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Australia’s Budget must leave no child behind

By Tony Stuart - posted Tuesday, 30 May 2017


The Commonwealth Government cannot answer the simple question, "How much does the Australian Government invest in Australia's children?"

This is disappointing for three reasons.

Firstly, since we all agree that our children are our future, we should be able to answer this important question.

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Secondly, without such an accounting, there is inadequate transparency, and consequently greater difficulty in judging government action and impact over time.

Thirdly, Australia is a signatory to the international Convention on the Rights of the Child. As such, it is required under Article 4 of that Convention to "undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention". It could be argued that a transparent accounting of government expenditure on children is mandated by this commitment.

UNICEF Australia believes therefore that along with each Budget, the Commonwealth Government should present a Children's Impact Statement, showing where and how Australian taxpayer dollars are being spent to protect and support children, ensuring a fair start in life for every child. The institution of such a statement would also be of value in compiling the periodic reports Australia must make to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The last such report was submitted in June 2009, and the next report is due 15 January 2018.

Until the Commonwealth provides such a statement, UNICEF Australia has for the first time produced such an analysis, to provide a basis for assessment. This analysis will be used by UNICEF Australia to assess all future budgets.

Unlike many areas of Government activity, support for children does not fall neatly into one category – assessing it requires examination across the whole range of expenditure.

Given its complexity, UNICEF Australia will be looking to improve and deepen the analysis over time. In line with the definition in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a child is a person aged 0 to 18 years of age.

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To answer the question with which we began, UNICEF Australia's analysis shows that in 2017-18, the Australian Government will spend $75 billion, or 16.2% of total government spending, on children in Australia. This compares to $73.1 billion last year (16.2% of total spending), an increase of 2.6%. For the years 2018-19 and 2019-20 the ratio is projected to be 16%.

For further context, the $75 billion allocated for 2017-18 is the same amount that has been committed to infrastructure expenditure over the next decade – a significant sum and another reason why greater transparency is needed.

In broad terms, the major areas considered in our analysis are education, health, and assistance to families with children. We chose these areas as having clear and direct relevance to children, where the Commonwealth Government has a direct role in funding.

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About the Author

Tony Stuart is CEO of UNICEF Australia. From 2003 to 2014, he was the Group CEO of National Roads and Motorists Association (NRMA) and prior to that was the CEO of Sydney Airports Corporation Limited. Mr Stuart is the Chair of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) Advisory Board, is a member of Starlight Children's Foundation National Board and is a member of the Business Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals Expert Advisory Panel on Co-operative and Mutual Enterprises and Human Services. Mr Stuart holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Canterbury University. He is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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