Today is World Day of Social Justice. Social justice as defined by the United Nations is an underlying principle for peaceful and prosperous coexistence within and among nations. The pursuit of social justice is to promote development and human dignity.

Sadly, it feels to me, there are many areas where as a nation we are failing to protect human dignity.

One that has been the forefront of my mind these past few weeks is the Commonwealth Government’s Omnibus Bill which is currently stalled before Parliament.

For me, what is so unpalatable about this bill is that it seeks to balance the budget on the backs of the least well off.

I don’t wish to be blasé about the challenge that Treasurer Scott Morrison (or any treasurer for that matter) faces in ensuring fiscal responsibility and encouraging economic growth. It is a difficult role and not always a popular one.

There are some important measures in the bill that desperately need passing. For example the much needed additional investment in early childhood education and care to improve affordability. In fact we have argued that access for low income families and vulnerable children should be even higher. Access to two days of early childhood education is a sound investment in the future and will pay for itself over the long term.

But what appals me, and many others in my sector, is that such positive measures are being deliberately linked to ones that will cut the incomes of the poorest people.

It is an impossible trade-off – disrespecting the importance of both issues. It’s like giving some people a seat on the bus, while those who most need to sit down are told to get off and push.

Picking through the details of the bill is a plethora of legislative changes which are eye-wateringly unpalatable and which Parliament has consistently refused to pass. Such as the abolition of the paltry energy supplement and changes to Family Tax Benefits which would leave low-income families worse off.

Another horror is the proposed four week wait for unemployment payments for young people who find themselves without a job. Although, perhaps they want us to be grateful for small mercies as the original proposal was a six month wait.

But any wait is too long. I am not sure what the Government expects these young people to survive on during those four weeks…fresh air?

The Government have said in defence of the measure that emergency relief will be available to those who qualify. But my question is why have a policy that by its very nature creates the need for emergency relief?

It is even more concerning when you consider the Government’s belief that this increased wait will provide an incentive to work, when in fact it will drive them into poverty.

For me, balancing a budget should not be at the expense of the poorest. That is not about ensuring a society where human dignity flourishes and we all feel a sense of justice.

Any changes must pass the test of not further disadvantaging the most vulnerable Australians. And the Omnibus Bill fails in the extreme.

Catherine Yeomans

Catherine Yeomans
CEO Mission Australia


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