Australia’s ‘wellbeing budget’ inspired by New Zealand – with related targets to come

By on 26/10/2022 | Updated on 26/10/2022
A woman wearing summer dress stands in nature with arms spread out and mountains in distance
Australia's treasurer says Labor's first budget aims to start "a new discussion about measuring what matters”

The Australian government unveiled what has been described as a ‘wellbeing budget’ on Tuesday, having taken inspiration from New Zealand’s approach to economic policy which aims to put the health and happiness of its population front and centre.

The latest Australian budget is the Labor Party’s first since it ousted the Liberal/National coalition in the federal election in May, and includes measures to address climate change and the cost-of-living crisis.

Australian treasurer Jim Chalmers said the budget had been formulated with the aim of starting “a new discussion about measuring what matters”, focusing not just on economic growth but on enabling Australians to flourish. Though the budget does not include targets linked to wellbeing, Chalmers said goals would be introduced next year after consultation with stakeholders.

Read more: New Zealand sets out 2021 budget with new inclusive wellbeing framework

The budget contained AUS$7.5bn (US$4.8bn) of measures to tackle the rising cost of living, including more affordable childcare and medicine, and an extra six weeks paid parental leave. It is hoped these policies will help to take the sting out of a projected 56% rise in electricity prices by the end of 2023, though Labor has stepped away from a pre-election pledge to reduce energy bills. Chalmers has signalled that regulatory intervention in the energy market would be needed.

“We do understand that people would like us to be there when times are tough, and we are, and we will be in this budget,” Chalmers said. “But our responsibility when we’ve got lots of inflation is not to spray money around in an indiscriminate or untargeted way because that would make our inflation problem worse.”

Climate change and mental health

The budget allocated AUS$30bn (US$19.5bn) to tackling climate change, including AUS$20bn (US$12.9bn) for the country’s Rewiring the Nation plan, to improve its transmission network. The rest of the funding will be spent on boosting electric car sales; gas and carbon capture and storage; community batteries and solar banks; supporting threatened species; restoring the Great Barrier Reef; protecting heritage sites; and for adaptation measures such as flood and fire defences through the Disaster Ready Fund.

There will also be new investments in renewable electricity generation, though details have yet to be released.

Read more: Australian Treasury to model climate change effects on economy

Support for mental health also featured in the budget, with the federal government to devote AUS$15m (US$9.7m) to support services and debt counselling hotlines, including AUS$10.9m (US$7m) towards a telehealth programme aimed at SME owners.

In an example of departmental spend, AUS$36.1m (US$23.4m) has been earmarked to boost workforce numbers in the Department of Home Affairs, with the goal of clearing a pandemic-era backlog of visa applications.

Anthony Albanese, Australia’s prime minister, described his government’s budget as a “stable” one and cited the UK’s recent mini budget as an example of what not to do. The economic policies put forward by ex-PM Liz Truss and former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng – which caused the value of the pound to plummet and both to depart government after only weeks in their roles – provided “a counterpoint to how a new government can perform,” Albanese said.  

A ‘yoga mat and beads’ budget

The focus on wellbeing in Australia’s latest budget has been viewed as a gimmick by some, notably ex-treasurer and deputy leader of the Liberal Party Josh Frydenberg, who said it was “laughable”.

He tweeted that the budget represented “a warning to every Australian” that Labor “want[s] to replace responsible economic management with a yoga mat, beads and a ‘wellbeing budget’”. He added that it was “just another Labor excuse for higher taxes and bigger deficits”.

Chalmers cited New Zealand’s wellbeing budget approach as an inspiration. The country’s last three budgets considered 12 ‘domains of wellbeing’, including housing and social connections. The latest, announced last year, set out a plan to rebuild the country’s economy following the COVID-19 pandemic and included funding for a carbon-neutral government. Unlike its first two wellbeing budgets, it also considered how initiatives aligned with ‘He Ara Waiora’, a new framework which gives a Māori view on wellbeing.

The framework covered five principles comprising coordinated working; fostering strong relationships; making decisions in accordance with “the right values and processes”; enhancing others’ presence through showing “proper care and respect”; and guardian and stewardship, including of the environment.

Read more: Minister vows to revive ‘mothballed’ Australian Public Service reform agenda

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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