Australian not-for-profits and charities are expected to do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to doing good, and were watching carefully as Treasurer Jim Chalmers brought down his second budget. Working with charity peak body the Community Council for Australia, we asked sector leaders how their organisations will be affected.
Read the Our Community Matters special 2023 budget edition here.
A 'tentatively good’ budget for not-for-profits and charities
Australia’s charity peak body has described the budget as a “3½ lamingtons out of 5” budget for the sector, using an invented measure to recognise community organisations relying on fêtes and fundraisers to survive.
Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie awarded the government the pass mark for taking “important steps in the right direction”, but he believed the budget lacked “significant and sustained investment in programs and services that could make a real difference to charities, not-for-profits, and the communities they serve”.
The intent was good, he said, but the scale of investment was 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,”Mr Crosbie said
Govt promises to tackle disadvantage
The minister in charge of charities, Andrew Leigh, hailed the budget as one that would “build a stronger community”.
Dr Leigh said the budget would “bring together government support with philanthropic funding in disadvantaged communities to break entrenched cycles of disadvantage”, a key plank that would assist not-for-profits.
“This builds on successful grassroots initiatives that have reduced First Nations stillbirths in Logan, boosted school completion rates in Burnie, cut summer crime rates in Bourke and created a new aged care and early childhood centre in Mildura.
“Another opportunity for collaboration comes through our new evaluation unit, to be created in Treasury with the aim of better measuring what works. While the primary goal of the unit will be to improve government policies, we’re excited by the chance of working with charities and non-profits to build a better feedback loop.”
Rising above the poverty line
A raft of initiatives ranging from critical support for single parents to boosting the wages of aged care workers revealed in the federal budget have been welcomed by peak advocacy organisation the Australian Council of Social Service.
- restoring the parenting payment for 57,000 single parents whose youngest child is 13 or younger
- establishment of a Net Zero Authority to oversee the transition to a clean economy
- an investment in Medicare to boost bulk-billed GP consultations
- doubling medication available under one script, a move which will greatly help people on low incomes with chronic illness
- a $300 million investment to retrofit 60,000 social housing dwellings as a first step towards improving energy efficiency for low-income homes
- up to $500 in energy bill relief for consumers hit hard by cost-of-living pressures.
Among the budget sunshine however, ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie highlighted the failure to sufficiently increase the Jobseeker payment as a dark cloud that must be fixed.
“The real increases to base rates of JobSeeker, youth allowance and rent assistance will still leave more than one million people in poverty, unable to afford three meals a day and a roof over their head,” said Ms Goldie.
“Whilst every dollar counts, the $20 a week increase to JobSeeker and related payments is well below the Economic Inclusion Advisory Committee’s finding that it needs to rise by at least $128 a week to ensure people can cover the basics.”
Ms Goldie praised the $4 billion in the budget to support organisations, including community sector organisations, to fund wage increases, higher service delivery costs and increased demand.
“We look forward to working with government to ensure the community sector is sufficiently covered and funded to provide essential services.”
She also stressed there is still much work to be done.
“This budget takes some important steps forward on many fronts, but a bolder vision is needed to adequately fund health, aged care, income support and other essential services, as well as invest in an adequate safety net and reforms to fairly and inclusively accelerate action on climate change.”
Millions are still stuck in poverty
One of Australia’s largest charitable networks, Anglicare, said the government still has a lot of work to do to lift people out of poverty and help make housing affordable.
Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said the job won’t be done until people on JobSeeker and other Centrelink payments are lifted out of poverty.
“JobSeeker and other Centrelink payments will still lag the poverty line by hundreds of dollars, with small increases being dwarfed by rent rises. Using data from Anglicare Australia’s Rental Affordability Snapshot, we have found that the new rate of JobSeeker will still lock people out of almost all rental listings. Just five rentals (0%) would be affordable out of 46,000 listings across the country.
“The government has made some promising steps tonight. But until it commits to lifting people on the lowest incomes out of poverty, these steps will be sabotaged before they can make a difference.”
Volunteer army’s essential work goes unrecognised
Volunteering Australia believes the budget has done precious little to assist the country’s vast volunteer army, just a week before National Volunteering Week (15–21 May).
