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MIXED REACTION FROM CHRISTIANS TO FEDERAL BUDGET

Christians have had a mixed reaction to the Abbott Government’s first budget which slashed foreign aid, health and education spending but bolstered the Coalition’s commitment to funding school chaplains. Family First Senator-elect Bob Day said overall he thinks the Government is “on the right track” with the Budget, “especially with getting rid of the duplication of Federal and State responsibilities in education and health.” However, Day says that he is disappointed the Coalition is working around the edge of fundamental reforms, especially of the tax system. Asked how he would score the Budget out of ten, he told Eternity newspaper he would give the Government a seven.

Foreign Aid was one of the biggest losers in this year’s budget, with $7.8 billion stripped from the foreign aid budget over five years, accounting for almost a third of all spending cuts. ““It is disheartening to see that the poorest people in the world will foot the bill for Australia’s fiscal repairs,” CEO of World Vision Tim Costello said in a statement. Christian global aid advocacy group Micah Challenge says the cuts are taking Australia in the wrong direction. “We are a generous nation, and our aid program has done enormous good in our region and beyond,” says Micah Challenge coordinator Ben Thurley.

The Government has stepped back from its commitment to reach 0.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Income to go to foreign aid. “The aim was 50c in every $100 of spending. We reached 35c two years ago but that will fall to 29c three years from now,” says Thurley. Thurley went on to point out a widespread perception that because there is no domestic constituency directly affected by cuts to overseas aid, it can be done at a small political cost. “Aid is not a luxury expenditure, something we do when we can afford it. It’s an investment in the wellbeing, prosperity and security for vulnerable countries in our region and beyond, for whom poverty is a deep, disturbing reality for millions of people.”

Meanwhile, welfare groups are disappointed with changes to welfare payments suggesting the budget disproportionately leaves the heavy lifting to the people who can least afford it. Lin Hatfield-Dodds from UnitingCare says the government is clawing back $12 billion in a combination of changes to indexation and payments, from families, pensioners, older Australians and young people, while wealthy Australians contribute only a quarter of that amount ($3 billion), and Australian business only $845 million. “It’s a question of what’s fair and reasonable,” she says. However she commended the Government for its confirmation of the roll out schedule of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Mission Australia’s CEO Catherine Yeomans is concerned for young people in this budget, saying that while the budget forecasts joblessness to rise, there is no investment in helping young people make the transition from education to employment. “With youth unemployment already twice the national average, and as high as 20% in some areas, the failure to invest in young job seekers is short-sighted.” While honouring its education commitment to the first four years of funding reform promised by the previous Labor Government, the budget signals a shift away from Commonwealth responsibility for education and health, with the intention to significantly reduce Commonwealth funding in these areas.

“To maintain the effort in public education and health the States will need to find new money to replace the reducing Commonwealth contribution,” says Christian Schools Australia CEO Stephen O’Doherty. Similarly Stephen Judd, head of Christian aged services organisation HammondCare, says the states will be “scrambling and finding it hard in the health sector” to maintain services. “There will be no choice but to increase indirect taxation via the GST.” O’Doherty says, ”The suggested transfer of non-government school funding to the states could be “disastrous for independent schools” and will mean a renewed argument over funding for state and non-state schools.

The National School Chaplaincy Program, however, has been bolstered with confirmation of federal funding to the tune of $245 million over five years. This is despite uncertainty surrounding the future of the program as a result of a High Court challenge to the Government’s funding arrangements. Proceedings for the case wrapped up last week, and a decision is expected to take months. But the continued federal funding  will allow schools to employ a chaplain for up to two days a week, with the potential to support 2,900 schools. “The continuation of funding is confirmation that the government understands the value of the chaplaincy program,” said Scripture Union Queensland

In commenting on the budget Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton said it was profoundly disappointing that the biggest single short term budget cut was to overseas aid and that this was a broken promise. “That there is no public outcry about the $7.6 billion dollars that will be cut from forward estimates of aid over the next five years demonstrates that self-interest is sadly more important to Australians than keeping the promises we have repeatedly made to the world’s poor,” he said. Mr Shelton said it was now clear Australia’s commitment to the Millennium Development Goals to increase aid as a way to halve extreme poverty by 2015 was all but over.

“A Medicare co-payment has been introduced to build a medical endowment fund to cure first world ills while we break our promise and cut aid to those for whom a doctor’s visit would be a luxury,” he said. “While balancing the books is important, the government painted itself into an untenable position by saying it could reduce expenditure without raising taxes and without cutting key areas. “It would have been better if these promises had not been made in the first place,” he said. “It is reasonable that the burden of reducing expenditure has to be shared, but it seems that a disproportionate burden has fallen upon the poor and disadvantaged,” Mr Shelton said.

Mr Shelton welcomed news that the National School Chaplaincy Program would continue to be funded. Mr Shelton also gave credit to the government for including funding of $115 million, announced in March, for the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness. He also said it was pleasing to see funding for the Australian Charities and Not For Profit Commission retained and hoped this was an indication that it may not be abolished as planned.

Source: Compiled by APN from various sources

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POWDERED ALCOHOLIC DRINKS THE NEXT CHALLENGE

There is a proper concern that powdered alcohol may soon be coming to a liquor store near you after a U.S. federal alcohol regulatory agency recently approved the product for sale. Palcohol, a fine white powder, is easily transported in the pocket and can be mixed with water in the same way that powdered orange juice is used.  It may also be sprinkled on food. There is a public health risk that customers may either knowingly or unknowingly mix high-strength alcoholic beverages and consume more alcohol than planned.  There is also a danger associated with snorting the product which, according to the U.S. company which is seeking to market the product, can “get you drunk almost instantly.”

It remains to be seen whether liquor retailers will seek to register a similar product for sales approval in Australia, but if American trends are any indication it is only a matter of time before we see powdered alcohol in clubs and hotels, at private parties and on our streets. The NSW Council of Churches supports state regulation of alcoholic beverages in the interests of public health and harm minimisation, in particular a reduction in the incidence of family violence and road deaths in our community.  The Council encourages all government agencies and industry players to work together to ensure the development of good policy and practice for the safety and well-being of consumers.

There is a real concern that if powdered alcohol products are introduced in the Australian market, alcohol-related problems including binge drinking, assault, date-rape and road deaths will increase.  The best approach is zero tolerance of a product our community does not need, and we hope the NSW Government takes this approach.

Source: Press Release from NSW Council of Churches

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NATIONAL DAY OF THANKSGIVING HAS NEW FACEBOOK PAGE

The National Day of Thanksgiving has developed a new Facebook page which can be accessed at www.facebook.com/nationaldayofthanksgiving  We invite all our readers to visit the new site and “like” it whether or not you have done that with the previous site. The National Day of Thanksgiving is to be held on Saturday 31st May so there is not much time to act.  

Source: Australian Prayer Network

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