NFP sector outlines federal budget wish list

Posted on 27 Feb 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

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UPDATED: The federal budget won’t be handed down until May, but charities and not-for-profit organisations have wasted no time drafting their fiscal wish lists for the sector.

Pre-budget submissions from a diverse array of organisations ranging from mental health and philanthropy to housing have already been lodged ahead of the release of Canberra's annual economic blueprint.

More money for mental health carers, an increase in Commonwealth rental assistance for people struggling to keep a roof over their head and harnessing the benefits of volunteering to tackle loneliness, are just some of areas in which the sector is looking to the federal government for help.

Charities Minister Andrew Leigh has acknowledged that the NFP and charity sector is being inundated with requests for help in a tough economic environment.

“We certainly understand the pressures and we certainly understand the issue and unlike the former government, you've got a government which is not at war with charity sector but is seeking to work in partnership to address shared challenges,” said Mr Leigh. 

The Community Advocate will continue to keep a watch on future pre-budget submissions and add them to the list below as they come to hand in the lead-up to Budget day.

Parliament House Canberra
Sector organisations have an extensive wish list they hope to see fulfilled in the May federal budget.

Mission Australia

Addressing housing and homelessness issues and helping young people facing disadvantage are at the top of the federal Budget wish list for Mission Australia.

Proposed measures contained in the charity’s pre-budget-submission include:

  • $500 million for a dedicated prevention transformation fund designed to help people before they become homeless, as part of the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement (NHHA) to commence in July 2024
  • an immediate 50% increase in Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) backed up by a Productivity Commission review of state and federal rental subsidy programs
  • $100 million to extend the Reconnect program, which is aimed at preventing youth homelessness, until 2029, and to expand its geographic footprint
  • a $184 million investment to build ten 40-unit Youth Foyers – integrated learning and accommodation for young people aged 16–24 at risk of homelessness – over three years

National Seniors Australia

Reducing the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on older Australians was a primary focus of National Seniors Australia’s pre-budget submission.

National Seniors Australia CEO Chris Grice said the current budget cycle comes at a critical time for Australia.

“The pressure of rising living costs is being felt by all, including older Australians,” he said.

“The rapid rise in groceries, fuel, energy, rents, health care and other essential items is stretching household budgets to the point of breaking.

“While some sections of the community are doing okay, many are not. That is why we need a budget that provides direct relief coupled with longer-term policy reform to ensure our standard of living does not go backwards.”

Policy proposals put forward by NSA include:

  • immediate relief for fuel and energy costs and extension of the deeming rate freeze to ensure pension payments and concessions are maintained in the short term
  • a Productivity Commission review of private health insurance to identify ways to reduce premiums and out-of-pocket costs
  • action on private health rebates for low-income earners to maintain and boost coverage for vulnerable Australians
  • targeted support for dental care for those most in need
  • policy changes to support older people sharing their homes, to help older people to downsize later in life, and to boost financial support for rentersa targeted exemption from the age pension income test for care sector workers

National Seniors Australia also called for changes to gifting rules to give older people a greater incentive to donate to charities.

Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA)

The organisation representing community radio stations across the nation wants a substantial increase in federal funding for its members.

CBAA said in its pre-budget submission the injection of funds is necessary if the organisation is to deliver on the strategic vision contained in its Roadmap 2033: Community broadcasting’s plan for greater impact in every Australian community.

It said current federal government programs are underfunded and have failed to keep pace with rising costs and the increasing needs of community radio stations and their audiences.

To put community broadcasting on a sustainable footing the association has urged the federal government to:

  • allocate $40 million a year to the Community Broadcasting Program (CBP)
  • commit $40 million to the Indigenous Broadcasting and Media Program (IBMP).

If implemented, the cash injection would represent an extra $18 million for each program.

CBAA said the community broadcasting sector is a unique cultural asset with unrealised potential to contribute substantially and meaningfully to social challenges facing communities.

"Underinvestment has negatively impacted program effectiveness as scarce resources provide limited opportunity for funding long-term investment in station sustainability,” its submission said.