“We cannot ignore the long reach of the cost-of-living crisis on volunteers and volunteering, and the impact it is having on the social fabric of society. Our research shows that financial pressures are a barrier to volunteering. People are motivated to volunteer but are finding it too costly to participate.”
He said research revealed financial pressures to be a significant barrier to volunteering, especially among younger people, and showed that 54% of volunteers incurred out-of-pocket expenses as part of their role. Organisations involving volunteers were under significant financial strain.
Volunteering Australia’s pre-budget submission had unsuccessfully called for a new partnership fund and a cost-of-living package to help smaller organisations survive.
“The work that volunteers do is not a ‘nice to have’; it is essential work that supports our schools and hospitals, our aged care and disability services, and our ability to support the community in times of crisis,” Mr Pearce said.
“As the National Strategy for Volunteering shows, it requires deliberate and ongoing strategic investment underpinned by adequate resourcing. We cannot afford to ignore the impact that the cost-of-living crisis is having on volunteering.”
Greater transparency flagged for charity regulation
The charity regulator will increase disclosures about its investigations and decisions following a $2.9 million funding boost over the next four years.
The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) will continue to receive $600,000 annually after that, to assist with the new reporting measures.
The budget papers state that the funds will "enhance transparency and accountability in the charity sector.”
Currently, it's rare for the charity regulator to reveal details of investigations, such as the March revelation that it was investigating concerns about the Hillsong Church.
ACNC commissioner Sue Woodward said the reform would enhance trust and confidence in the charity sector, although it appears the regular will not be naming and shaming perpetrators.
"This will help us be a more effective regulator. It will involve the ACNC publishing de-identified reasons for decisions to accept or refuse applications for registration of charities where these reasons are of educational benefit to the wider charity sector," Ms Woodward said.
More help for children is needed
Save The Children is among the many social sector organisations that have welcomed budget measures to tackle disadvantage, but it argued that more targeted support for children was still needed.
Save the Children CEO Mat Tinkler said, “While this budget will provide welcome support for families facing the brunt of the cost-of-living crisis, it has fallen short of delivering the tailored support children need to build back their resilience following years of compounding crises.”
The organisation welcomed the $590 million push to reduce family violence, but the organisation was disappointed at the lack of significant new funding to address the youth mental health crisis or address education needs, which could have significant long-term consequences for children.
Mr Tinkler acknowledged the work the government had done to rebuild foreign aid since taking office but said that overall humanitarian funding “remained stagnant”.
“While the commitment to increase foreign aid is welcome, it doesn’t reflect the extraordinary and growing needs of children in the region and beyond,” he said.
The organisation backed the provision of nearly $200 million to promote philanthropy and social impact investment to address disadvantage.
We need to build on this housing support
The national peak body for low-income households said it’s time the government raised its sights “to address the root causes of the housing and cost-of-living crises”.
National Shelter CEO Emma Greenhalgh said, "This budget as a whole package could support people living on low incomes trying to make ends meet in this cost-of-living crisis, but we're still waiting for bold reforms that could address the core problems in our housing system.”
"Increasing Commonwealth rent assistance shows that the government has recognised that renters are doing it tough at the moment. Providing rebates for electricity bills, increasing the number of bulk billing healthcare providers and modest increases to income support are all measures that put money back into the hands of those who need it the most and are in immediate crisis.
"These measures are a positive sign that the Government knows people are dealing with multiple crises. But these only deal with the symptoms of the housing crisis.
"We need bold and ambitious solutions to address this problem that will not go away by tinkering at the edges with a mixed bag of small measures. It's positive that these measures will help those who need it the most, but in order to truly end the crisis, it's time to see bold reforms.”
Tap the video above to hear the Commonwealth Bank's chief economist Stephen Halmarick, speaking with senior economist Belinda Allen discuss the impact to the NFP Sector from the May 2023 Federal Budget.
Small steps, right direction
While acknowledging the Federal Government's efforts to address the needs of Australians in need, Mission Australia CEO Sharon Callister said the budget doesn’t go far enough.
