Politics Opinion

Wren's Week: The Federal Budget is just more smirk and mirrors

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Morrison's cronies in the Murdoch press will overlook the criticism received by the 2021 Federal Budget (Image by Dan Jensen)

It’s Budget week and that normally means huge flurries of propaganda from the Government’s tame media outlets.

For a week or so prior, there were numerous strategic leaks by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and others as to its content. It was very clear it was an election year budget. Election year budgets are known for their propensity to fund big-ticket or pet project items that could sway voters and this was no exception.

This year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s deplorable government was rocked by numerous allegations of misogyny, brought about by historical rape allegations against then Attorney-General Christian Porter and the active cover-up of the rape of young staffer Brittany Higgins in the office of then Defence Minister Linda Reynolds just prior to the last election.

Morrison’s Pentecostal faith is also seen as highly misogynistic and, as a result, his inaction on women’s rights and safety issues both in Parliament House and the broader Australian community has had a searing focus. Female press gallery and other journalists have been particularly scathing of Morrison. His support amongst female voters has suffered significantly.

Prior to the budget, Morrison’s cabinet reshuffle in March included almost every female government MP he could find. He also likes to surround himself with these women at press conferences to give the impression he is female-friendly. It’s been largely unsuccessful, not least of which because one of his Cabinet appointees, Queensland Senator Amanda Stoker, is a well-known Christian fundamentalist and anti-abortion activist. She was even pictured this week at a pro-life rally in Brisbane. When Morrison’s Assistant Minister for Women is advocating that women not have control over their own bodies, it does not augur well for success.

The first big “women’s budget” announcement was $1.7 billion towards childcare subsidies for working women (and men, but childcare disproportionately affects women). Like everything the Government does, this needed pulling apart. First off, it won’t kick in until 1 July 2022. It also removed a cap for higher-income families (traditional Liberal voters) meaning those people would be eligible for the subsidies as well. Due to eligibility criteria, the increase in subsidy will also really only apply to one in four families. As usual, all announcement with little actual delivery.

In Labor’s Budget Reply, leader Antony Albanese outlines Labor’s alternative on childcare. Naturally, it is far more generous — a $6.2 billion proposal that will benefit virtually every family with children in Australia.

The second big announcement was housing-related. Australia’s house prices have skyrocketed, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne. The price rises are driven by shortages of housing stock and competition for investment properties by those seeking to negatively gear them for tax minimisation purposes. The great Australian dream of homeownership is becoming more out of reach daily and that particularly affects single parents who are mostly women, often on limited incomes.

As per Liberal ideology, rather than addressing negative gearing, the Budget extends their homebuilder scheme providing a $25,000 subsidy to those building their first home. This will do little to nothing for struggling single parents who will never be in a position to be able to build a house and service the mortgage.

A different part of the package also allows low-income people to buy properties with only a two per cent deposit, the balance being guaranteed by the Government. Analysis has shown that most low-income families will never be able to service a mortgage even if they can save the deposit. Further, such subsidies increase demand on housing stocks, putting further upward pressure on house prices. Again, it’s policy that is marketable to the masses, but really only benefits property investors. More smoke and mirrors.

Labor’s response was a massive investment in social housing. Social housing provides a secure, stable roof over the heads of battlers and single parents. It gives them peace of mind and with that, they can then focus on their careers, education and care for their children. This writer is a very strong advocate for social housing — it is real action that changes peoples’ lives for the better. It is fundamental to Labor ideology. But it’s more than just that. Building 20,000 new social housing properties is a huge boost for the economy. It will provide employment for thousands. It will kill two birds with one stone. It is excellent policy.

And lastly, education. Under nine years of Liberal government, our tertiary education sectors have been savaged. Our once proud TAFE system has been largely destroyed and replaced by a myriad of private training providers. Many offer suspect training at high prices. Many young people are very reticent about investing their money in training that is suspect and qualifications that few recognise.

One of the biggest catastrophes has been in apprenticeships. There are now 140,000 fewer apprenticeships on offer to school leavers than when the Liberals took power. Where are our future plumbers, sparkies, builders and hairdressers going to come from?

Frydenberg has extended his JobTrainer subsidy on training packages and further subsidies for apprentices. But the question must be asked — why aren’t employers offering apprenticeships at the rate they once were? There is a business confidence issue and support training issue (the lack of TAFEs as mentioned above). Any government subsidies offered now are too little, too late. The infrastructure that once supported apprentices has been dismantled.

Labor’s approach is a massive investment in green technologies such as rooftop solar and green hydrogen. This investment will create jobs and apprenticeships coupled with a massive reinvestment in TAFEs to give both employers and trainees the confidence to back their apprenticeships with recognised government-guaranteed training.

So there we have it — an election shaping up core party ideologies. Labor’s home territory has always been healthcare, education and secure housing, while the Liberals seek to degrade Medicare and privatise education and housing. Most people have not been fooled by the so-called women’s Budget. As is Morrison’s true form, it’s just more smirk and mirrors — but watch the Murdoch press leap to his aid with endless propaganda.

And debt and deficit? Don’t get me started on that hypocrisy.

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