Is it just a crisis budget or are there cries for a just budget?

Budgets reveal what we consider most important, our ideologies for achieving progress, and the value with which we hold people in different circumstances. Geoff Bice, Social Justice Consultant for the Uniting Church WA, shares his reflections on the 2020 Federal Budget.

A budget is rarely something associated with experiences of spiritual enlightenment, but a massive expenditure increase of pandemic proportions, as seen in this year’s Federal Budget, is enough to set my values-laden spiritual nerve endings all a-jangle.

While the numerical calculations may send my cognitive facilities into meltdown, the principles and priorities behind the allocated figures are what intrigue me most.

In a very real-world spirituality, of the kind in which Jesus calls on certain rich men to sell all they have and give it to the poor, a budget is a profoundly spiritual document. Budgets reveal what we consider most important, our ideologies for achieving progress, and the value with which we hold people in different circumstances.

In the squabble over how much might end up in my pocket at the end of the day, it is easy to neglect the bigger questions about the trajectory such budget decisions set for our nation. What kind of society do we want to live in? As a country, what kind of world do we want to create for ourselves and future generations?

When a budget is called a “crisis budget” and is referred to as an emergency response to keep our collective economic heads above water, it can also serve to shorten our vision and diminish any critique.

Certainly, stimulus spending is required and there will be economic benefit from pumping huge volumes of money into the system. No argument there.

However, when we see huge expenditure – now willingly handed out by the Federal Government – it is deeply disappointing when so many of the potential benefits are missed. Have we bypassed a rare opportunity for creating a better Australia that is fairer, healthier, more equal, generous, compassionate and sustainable?

In Jesus’ time, the religious leaders of the day were the common recipients of his criticisms. They were the ones entrusted with the work of building God’s ‘kingdom’ society and were deemed by Jesus as failing in their responsibility.

In Jesus’ eyes, their priorities were askew and they had in fact “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23). I’m sure those leaders felt their intentions were well placed and their priorities noble, but to Jesus the main question he had of them was about who was being excluded in the process? Is it good news for the poor? In this year’s budget I am asking the same questions as it seems that refugees, temporary visa holders, people experiencing homelessness and poverty, women, the unemployed, nor the environment have been prioritised.

May we not forget that we are called to a bigger vision of long-term justice and equality in which those who are too often missed-out are included.

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