Words by Sofia Arlotta, Chelsea Fernandez and Shona Edwards
The Expense of the Budget Surplus
Words by Sofia Arlotta and Chelsea Fernandez
Frydenberg’s announcement of the 2019 Federal Budget predicts the return of a surplus. This aligns with the decision to depart with $3 billion of funding for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The decision to cut NDIS funding has both economic and non-economic consequences that will inevitably expose the stupidity of a strategic political move fuelled by the motive of re-election.
Australia has Pavlov’d themselves into associating ‘good economy’ and ‘economic prosperity’ with “budget surplus”. To many, a surplus is the missing link between Australia and true wealth, economic security and prosperity. So naturally when Frydenberg, in an attempt to appeal to the average Australian voter, linked those magic four syllables together, the Australian people were left absolutely and uncontrollably frothing at the mouth.
The average Australian citizen flinches at the possibility of being in the ‘red’. Morrison calms this individual; he reassures them that there is a way to bring Australia back to surplus. Politics is no stranger to using fear tactics, and these NDIS cuts to showcase a budget surplus are no exception to this methodology. By predicting a surplus, the Coalition delivered the budget in a desperate attempt to alter their public perception, painting themselves as heroic while simultaneously bathing in their own glory. With the upcoming election starkly in the peripheral of its contents, the Budget acts as a promise for prosperity. Here lies a desire to appeal to voters, reliant on the fear that Labor will create a budget deficit and cause a consequent decrease in economic growth. By creating this fear, the Coalition can convince voters that their economic management is stronger than Labor’s, supposedly validated by their budget surplus.
However, economic affluence cannot be measured by the comparison of spending and revenue. The economy is as complex as it is multi-faceted, and to define prosperity by surplus and by deficit, we are restricting ourselves though simplifying the concept. This simplification of a fundamental pillar of our society ultimately disservices us, and in this case especially those caught in the crossfire of this misunderstanding: those who rely on NDIS funding.
To achieve such a surplus, the Coalition has relied on cuts. The choice to dramatically cut NDIS funding was no accident — it was a multi-layered strategic move that fit in perfectly with their notorious fear campaign. Since 2013, the Liberal government made it known that they inherited one of Australia’s biggest budget deficits of all time. This was an attempt to humiliate the Labor government in the eyes of the public, whilst drawing attention away from their incompetency for effective economic management. It is a case of scaring the public into the thought of economic depreciation.
To understand the strategy behind this proposal, one must look at who the funding was taken from and where it has been reallocated. Firstly, the money was taken from the NDIS. Those receiving NDIS funding are often reliant on it to receive the proper care, treatment, and other services their disability requires. Many of these families are from lower socio-economic classes, that tend to vote Labor. The portion of those who have the capacity to afford what the disability funding provides, without funding, are generally from a higher socio-economic class and therefore more likely to vote Liberal.
A portion of the cut capital from NDIS funding is going to fund the drought relief programs. Those impacted by the droughts are namely farmers, a demographic of dominantly Liberal voters. Previous Liberal failure to control water theft — with a direct impact of farmers — could cause doubt within even the most loyal voters. From this reallocation of money to drought relief from the NDIS, the Coalition are essentially moving funding to regain and sustain the support of Liberal party-inclined voters.
And sure, there are internal issues within the NDIS systems. With these issues stems greater problems with the overall narrative pushed in the Budget address. This narrative tells the story that with less demand for the NDIS scheme, by simple way of economics, NDIS spending must be cut. This thinking is ignorant to the fact that systematic issues are often driving factors behind overall demand. Does our Government not then owe a responsibility to fix these issues, to prioritise these issues? Reducing spending does not address the internal complications, but rather renders them less important.
The Liberal Party has done what they have always done: disadvantaged the already disadvantaged and advantaged the already advantaged. This Budget contains tax cuts to fundamental services like health and education, but does nothing to address the disproportionately low taxation of higher income-earners. To perpetuate the Liberal’s surplus comes at cost to the people who we should be protecting. Maybe the grass isn’t greener when we are in the black, but it is greener, fresher and more vibrant when we are a society that supports and cares.
NDIS Cuts: What They Mean To Me
Words by Shona Edwards
“You will be contacted within 21 days.” This is the letter you receive after submitting an access request to the NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme). It’s been 2 months since I have submitted my request, long enough that I had to fork out for the mobility aids I can’t live without. By delaying access, the NDIA (National Disability Insurance Agency) can evade paying for these things as they won’t need to be replaced for a few years.
From my calls checking up on the status of my application, some of the younger operators, in sheepish tones, break from script. They admit that calling to complain merely jumps you from one long list to another just as long, and that they are required to give the ’21 days’ line despite most applications taking minimum 3 months. This is clearly a broken, strangled system, and being left to use up my savings merely to exist feels almost malicious.
To me, the budget surplus is a slap in the face to those of us left begging for help.
I struggle to understand how the government can be proud of savings made by taking money away from those who need it most. The hoops that we are required to jump makes me ashamed to think of those who can’t advocate for themselves, of those who trust the system will care for them. According to the Guardian, there is no one chasing up stalled access requests that need more information. Service providers admit to ‘having a man on the inside’ to give application tips. People shouldn’t need to use personal connections, and secret know-how. It feels as though there is only so much to go around.
To win scraps in this arena, you must fight.
The bigger picture of the NDIS cuts must include the Disability Support Pension and Newstart. NDIS is designed not as a pension, but a payment to cover equipment and services. In practice, the pool of money available to someone on the NDIS could be a lot less than they need. What must be clear here is that disabled people can’t go without their aids to try to save money. For me, my mobility aids come first, food and bills second. If you deny disabled people DSP and NDIS, they will drop to Newstart. Only 30% of DSP applications are successful. As Anti-Poverty groups throughout Australia make clear, Newstart is well below the poverty line, and hasn’t risen in decades. If your Newstart money goes to disability costs, how much is left for rent and food? Independence is out of the question, and we must rely on family, on favours, and on the help of strangers. This country has seen 28 years of continuous economic growth, yet the most vulnerable of us live dangerously close to homelessness.
When I see NDIS cuts, I think about what is left for those denied it. Just other programs similarly underfunded, with similarly desperate struggles.
The bottom line is, disabled people don’t just go away if you make cuts, they end up on other programs, or in hospital for a bed and a hot meal, and they end up costing the government and country in other ways. When assigning funding for the NDIS, I would ask the government to look at the data on homelessness, on those on Newstart unfit to work, on the sacrifices families of the disabled make every day. I would ask the government to think of the moral cost to their surplus.