The Coalition scoffed at the idea of ​​a welfare budget. But Aussies want Jim Chalmers to deliver | Rebecca Huntley


Ohen Jim Chalmers announced in July that his first budget would include options for measuring community well-being — rather than just measuring GDP — it didn’t take a rocket scientist to predict some of the media coverage.

The left-handed young treasurer, in an ashram with a yoga mat and kombucha, prepares for his next down dog.

What some call “hippie economics” is actually an idea that experts and the public are crying out for.

Don’t take my word for it: Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz was in Australia at the time and said: ‘The treasurer’s responsibility is really to make sure the budget – the money – is used to improve people’s well-being. from Australia. »

The other point is that a “wellness budget” is nothing new. The idea of ​​measuring a society’s health and well-being through housing affordability and community cohesion was first floated by US presidential aspirant Bobby Kennedy in the 1960s.

More than 20 years ago, former Treasury Secretary Dr. Ken Henry developed and implemented a well-being framework for his department to measure whether economic policies improve people’s lives or whether they fail.

New Zealand does, as well as Scotland and Canada. The New South Wales Liberal government is also working on an approach and the Australian Capital Territory has a well-developed wellbeing framework which it applies to all government decisions.

If you go beyond pure economics and focus on politics, a welfare budget is an even better idea for a new government.

Exclusive research commissioned by the data, strategy and delivery agency Shows at 89 degrees east 69% of Australians support a wellness budget. It’s because people care about their own health and safety and that of the community, and understand that these are the things that really matter to their quality of life.

More than a third of respondents (38%) felt their mental and physical health was “just okay,” perhaps unsurprising in the context of the pandemic. For young Australians, the research results are more concerning. 18-29 year olds are the least satisfied with their health and feel secure about their housing conditions.

The research focused on areas where the government should focus its efforts. The overwhelming majority of respondents (73%) want housing to be the priority, just ahead of mental and physical health (71%) and job and income security (70%).

The women rated these and other factors, including prioritizing education and environmental quality, as extremely important, which might lead you to conclude that a wellness budget will have more value to women voters.

And therein lies the risk for the opposition, which scoffed at this idea when it was in government. Then-treasurer Josh Frydenberg teased Chalmers that if he won power he would walk into parliament to present a budget with a speech in one hand and yoga beads in the other.

Three years later, Frydenberg’s government was abandoned by women, many of whom voted for “teal” independent candidates. The Coalition must recover these voters if it wants to regain power. The vast majority of women who participated in this research made it clear that they want a different relationship with government and the criteria by which they measure economic success.

There are also political risks for Labour. While the research reveals strong support for welfare measures, it also shows that the more familiar framing of the budget still prevails.

About half of those polled agreed with the statement “if we lose sight of traditional economic fundamentals, we could put our standard of living at risk”. Fifty-nine percent agreed with the statement “economic success should be measured by jobs, growth, investment and low taxes.”

This might make some government officials nervous, but it shouldn’t. Research shows that 61% of people agree that “the traditional way of running our economy fails to measure the things that really matter to people”.

The challenge for Labor now is to explain what a welfare budget is and offer specific examples of how new policy measures will improve people’s lives.

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