"A substantially increased investment from Government is required. Our proposal would transform support for community broadcasting into an outcome-led investment in critical social infrastructure, delivering a better return for taxpayers."

Economic Justice Australia

The peak body representing community legal centres made almost 50 recommendations in its pre-budget submission aimed at strengthening Australia's social safety net.

"Australia’s social security system provides a vital safety net; keeping most people without adequate income clothed, housed and fed, while providing some stability to retain engagement in the community and enable planning for the future,” the submission said.

"The Robodebt Royal Commission called for politicians to lead a change in attitudes to people accessing social security support, ‘including abandoning the simple narrative of the taxpayer versus the welfare recipient’.”

Recommendations in the EJA submission include:

  • increasing social security income support payment rates to provide parity with pensions, with indexation linked to both inflation and wages
  • a 60% increase in the maximum threshold for Commonwealth Rent Assistance
  • the introduction of a disability supplement to offset the cost of treatment, transport, aides and other costs associated with managing a disability, injury or chronic illness
  • abolishing the newly arrived residents waiting period (NARWP) for Special Benefit, so that people in severe financial hardship have equitable access to the social security safety net
  • reinstating the six-year limit on debt recovery on social security debts
  • ensuring adequate funding to implement the recommendations of the Robodebt Royal Commission in full.

Mental Health Australia

Australia needs urgent mental health reform according to the peak body for mental health.

Mental Health Australia’s pre-budget submission states that although mental health is the most common reason Australians see a GP, this reality is not matched by a commensurate level of investment in mental health.

“At a time when over half of people in Australia indicate experiencing a barrier to accessing mental health support, rates of mental ill-health amongst young people are increasing and cost of living is impacting significantly on people’s wellbeing, the Australian Government must prioritise mental health supports and prevention of further mental ill-health,” the submission said.

The Mental Health Australia submission contains a raft of proposed budget measures including:

  • the development and implementation of a multi-year mental health reform roadmap
  • adjusting federal government funding for community mental health services to five-year funding cycles to ensure certainty in service delivery
  • funding to develop a robust mental health assessment and referral tool, to be used across the range of services where people first seek mental health support
  • immediate and ongoing support for First Nations peoples’ mental health and social and emotional wellbeing,
  • funding to develop an online, national, accredited cultural safety training package for the Australian mental health workforce, to increase access to culturally safe mental health care
  • a commitment to fund the expansion of access to integrated housing and mental health support.

St Vincent de Paul

In its highly detailed pre-budget submission the St Vincent de Paul Society said it is seeing rising numbers of requests for help across the country.

St Vincent de Paul National Council Society CEO Toby o’Connor said based on its own experience, the key issues driving persistent levels of poverty and disadvantage included:

  • a lack of affordable housing
  • limited social housing options
  • unfunded or insufficient levels of government-funded programs to address housing shortages and homelessness
  • the prohibitive costs of living
  • inadequate low-income support payments such as JobSeeker and disability support pension
  • inadequate funding and services for refugees and people seeking asylum
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“Based on our direct experiences with people unable to meet the rising costs of living, all these areas require urgent attention.”

Mr o’Connor called on the federal government to begin treating the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on vulnerable Australians like it had treated the impact of earlier emergencies such as the pandemic and natural disasters.

“Moreover, the growing cost of living crisis suggests that the historical drawdown on emergency relief funds needs review with respect to the level of the contemporary ‘business as usual’ environment.”

Among the recommendations in its submission, St Vincent de Paul Society's submission were:

  • an increase in working age income support payments
  • increase in base funding of Commonwealth Emergency Relief (under the Financial Wellbeing and Capability Activity) by 30 per cent for 2024-25
  • emergency relief funding for refugees and people seeking asylum
  • a reduction in the capital gains tax discount from 50 per cent to 37.5 per cent
  • ensuring people have visas with work and study rights, along with access to Medicare, while they await decisions on their protection applications
  • a review of Commonwealth Rent Assistance, an increase in funding by 25 per cent and the finalisation of A Better Deal for Renters

Volunteering Australia

Volunteering Australia’s pre-budget submission was crafted in co-operation with the various state based volunteering organisations around the country.

