2023 Federal Budget delivers some welcome measures but fails to deliver on ICESCR rights to the maximum of Australia’s available resources.
While the Budget has delivered many positive cost of living measures, more must be done to guarantee greater immediate protections of Australians’ economic and social rights.
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) welcomes the Albanese Government’s commitment to developing a Wellbeing Framework for budget and fiscal policy and the $14.6 billion four-year cost-of-living package included in last night’s Federal budget. However, despite the Treasurer claiming to provide relief for “those doing it toughest”, this Budget does not go far enough in protecting the economic and social rights of the most vulnerable Australians.
Anika Baset, Senior Co-Chair of ALHRs Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee said, “At a time when many Australians, most especially those on low incomes, are facing a cost of living crisis, the protection of economic and social rights has never been more important.”
“As a party to the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Australia has committed to uphold everyone’s right to an adequate standard of living to the maximum of the Government’s available resources. Budget decisions must not carry with them the untenable social or human cost of entrenching increasing inequalities.”
ALHR welcomes the announcement that the Single Parenting Payment will be expanded to single parents whose youngest child is aged 13 or younger.
ALHR applauds the government for abolishing the punitive ParentsNext program. We call on the Government to review and abolish all punitive social security mutual obligations. Punitive approaches to people on welfare cause outcomes that are inconsistent with Australia’s international human rights obligations.
ALHR also welcomes the provision of energy payments to those currently receiving government payments.
However, Ms Baset noted, “While ALHR welcomes the intent behind increases to social security payments, the increases to JobSeeker, Austudy and Youth Allowance are not sufficient to meaningfully deliver for our most vulnerable. JobSeeker has been increased from $690 to $730 a fortnight, for a single person without children. As noted by ACOSS, some of the poorest people in our community – who most need the support of our government – have therefore been given a meagre additional $2.85 more per day, while the Stage 3 Tax Cuts will deliver an additional $25 dollars a day to the wealthiest Australians. This outcome does not, as the Treasurer has suggested, strike the ‘right balance between what we can afford and…the economic pressures in the economy’.”
“Let’s be clear,” said Ms Baset, “this will leave over one million Australians struggling to exist below the poverty line. In practical terms it means living on $365 a week, or $52.14 a day. In 2022, the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) measured the poverty line in Australia to be $469 a week.”
ALHR also took the opportunity to note that Australia’s social security system continues to discriminate against young people. Ms Baset said, “Children and young people are entitled to enjoy human rights on an equal basis with those who are older, yet young Australians on Youth Allowance, who are living away from their parents are expected to exist on just $43.06 per day. The Henderson Poverty Index suggests that income below $87.32 per day places a person in poverty. This not only risks the ICESCR rights of people aged 16-24 on Youth Allowance, for those aged 16 and 17, it also risks violating Australia’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Further, the increases to social security payments appear to have excluded people on the Disability Support Pension (DSP), despite the current rate forcing disabled people, who face significant barriers to work, education and social participation, to live below the poverty line.
“This Budget will therefore continue to deny vulnerable Australians their human right to an adequate standard of living. This is not an acceptable outcome for one of the wealthiest Western liberal democracies in the world,” Ms Baset said.
On housing, Dr Katherine Fallah, ALHR Senior Co-Chair of Economic Social and Cultural Rights said, “ALHR welcomes the Government’s commitment to the creation of public and affordable housing through the investment of $2 billion in the National Housing and Investment Corporation.”
“We also welcome the investment in remote housing for Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory as well as $150 million over four years to support First Nations water infrastructure and $118 million for the National Strategy for Food Security in remote First Nations communities. However, ALHR t notes that a far greater investment is needed in order to Close The Gap and protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ human rights to an adequate standard of living, clean water and the highest attainable standard of health.”
ALHR also welcomes the $300 million allocated to retrofit 60,000 social housing properties as a measure to begin to improve energy efficiency for low-income homes.
“However, we are disappointed at the lack of measures to improve rental affordability for low-income tenants in the short term, given the cost of housing is currently the most significant driver of cost-of-living pressures for low-income households. While ALHR welcomes the modest increase to Rent Assistance it is simply not enough to help Australians struggling to keep a roof over their head,”said Ms Baset.
ALHR welcomes the $4 billion investment in mental health, disability, domestic violence and homelessness services over the next four years, on top of a $560 million payment to community organisations in last year’s budget. ACOSS has said this change will ensure real funding for community organisations doesn’t erode over time, noting it will benefit women in the workforce who dominate the sector.
However, Ms Baset noted that “for this year’s investment in community mental health and disability services to be meaningful, NDIS services must continue to be funded alongside them.”
ALHR welcomes budget measures designed to improve access to healthcare for Australians.
Dr Fallah said, “ALHR applauds the $3.5 billion over five years for increased bulk billing incentives and $98.2 million for new Medicare rebates for patients who require GP consultations of longer than 60 minutes. These measures will help to protect Australians’ ICESCR right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, especially for those with chronic health conditions or complex needs.”
ALHR also welcomes $2.1 billion for new listings on the PBS, $112 million for a new General Practice in Aged Care incentive payment, $50 million for preventative health programs and $91.1 million over two years to establish an Australian Centre for Disease Control.
However, Dr Fallah noted that, “Australians still need policies that go further by addressing the severe health workforce shortages, the wellbeing of our healthcare workers, retention of the workforce and unacceptably long waiting lists for access to health services, particularly for Australians living in remote and rural areas.”
“Further, while an additional $363 million has been allocated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, ALHR is concerned that total funding will still decline in real terms after 2024/2025.”
“Economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to adequate housing, food, water, health, work, social security and education are all too often neglected human rights. We cannot forget that Australia is obliged to progressively realise these rights to the maximum of its available resources. While the 2023-2024 Budget represents a positive step, we need human rights at the heart of the budget, and all Government decision-making.”
“ALHR calls on the Australian Government to do more to protect the human rights of the most economically and socially vulnerable groups in Australia. Human rights should underpin how the federal government utilises its resources. It is our hope that this will be the last federal budget delivered without the guardrails provided by a legislated human rights framework in the form of an Australian Human Rights Act,” Dr Fallah said.
Contact: Matt Mitchell, ALHR media manager 0431 980 365