Australia’s latest Prime Minister has been out promoting his economic credentials. PM Scott Morrison, along with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg (the new political couple we’re calling ScoJo), have been rejoicing with the release of figures showing the Federal Government’s deficit has shrunk to 0.6% of GDP. This would make the current deficit the smallest of any Australian government since the Global Financial Crisis a decade ago.
While ScoMo and Co. touted a headline improvement of $19.3 billion in the budget position, Eryk Bagshaw has noted in the Sydney Morning Herald, that more than $11 billion of this was due to a change in the accounting policy used to measure the change. Bagshaw notes that reversing the change would strip that figure back down by more than half to $8.1 billion.
ScoJo’s pride was short lived, however, as budget papers released by Treasury on budget.gov.au revealed the truth behind the headlines is less economic master and more miser. The budget papers expose that while a stronger tax intake had provided a tail wind, the government’s pride was built on prejudice and shame, with major underspending to Australians that need it most.
Amongst the drastic underspending, ScoMo has short changed Australians with actuals significantly short of budget including:
But what was the single greatest contributor to ScoJo’s budget pride? A shameful $3.926 billion undelivered for people with disability. This major shortfall on spending has come on top of reports by the Guardian’s Calla Wahlquist back in April that the government was using a tightening of eligibility criteria to reduce disability support pensions and other social payments.
The government avoided $3.926 billion of spending committed to people with disability through what the Austalian’s Rachel Baxendale has described as “lower than planned take-up of the NDIS”.
By contrast, Therese Sands, joint chief executive of People with Disability Australia told Melissa Davey of the Guardian “People with disability are telling us every day about problems they are having in getting enough supports from the NDIS to make sure they can live an equal and good life.” and that “We need the government, and the NDIA, to refocus the NDIS to make sure that people with disability aren’t missing out,”.
Chris Richardson of Deloitte Access Economics denied to the Guardian that this $3.926 billion underspend was part of any conspiracy, but rather because of delays in the rollout of the NDIS, stating “This is the largest social program Australia has seen in years…It’s slower to rollout than people hoped, and the saving is just because it’s been slow. There has also been delayed negotiations with the states. That’s not a permanent saving. The NDIS will eventually cost at least as much as its budgeted to cost.”
Deloitte is one of a number of international firms that has lined its pockets with the NDIA’s notoriously lavish spending on consultants . According to the Australian (paywall), that extravagance extended out to over half a billion dollars in the last financial year. According to the Australian, the NDIA threw $600 million on consultancy fees last financial year, more than triple the figure reported in 2017 (which had also grown explosively from the period prior).
Taken together, underspending on people with disability through delays and denials of access to the NDIS, along with exorbitant consultancy fees mean that Australians with disability were collectively short changed over $4.5 billion in the last financial year.
As we come into an election year, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg will be loudly celebrating this loot. ScoMo has already declared private school funding and corporate tax cuts at the top of the agenda for his election spending spree. Let’s take a moment to remember this money came from broken promises to people with disability. Like a reverse-Robinhood and common thug, ScoMo has stolen from the poor to give to the rich.
What exactly is there to be proud of? We’re not clear, but here is Josh Frydenberg and Mathias Cormann congratulating themselves for their successful swindle of people with disability.