She said the failure to address poverty by making “substantial” increases to Jobseeker and other income support payments was particularly disappointing.
Ms Callister highlighted the lack of any new “initiative of scale” to respond to the current housing emergency, saying it meant more Australians were at risk of being pushed into homelessness across the country.
“The government’s efforts on housing for low-income earners remain sensible measures that will see some more social housing eventually, but nothing by way of immediate relief for people without safe and affordable homes,” Ms Callister said.
On a more positive note, Ms Callister called out the Federal Government’s commitment to injecting $732.9 million into the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and more than $200 million to scale up place-based community-led work aimed at strengthening communities.
“The $200 million investment is vital for addressing persistent, localised disadvantaged and supporting communities to thrive,” she said.
Unpaid carers need more help: peak
The national peak body representing Australia’s unpaid carers has supported the budget’s focus on healthcare and relieving cost-of-living pressures, but it has urged the Albanese government not to abandon the nation’s many unpaid carers.
Carers Australia CEO Alison Brook described the nation’s 2.65 million carers as an “integral part of Australia’s health, mental health, aged care, disability and social services system”.
Ms Brook said carers saved the economy more than $77 billion annually and should be given greater support.
“Disappointingly, the budget did not include funding for a new National Carers Strategy, which the Albanese government committed to developing during its first term of government,” Ms Brook said.
“We need clear leadership from the government and a clear awareness of the diversity of caring relationships, the diversity of carers and the diversity of people being cared for.”
Carers Australia called for more assistance with the cost of living, disability support, the NDIS, Medicare and aged care.
Disability groups hail commitment to NDIS
The disability sector has welcomed Jim Chalmers’ budget night promise that “the NDIS is here to stay”.
People with Disability Australia (PWDA) echoed calls from other groups that the government had much more do on housing and economic security measures to “bring comfort to the disability community”.
PWDA president Nicole Lee said, "Following recent concerns, we're buoyed that the 8% growth target for the NDIS is a target and not a cap, and that the NDIS will remain demand driven.”
"However, it is important that the community is given an ongoing commitment that their choice and control over access to essential supports is protected.
"People with disability fought hard for essential supports from the NDIS. To maintain and build stronger trust, it's crucial the government delivers essential supports in a demand driven way," she said.
Animal welfare not forgotten in budget
Animal advocates have welcomed funding for animal welfare issues, which the RSPCA described as long overdue.
Funding includes $5 million for an Australian Animal Welfare Strategy and another $5.6 million to phase out live sheep exports, with hopes that battery cages for layer hens will also be stopped.
“Ending practices like these is among the significant and sorely needed steps we need to take to raise Australian animal welfare standards, protect Australia’s international reputation and ensure animal welfare is included as an important part of sustainable agriculture,” said RSPCA Australia CEO Richard Mussell.
And our vote for the worst budget campaign by a not-for-profit …
Our Community group managing director Denis Moriarty has lauded cuts to the cost of medicines but said they hadn’t come without a fight.
“We’re pleased to see significant measures to assist the community with the cost of living, support for community groups, and tackling significant national issues that not-for-profits care about such as climate change, community resilience and help for First Nations groups.
“But I think the low-light of not-for-profit commentary in the lead-up to the budget has been the activities of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia with its aggressive and misleading campaign against the reforms to the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.
“I support responsible advocacy for their members, as is the right of all not-for-profits, but their approach has just caused angst and confusion among people they’re supposed to be helping.”
Australia on the road to energy superpower
This year’s federal budget is an investment in Australia’s potential transition into a renewable energy superpower, according to one of the nation’s leading environmental groups.
WWF Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman said the government's commitment to funding a National Net Zero Authority combined with new investments in renewable energy exports laid the foundations for turning an opportunity into reality.
“The Authority will have a critical role to play in ensuring that Australia’s shift to renewables is fast, best and just,” said Mr O’Gorman.
“We were pleased to see the government recognise that climate change is the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of our Pacific neighbours, and commit to doing more to tackle this crisis.”
In a budget negative, Mr O’Gorman lamented the missed opportunity represented by the treasurer’s document falling short in delivering the funding needed to halt the decline of Australia’s threatened species.
