For everyone Morrison’s debt-heavy budget fails Australia’s future

Morrison's 2020 budget makes no attempt to look to the future. (Image: iStock)

The federal Morrison government’s October budget clocks up $1 trillion in national debt but fails to build a foundation for the future.

While this year is arguably one like no other, the 2020 federal budget feels all-too familiar, with massive no-strings-attached handouts to big business and no real investment in education, aged care or renewable energy.

Instead, Scott Morrison and treasurer Josh Frydenberg handed down this government’s eighth budget deficit, repeating the Coalition’s long-standing strategy of distracting voters with tax cuts that in no way compensate for widespread cuts to services, including public education.

The budget offers no assistance to assistance to public schools dealing with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

No attempt has been made to address the existing $19 billion shortfall in meeting the educational needs of Australia’s students. In 2020–21, public schools are set to remain underfunded – stuck at only 90% of the funding they need, while private schools continue to be significantly overfunded to the tune of $1 billion by 2023.

Neither does the budget offer any assistance to public schools dealing with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no funding for smaller classes or extra one-on-one support for students who may have fallen behind during remote learning. Similarly, there is no money for school capital works, which would have boosted our flagging economy by generating construction and manufacturing jobs – while also providing much-needed facilities.

At a time of complex and ever-increasing social, emotional and mental health needs, nothing has been done to enhance professional counselling and psychology services in schools or to reduce the ratio of qualified counsellors to students. To add insult to injury, the only real investment for secular schools is $61.4 million for school chaplains.

There isn’t a single mention of TAFE, the nation’s most trusted public provider of vocational education.

Allegedly this is the ‘Jobs, Jobs, Jobs’ budget, pledging funding for 100,000 new apprenticeships in 2020–21 – and yet there isn’t a single mention of TAFE, the nation’s most trusted public provider of vocational education. A recent report showed an economic return from skilled, TAFE-educated workers of $92.5 billion per year in fiscal, income and productivity benefits – 16 times the cost it takes to maintain it.

Over the past seven years, Morrison has slashed $3 billion from VET, $325 million in 2019 alone, leading to the closure of a third of Australia’s TAFE campuses. This has left us with a national skills crisis, a vocational education system in chaos, and still 40,000 short of the number of apprentices we had when the Coalition first took office in 2013.

This year, the prime minister has repeatedly stated his aim to get the unemployed back to work and yet fails to invest in the public vocational education that would create the highly skilled workforce Australia needs. This year offered an historic opportunity to rebuild a robust TAFE system. Instead, the government has opted for a quick fix approach to training care of low-cost, low-quality private providers, with no long-term solutions.

The Morrison government has again refused to commit to preschool funding beyond next year.

As for the early childhood sector, the Morrison government has again refused to commit to preschool funding beyond next year, continuing the uncertainty experienced by families and the preschool sector since the Coalition came to office. There is also no mention in the budget of extending preschool to three-year-olds. This lack of ongoing support flies in the face of the government’s own review, which recommended guaranteed investment for at least five years and a National Agreement from 2026 onwards.

A recent Price Waterhouse Coopers report demonstrated that preschool pays for itself. For every $1 spent on early childhood education, $2 worth of benefits flow back into the economy. Studies make it clear that children who go to preschool are school ready, better at managing emotions and have better attention spans. Learning issues can be identified and support mechanisms put in to place earlier. It is also the biggest policy lever for increasing female participation in the workforce, creating a huge boost to productivity.

Similarly, the government’s ‘Jobs, Jobs, Jobs’ budget has no plan to make childcare more affordable and accessible, despite its crucial role in enabling parents, especially mothers, to participate in the workforce – instead predicting that fees will continue to rise. In fact, this budget does nothing to support women (who have been disproportionately losing income, super, jobs, paid work hours during the pandemic) to return to the workforce – something that would inject billions of dollars into the economy.

The federal 2020 Budget reveals no plan to address the levels of underemployment, tackle climate change or look to the workforce opportunities presented by renewables.

The federal 2020 Budget reveals no plan to address the levels of underemployment or a shift away from a casualised workforce. The ‘tax cuts’ for low and middle-income earners disappear after a year, while the wealthy keep theirs forever. Neither does it do anything to tackle climate change or look to the workforce opportunities presented by renewables. Instead, the budget includes an unspecified amount of funding for the Vales Point coal fired generator co-owned by Liberal Party donor Trevor St Baker, $52 million for new gas fields and infrastructure, a $1.9 billion new technology package that focuses on technologies other than solar and wind (i.e. carbon capture, hydrogen and agriculture).

Among the few upsides are an extra $47.3 million provided to mental health and crisis support services in Victoria, and $150 million to support those at risk of domestic, family and sexual violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, along with a nationwide awareness campaign. A [email protected] Council will be established with $2.1 million to address sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.

By investing in public education, the 2020 Budget could have provided an economic stimulus package that would have seen both immediate benefits for Australia’s post-COVID-19 recovery and significant, lasting economic and social returns. Instead, the Morrison government has offered another short-sighted budget that fails workers, students and the future.

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