Words by Alexander Read
**Disclaimer: Alexander Read is a member of the Macquarie University Greens Party and a Student Representative on the Academic Senate.
In an effort to fix “Labor’s mess,” and to prevent the runaway debt crises that occurred throughout Europe, the 2014 budget has been largely one of austerity. In his budget speech, Treasurer, Joe Hockey announced cuts to education, welfare, health, indigenous programs and climate change efforts. But these cuts have raised a fundamental question about how our taxes should be spent. If Government revenue is not for spending on essential services and supporting the most vulnerable then what is it for?
One of the more controversial cuts was the $140,000 taken from the Refugee Council of Australia. The purpose of this Council is to, “promote the development of humane, lawful and constructive policies towards refugees and asylum seekers. In a press conference, Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison stated that funding for the Council was simply “not consistent with what we are doing with this budget.” He went on to say that “it’s not the Government’s view, that taxpayer funding should be there to support what is effectively an advocacy group.”
What Morrison seems to be arguing is that people who do not pay taxes should not be entitled to receive benefits from their use. After all, why should an Iranian refugee have the right to humane and lawful treatment under Australian law if they have not paid any taxes?
The Greens would have us believe this cut is ideological, connected to the battle currently being waged in Federal parliament over “illegal” boat people. Refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in the international society, advocating for their rights can only improve their quality of life and experience as they try to adjust to a new culture and society. Their lives are, in effect, being used for nothing more than to acquire political capital.
Even from an economic rationalist perspective, taking funds away from refugee advocacy groups has little to do with fiscal responsibility. Yes, the Government now has an extra $140, 000 in its pocket. But as it is only a quarter of the Prime Minister’s salary, this budgetary gain is seemingly negligible for the Government’s “fiscal emergency.” The figure is further dwarfed by Prime Minister Abbott’s $4.3 million “communication and social media specialists” budget. To the Refugee Council however, $140,000 is a lot of money and they will find it much harder to operate and provide support to those who need it most.
Regardless of their election promises and the “looming debt crisis,” Scott Morrison and the entire Abbott Government should not forget that seeking asylum is a human right. Australia is obligated under international law to provide assistance to those who come to Australia, escaping government persecution or conflict.
Ultimately, what we can draw from this year’s budget is that the purpose of our taxes is to serve the agenda of our Government. Clearly, the current agenda does not prioritise aiding those who most need Government support.