes expected and deserved much more in this Budget.

ACOSS welcomes the adjustments to the Carer Payment – this will make it easier for carers to engage in paid work, without fear of their payment being cancelled. ACOSS also welcomes the $600m per year over three years for frontline staff at Services Australia to reduce the backlog of claims. Services Australia needs investment to improve service delivery so that people are not waiting months for payment claims to come through.

The government has failed to take the bold action required to address the housing crisis, effectively maintaining current inadequate funding levels for the National Agreement for another five years when there is huge demand for social housing. We welcome the additional funding for homelessness services and community housing, but ultimately many people will still be without an affordable home after this budget.

This budget was an opportunity for the government to take bold action to address the serious issues the country faces. While it has identified these challenges, its actions fall well short of delivering solutions.