Selasa, 12 Mei 2009

The Brown Couch's Budget Reply Speech

It is with regret that the Brown Couch, having applauded the Federal Government's second stimulus package in February, must now issue a strong boo in reply to its Budget.


The booing is deserved for two reasons.

The first, of course, is the decision to extend the Boost to the First Home Owners Grant until the end of the year (albeit at a reduced amount for the last three of the six months). So first home buyers can continue to pay too much for their housing for the next six months (and, because almost all of them also borrow heavily, they will also be paying too much for the next three decades or so).

I understand the argument that the Boost, as it applies to newly-built dwellings, stimulates employment in the building industry. But that argument doesn't hold in relation to existing dwellings, which is where most of the Boost money goes. (And I think the housing industry lobby agrees. In the pre-Budget speculation about the fate of the Boost, they were implicitly saying: keep the newly-built-dwelling-Boost and, if you must, ditch the existing-dwelling-Boost.)

The Boost, as it applies to existing dwellings, doesn't keep builders and tradies employed. Let's call it for what it is: it's part of Australia's own housing-bubble bailout. This is a bailout of house-price speculators, partly financed by the taxpayer through the FHOG Boost, and partly debt-financed by first home buyers. And for many of the latter, as the recession hits harder and they lose their jobs, their participation in the bailout will end in tears.

The second reason for booing: what the Budget does in relation to pensions and other social security payments – or more accurately, what it does not do. One feels a bit curmudgeonly for begrudging Age Pensioners their increase, but not all of them need it so much as the social security recipients who rent privately do. These folks include Age Pensioners, but also Single Parent Payment recipients, Newstart recipients and others, and their housing costs have recently much more than the housing costs of Age Pensioners who own their homes or who rent in social housing.

The better way to go would have been to increase these citizens' incomes through the Rent Assistance payment. In particular, the Government should have lifted the maximum amount of Rent Assistance a person can be paid, because currently it is capped at amounts that leave some recipients in severe housing stress. This would entail no across-the-board increases, nor any expansion of eligibility, so shouldn't inflate rents generally – instead it would be targeted assistance to people who desperately need it. But no, they'll not be getting it from this Budget.