It comes amid the ongoing implementation of the national strategy for volunteering designed to arrest the fall in volunteer numbers across the nation.

The submission set’s out the investment that peak volunteering organisations believe is needed in the 2024-25 Budget to chart the course for volunteering to thrive in the future.

Volunteering Australia said the submission demonstrated how targeted strategic investment in volunteering would enable the federal government to meet its key volunteering priorities.

Volunteering Australia CEO Mark Pearce.

Recommendations included:

  • the expansion of the volunteer grants program to provide volunteering cost-of-living relief
  • funding for volunteering infrastructure and the continuation of the volunteer management activity
  • resourcing to implement the national strategy for volunteering
  • development of a national volunteer passport
  • establishment of an environmental and climate change volunteering capacity building program
  • implementation of a national initiative to address loneliness through volunteering
  • development of a national disability services volunteering framework

National Shelter

In its pre-budget submission National Shelter called for investment in social and affordable housing via the Housing Australia Future Fund to be doubled from $10 billion to $20 billion.

National Shelter CEO Emma Greenhalgh said this would help provide a pipeline of social and affordable housing.

National Shelter CEO Emma Greenhalgh.

“The submission is focused on expanding existing policy settings, providing immediate relief for those in need, and starting the structural taxation repair that is needed to fundamentally reform housing inequality.”

Other recommendations included:

  • a 50% increase in the maximum rate of Commonwealth rent assistance indexed to the rental component of CPI from 2024 onwards
  • a permanent increase in JobSeeker, Youth Allowance, Austudy, Abstudy, Special Benefit and Parenting Payments to at least $78 per day
  • the phasing out of negative gearing and the CGT discount to reduce inequity in the housing system
  • increasing funding or homelessness services by $450million per year in order to meet current and future demand

Homelessness Australia

Relentless rent increases and record low vacancy rates are driving more Australians into homelessness and services are unable to keep up with demand, according to Homelessness Australia’s pre-budget submission.

The organisation said funding for homelessness services was not keeping up with inflation and Homelessness Australia itself was facing a funding cliff beyond June 2024.

“This Budget Submission calls for an emergency investment into homelessness services on the front line of the housing crisis, and for increased income support to assist struggling renters with the rising cost of rent.

“We also call for investments that will drive down homelessness over time, including into social housing, homelessness prevention, and the homelessness system infrastructure needed to drive policy change and stronger practice.”

Recommendation in the submission include:

  • an immediate injection of an extra $450 million in annual funding for homelessness services to address unmet need and projected growth in demand
  • increasing the maximum threshold for Commonwealth Rent Assistance (CRA) by 60% (resulting in a 110% increase in the payment) and initiating a review process to better align eligibility with need
  • delivering the investment needed to create a pipeline of 25,000 social housing properties a year
  • providing specific funding for Aboriginal community-controlled housing to close the gap
  • a $500 million investment into a homelessness prevention transformation fund

Minderoo Foundation

The multi-million-dollar foundation bankrolled by Australia’s second-richest person, mining magnate Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest, called for the May Budget to deliver cost of living relief through cheaper childcare services.

The foundation’s Thrive by Five campaign Budget submission said reforming the nation's early childhood education system would ease the cost-of-living crisis and boost productivity while delivering a better start to life for Australian children.

They called for the government to increase the childcare subsidy for families earning $80,000 a year or less.

Thrive by Five's Jay Weatherill said making early childhood education more affordable and accessible should be a key priority for the upcoming Federal Budget.

"Many households are feeling the pinch right now, and no doubt the government is looking for options that will bring down the cost of living, boost productivity and not add to inflation," Mr Weatherill said.

“Early childhood education reform ticks all these boxes.”

The Minderoo Foundation's submission also called for:

  • abolition of the activity test, which it said prevented many families from accessing subsidised care
  • wage increases of up to 25% for early childhood teachers and educators to boost staff recruitment and retention
  • establishment of a Commonwealth taskforce to set-up an independent early childhood commission and implement the childcare recommendations proposed by ACCC and Productivity Commission inquiries
  • establishment of a high-quality early childhood development system and early childhood guarantee.

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