Budget missed opportunity to invest in people – The Mercury, June 2016

View original article on Mercury website

LAST week’s State Budget is a missed opportunity.

The Hodgman Government had a chance to invest in long-term, evidence-based solutions to the widely acknowledged priority issues – housing, health, education and employment.

Long-term investment and thinking would take the form of investment in preventative health, affordable housing, transport and the kind of support for families and children (before birth to six years) that we know sets communities up for health, education and employment success.

Instead of this type of structural and strategic allocation of funds, the State Budget has delivered infrastructure and incoherently allocated, repackaged money.

It contains no policy or budget commitments to preventative health or a cohesive “health in all policies” approach. Similarly there are no funds yet evident to implement the state’s soon-to-be-released Affordable Housing Strategy.

Our service systems are being reformed and we applaud the stated goals of the One Health System reform, Rethink Mental Health review, Affordable Housing Strategy development and Joined Up Human Services reform.

But until there is substantial investment in these areas, these excellent intentions will remain signposts rather than pathways.

We know the Government can’t – and shouldn’t – do everything. However, we want to see the State Government doing all it can to make long-term lasting change for vulnerable Tasmanians.

We don’t see that in this budget.

For example, the budget contains no funding for energy-efficiency programs for low-income Tasmanians. These programs are proven to work, but have been defunded and will no longer provide real savings of hundreds of dollars a year to Tasmanians doing it tough.

And if low-income Tasmanians are busy worrying about prioritising meagre funds between food and heat, even education and good health become luxuries.

Where the Government has invested in Tasmania, it is in the form of infrastructure.

But investment in bricks and mortar and machinery is only one part of the way forward. There must also be direct investment in individuals, families and communities

And, despite the rhetoric, the cuts of last year’s economic savings budget are not finished.

In fact, the full impact of these cuts, particularly on the lives of low-income and vulnerable Tasmanians is unknown, because it has not been examined.

Although the State Government portrays this budget as safe and responsible, we cannot be complacent about the effects the past two federal and state budgets have had on Tasmanians.04

So let’s continue to make the case for investment in communities, families, housing, transport and early years as essential foundations for achieving lasting change.

We need to keep demanding “big picture” vision for Tasmania in relation to our social goals — and insist on a whole-of-community conversation about strategic and cohesive ways to achieve that vision.

To this end, we encourage the Government to engage further with the community sector, and to draw on its expertise and grassroots understanding of social issues to devise real solutions and effective ways forward for every Tasmanian.

Meg Webb is acting chief executive of TasCOSS.


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