“This government can lead a regenerative agenda for Australia and play a leadership role in the world, but it needs to deliver ‘nature positive’ federal budgets that place the environment at the heart of our economy.”
The good, the bad and the timid
The announcement of a $2 billion clean energy hydrogen program, funding for climate adaptation and disaster relief and higher taxes for offshore gas companies has been welcomed by the Australian Conservation Foundation.
Describing this year’s budget as “the good, the bad and the timid,” the national environment group’s CEO, Kelly O’Shanassy, said the Albanese government was making good, solid investments in the clean energy revolution with funds to build transmission infrastructure, attract clean capital to Australia and help workers through the energy transition.
Ms O’Shanassy said making offshore gas companies pay more tax was a step in the right direction, but further changes were needed so Australians could get a fair share of the gas industry’s windfall profits.
“The investment in energy efficient homes is smart because it eases cost-of-living pressures for households every single month,” she said.
The ACF was disappointed that spending on initiatives such as protection and conservation of the environment and pollution abatement was projected to decrease in the years ahead.
“Experts say $2 billion a year is needed to restore Australia’s degraded ecosystems and help threatened species recover, but this budget acts like the biodiversity crisis isn’t a real crisis,” Ms O’Shanassy said.
Budget spotlight on poverty and disadvantage
This year’s budget is only the start if Australia is serious about making poverty reduction a greater national priority, according to social justice organisation Brotherhood of St Laurence.
While welcoming the Federal Government’s “strategic shift” towards improving the lives of those experiencing poverty and disadvantage, executive director Travers McLeod said that for a nation as wealthy as Australia, the measures are long overdue.
“The Federal Government has shown they are prepared to tackle critical issues impacting low-income households in Australia and to make investments to grow economic and social inclusion and capability across the country,” he said.
Mr Travers singled out moves to lift Jobseeker and related payments, increase rent assistance, alleviate energy price pain, reduce costs for healthcare and medicine, and support the education and care workforce as positive steps.
He said ending the “punitive” ParentsNext program and extending the single parenting payment to age 14 will be transformational for single parents and their children, especially women.
“Many of the investments made in the federal budget will be life-changing, if not lifesaving.”
Cold comfort for refugee and migrant service workers
New funding in the federal budget will offer life support for community services working at the frontline of the nation’s cost-of-living crisis.
On the downside, however, a key group of workers providing settlement services to newly arrived refugees and migrants have missed out, according to the CEO of Settlement Services International, Violet Roumeliotis.
While welcoming an overall $4 billion funding injection over four years to boost the wages of community service workers – the heart and engine room of services to support marginalised people and communities in Australia – Ms Roumeliotis said settlement service organisations were under immense pressure.
“Acute funding pressures threaten to undermine the entire settlement system on which the government relies to deliver the migration outcomes it so often talks about, from skilled employment to social cohesion.
“In the spirit of a fair go, the government should be providing support across the board to community service organisations who are dealing with the same wage and cost pressures, rather than selectively excluding some sectors.”
Peak supports more foreign aid
The peak body for non-government organisations involved in international development and humanitarian aid has welcomed moves to improve aid, describing them as “responsible and sustainable”.
While it said there were just modest increases in this budget, the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) noted the commitment to increase spending by 2.5% annually from 2026.
“The government’s stabilisation of the aid program has come not a moment too soon. Australia has descended to nearly the bottom of the OECD donor ladder over the last few years. And will continue to do so unless there are substantial investments in future budgets,”ACFID CEO Marc Purcell said.
ACFID was also happy to see increased funding for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and a growing commitment to “working with civil society across the region”.
Where’s the proof this budget will work?
Our Community’s chief impact officer, Jen Riley, said she was disappointed that the latest budget made no mention of a previous commitment to measuring the wellbeing of the community.
She said that in the October budget last year, Treasurer Jim Chalmers committed to “measuring what matters”, to “better understand our economy and society and improve the lives of all Australians”.
She said despite the 164 submissions given to the government and the call for further consultation, “there appears to be no mention in the current budget or allocation of funds to implement this approach”.
