By Yasmin Noone
Tonight’s 2012/13 Federal Budget announcement won’t contain any last minute surprises for the sector but it will be a cause for ‘official’ celebration as the much-hoped for dental, disability and aged care measures, already announced, formally appear in print in this year’s budget papers.
At 7.30pm, the Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan, will reveal the finer details of the $1.5 billion surplus budget to the country, as he attempts to sell his government’s 2012/13 financial plan with an explanatory speech, beamed across the ABC1 and ABC24 airways.
The Treasurer’s budget speech will then be followed by a 7.30 budget analysis ‘special’ at 8pm on the two ABC channels.
The budget will include the already announced $3.7 billion Living Longer Living Better aged care reform package with $577 million in new funding over five years; fund a new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS); and detail measures to improve public dental healthcare.
The long-awaited aged care elements of this budget peaked early, on Friday 20 April, when Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler, announced its aged care reform package, in a bid to drum up positive coverage around the upcoming budget announcement.
Despite this, the 28 organisations that form the National Aged Care Alliance (NACA), that led the sector-wide Agewell campaign for aged care reform, said tonight’s formal announcement will press the “go button” on the aged care measures already proposed by the federal government.
The umbrella group has therefore made clear it will be closely “scrutinising” the budget papers once released tonight, to ensure the government makes good on its early promises.
“Successive governments have ignored the needs of older Australians, their workers and their carers,” said NACA spokesperson and COTA Australia CEO, Ian Yates.
“They have applied short-term band aids to long term complex problems. The Gillard government has listened to the sector and promised a reform package which points us down a path for real improvement.
“We now need them to make good on their promise and see their commitment in black and white in the budget papers…”
Fellow NACA spokesperson and federal secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation, Lee Thomas, said: “There is more work to be done for us all to age well but we must start the process by funding the proposed reforms in the 2012 Federal Budget.”
Once the budget is announced tonight, the Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, will exercise his ‘right of reply’ in parliament and formally respond to the government’s package; and the budget will go through the Upper and Lower House of the Commonwealth Parliament for approval.
National Director of Uniting Care Australia and NACA member, Lin Hatfield-Dodds, has therefore called on the Opposition and Independents to get behind the reform package.
“We can’t afford for these important reforms to be stymied by party politics,” Ms Hatfield-Dodds said.
“It is critical all politicians from all sides support the reform package and funding being proposed to start to create a system where all Australians can age well.”
The 2012/13 budget marks the first in surplus for a Labor government since 1989/90.
The Treasury has stressed the importance of a 2012/13 surplus to enable the Reserve Bank of Australia to cut interest rates as needed; instill consumer confidence in the economy; and have sufficient reserves to secure Australia’s strong position amidst global economic uncertainty.
Government budget surpluses – where income exceeds spending – usually preserve funds for a ‘rainy day’ to guard a country or state against expected economic shocks/future monetary shortfalls, and may be the result of either spending cuts/tax increases or, in other cases, of exceptional economic performance/activity.
However, commentators have said that this year’s budget surplus aims to signal to voters that the Labor government is good at economic management, not just at spending.
The 2012/13 surplus follows on from a $36 billion budget deficit over the 2011/12 financial year.