This is a 3½ “lamingtons” out of five budget for our sector, using a measure we’ve invented to recognise all the community organisations relying on fêtes and fundraisers to survive.
"Tentative efforts lead to tentative outcomes"
– Epictetus (Roman slave who became a Stoic philosopher)
Our assessment is that this budget passes – and takes some important steps in the right direction – but it is not a bold or assertive budget, and lacks significant and sustained investment in programs and services that could make a real difference to charities, not-for-profits, and the communities they serve.
It is a well-constructed budget, delivering a surplus that will help pay down our pandemic debt, but also offering targeted cost of living relief and many initiatives supportive of the broader communities sector.
But the weakness in this budget is that the level of support is limited and spread relatively thinly. We see this in the Jobseeker increases – less than $3 a day – and in the rent assistance increase of 15%, but we also see it in programs that are important for charities and not-for-profits.
Take for instance this announcement:
“The Government will deliver a $199.8 million integrated package to address entrenched and concentrated community disadvantage.”
It promises to allocate the funds from 2023–24 with “place-based approaches”, engaging with philanthropy and promoting social impact investment.
It sounds like a lot of money, but when we break that down year by year, we are talking about small amounts being spread over a six-year period.
These details from the Department of Social Services budget statements spell out the actual breakdown:
- $100 million over five years from 2024–25 to establish a social impact investment Outcomes Fund to make contractual payments to states, territories and service providers based on delivering agreed, measurable outcomes through specific projects
- $64 million over six years from 2023–24 to extend the Stronger Places, Stronger People program to deliver place-based initiatives in partnership with 10 local communities and state and territory governments to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children and their families, and to enhance place-based initiatives in six of these communities
- $16.4 million over four years from 2023–24 to the Australian Bureau of Statistics to implement the Life Course Data Initiative to capture data insights to inform long term policy responses aimed at interrupting cycles of intergenerational disadvantage
- $11.6 million over three years from 2023–24 for a Social Enterprise Development Initiative to provide grants, online education and mentoring for eligible organisations to build capability to access capital, better participate in the social impact investing market and support improved social outcomes
- $7.8 million over two years from 2023–24 to develop a whole-of-government Framework to Address Community Disadvantage that will identify strategic objectives and key principles to guide how the Commonwealth will work in partnership with communities to enable them to build their capability to address cycles of disadvantage.
We’re also pleased to see the continuing support for the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee, which was established to advise the government about ways to best tackle disadvantage, and which lodged its first report before this budget.
It wins $8.7 million over four years from 2023–24 (and $2.2 million per year ongoing) for secretariat and research support.
The Community Council for Australia is supportive of all these initiatives, but they are relatively tentative steps rather than significant investments that could have a sustainable impact across Australia.
These initiatives will, in all probability, create lighthouse projects that will do good for a time, but how sustainable are they, and how many more of these initiatives are needed to drive real reform across multiple systems in multiple communities?
Similar comments could be made about government initiatives in many areas that are important to charities and community groups. The intent is good, but the scale of investment is low in areas including the arts, community education, energy transition, aged care, childcare, disaster preparedness, domestic violence, cybersecurity, environmental protection, rent assistance, social security payments, targeted cost of living relief, access to medicines and Medicare, NDIS improvements, international development and gambling reform.
This budget now has Australia facing in the right direction, but real challenges lie ahead. To move forward and occupy the space between us and the horizon will require significantly more investment in building the kind of Australia we want to live in.