She said the $10 million allocated to create a new evaluation unit in the Treasury department was “a great investment in internal capacity and for saving on consultants’ fees”, but she a great deal more investment was needed for “a comprehensive system and process for collecting and reporting on the long overdue wellbeing measures.”
Budget could be a jobs boost for women
A Melbourne not-for-profit that aims to help women overcome disadvantage in the jobs market has welcomed a budget that “recognises gender equality as a critical component in advancing Australia’s economic recovery”.
Fitted for Work interim CEO Amanda Carlile said demand for its Melbourne-based services had doubled this year as more women struggled to keep up with cost-of-living pressures.
She said budget measures to increase welfare support, reforms to the age cut-off for parenting payments, and support for the early childhood education workforce were all welcome, while her organisation was also pleased to see a $589.3 million strategy to end violence against women.
“We believe employment is the greatest form of economic empowerment [and] increasing women’s workforce participation leads to better living standards for individuals and families, and is a significant driver of national economic growth.”
Good news for those struggling with low literacy
A Federal Government commitment to allocate more than $436 million over four years for a revamped Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) program has been welcomed by Community Colleges Australia.
CCA CEO Don Perlgut says the cash injection is great news for the 20 per cent of adult Australians – rising to 40 per cent of First Nations adults – struggling with low literacy levels.
He said the Canberra package includes a significant change that removes access barriers and means participants will no longer have to be registered jobseekers.
Mr Perlgut also praised the budget’s mix of national and local solutions aimed at improving access and delivery of literacy.
“If this funding and program redesign is properly combined with the budget’s commitment to addressing entrenched disadvantage in communities through ‘better use [of] place‑based approaches to target disadvantage and to support a greater ability for communities to make decisions reflecting their needs,’ we are likely to see significant success.”
Healthy budget for consumers
Key health reforms outlined in the federal budget have been welcomed by the nation’s peak body for health consumers.
The Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF) said the initiatives would go a long way to granting Australians greater access to affordable healthcare.
CHF CEO Dr Elizabeth Deveny said the $3.5 billion investment to triple the bulk billing incentive would lead to more cash for GP appointments for those who needed them the most.
Other important budget items set to move the needle on healthcare included the indexation increase to Medicare rebates and the ability for consumers to buy two months’ supply of more than 300 different medicines in a single trip to the pharmacy.
“For years, consumers have been telling us they need more access to affordable primary care services,” said Dr Deveny.
“The reforms announced are an excellent start.”
Sanity prevails for mental health
Leading national mental health organisation SANE has hailed the ongoing support in this year’s federal budget for programs designed to help Australians impacted by complex mental health issues.
That support includes continued funding for the organisation’s own digital health programs, which include community forums and guided service, providing essential support to individuals and families.
SANE CEO Rachel Green said the budget has taken steps to address critical factors such as unemployment, housing and social connection while bolstering primary care – recognising the critical role GPs play in providing long term mental health support.
She said boosting access to affordable primary care and improving community-based multidisciplinary care would significantly impact both physical and mental health outcomes.
“We’re cautiously optimistic to see recognition of the significant and growing impact of financial insecurity amongst the Australian community with initial increases in financial and housing support,” said Ms Green.
“To quote the singer Lizzo, ‘it’s about damn time’ this critical factor was acknowledged, and we’re hoping to see further increases in subsequent years.”
Supporting young families
A leading advocate for pregnant teens and young parents has praised the Federal Government’s acknowledgement of this vulnerable section of the community in the budget.
Bernadette Black, the founder of Brave Foundation (through SEED, the Social Economic Empowerment Department of the Foundation), welcomed Canberra’s recognition of the vital role played by parents and the need for young parents and children to be supported.
She said the replacement of ParentsNext with a voluntary more supportive program that better met the needs of parents with young children, and the Investment Dialogue for Australia’s Children, both recognised the importance of investing in children’s and families’ wellbeing.
“Going forward, [Brave Foundation] is looking to address wider systemic reform, and the measures in this budget are heading in the right direction.”
Fundraising: Budget time is a good time to think about donations