Sydney experts respond to 2022 Budget

30 March 2022

Is this a 2022 federal election pitch or funding for the future? 

University of Sydney academics in housing and planning, work and organisational studies, aged care and health respond to the Federal Budget that was delivered last night.

Some short-term measures have been welcomed but a lack of long-term planning has been highlighted by experts from the Business School, Faculty of Medicine and Health, and the School of Architecture, Planning and Design.

Housing affordability moves ‘symbolic’ 

Professor Nicole Gurran, director of the Henry Halloran Trust in the School of Architecture, Design and Planning, said the housing measures announced in last night’s Budget were “disappointing” and “largely symbolic”. 

“While extending support for low-deposit, first-home loans may be popular, it’s poor policy and will do nothing to address the systemic barriers driving falling home ownership,” Professor Gurran said. 

“Worse, some households may be enabled to take on high loans just when interest rates are predicted to rise.

“There are no real measures to support new supply. 

“Extending the amount available for non-profit providers to borrow via the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation will support an estimated 10,000 new social housing units but the grant funding required to service these loans remains missing in action. 

“Further, despite the Commonwealth’s professed concern about supply constraints, private-sector housing approvals have reached all-time highs – while new social housing construction continues to fall.

“Calls to extend the Commonwealth Rental Housing Assistance subsidy appear to have been ignored, leaving around half a million recipients in housing stress.”

Workforce changes could worsen women’s load

Professor Marian Baird, head of the Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies and co-director of the Women and Work Research Group at the Business School, had mixed views about the Budget’s impact on working women and their families.

“The Budget’s change to the Paid Parental Leave scheme risks entrenching gendered care divisions further, even while trying to be more flexible,” Professor Baird said. 

“The removal of the Dad and Partner Pay Scheme and folding that into the PPL scheme means there is now no way to ‘nudge’ men to take parental leave. As the payment is at the National Minimum Wage level and not at income replacement, and as there is already cost-of-living pressures on households, it is likely that new fathers will not share the parental leave with their partners because they will lose too much income. 

“The change in the income test from the woman’s individual income of $151,000 to a household income threshold of $350,000 per year is significant - it is potentially good for some couples, but may also exclude other women from accessing the PPL scheme.”

Flood-affected areas still need urgent help

Flooding image from Shutterstock

Images above, and top of page, sourced from Shutterstock.

James Bennett-Levy,  Professor of Mental Health and Psychological Wellbeing at the University Centre for Rural Health in Lismore, said there was a need for a comprehensive and swift response on housing to flood-affected residents, and climate change generally, "otherwise people in the regions are vulnerable to future disasters".

“A tsunami of mental health problems may be expected from the northern NSW floods. Now there is further re-traumatisation and new flood-affected communities, one month after the February floods," said Professor Bennett-Levy. "Government needs to take immediate steps to minimise mental health impacts by focusing on housing. 

“The University of Sydney’s University Centre for Rural Health (UCRH), based in Lismore, is the first centre in the world to have undertaken a study of a flood-affected community five years before the community was inundated by an even more major flood event. UCRH has so far published six journal articles from studies of the 2017 northern NSW floods.  

“The biggest predictor of mental health problems was displacement from home for more than six months – an estimated 15,000-25,000 northern NSW residents are currently displaced. Inundation of home or business also predicted very high PTSD rates.  

“Federal and state governments can play a key role in minimising these impacts. The first, most important task, is to restore a sense of safety and hope to our traumatised communities.  How can governments do this? Rapid commitment and monetary support to resolving the northern NSW housing crisis is a key first step.”

Lack of support for allied health in residential aged care

Cathie Sherrington, Chief Investigator of the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in the Prevention of Falls Injuries and Professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Health, said the changes to residential aged care fell well short of the Royal Commission recommendations.

“It is pleasing to see improved medication management in residential care but it is disappointing to see no investment in allied health services in residential care,” Professor Sherrington said.

“The Royal Commission identified mobility impairment and falls as major issues in our aged care facilities and anecdotally, these are now worse as COVID restrictions have limited activities. 

“Research has found benefits of physiotherapist-led exercise programs in improving mobility and preventing falls but current funding models do not enable facilities to invest in such programs.”

Small increases in mental-health funding relative to need 

Professor Ian Hickie, the co-director (health and policy) at the Brain and Mind Centre, said the difficult issues are not being considered pre-election.

“Despite the Government having presented mental health and suicide prevention spending as a priority area, the amount of new spending or actual increases by the Commonwealth remain small, relative to need,” Professor Hickie said. 

“Additional resources for university-based training and much larger research investments have largely been ignored. Compared to other biomedical areas, mental health remains rather neglected.

“While there are a number of important new and small-scale mental health initiatives in the 2022-23 Budget papers, there is a lack of substantive reform-orientated announcements. Presumably, this reflects the reality that the Commonwealth has not yet been able to complete the process of Australian and State agreements that underpin a new national package and that is required to distribute the $2.3b in funding outlined in last year’s Budget papers. 

“It leaves the hard issues – related to new regional governance structures, serious Medicare reform, investment in the new national children’s mental health strategy, widespread utilisation of new digital technologies and more radical workforce training and reform – until after the election.” 

Medicare is 'guaranteed' but what about critical dental care?

Professor Heiko Spallek, Head of School and Dean, Sydney Dental School, welcomed the Treasurer’s undertaking that ‘Medicare is guaranteed’ but said it was disappointing that the care of Australians’ teeth continues to be neglected. 

“Oral health and timely access to quality dental care are critical determinants of population health and the downstream cost of running our health and hospital system,” Professor Spallek said.

“While the federal Budget delivered an extension to the National Partnership Agreement for adult dental services, we need to acknowledge that the public dental system is failing the most vulnerable members of our communities. For example:

  1. Government has not delivered any of the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Safety and Quality in Aged Care that affect the oral health of seniors. 
  2. Although the Medicare Child Dental Benefits Schedule helps eligible children receive dental treatment, it is insufficiently promoted, under-utilised, and treatment under general anaesthetics is excluded.

“Proper investment in dental care can be substantial but there is a consistent failure to recognise the potential economic benefits. For instance, there are more than 66,809 annual preventable hospitalisations from dental causes (2019-2020), accounting for one in four potentially preventable hospitalisations. 

“If we acknowledge that oral health is a fundamental component of health and physical and mental well-being, we as a society need to address this issue.”

Vivienne Reiner

Media and Public Relations Adviser

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