Australia’s economic response to Covid-19 has failed to address insecure work, privatised services such as aged care, low housing supply and climate change.
That is the conclusion of Australian National University Menzies Centre for Health Governance report, released on Thursday, praising the federal government for temporary support scheme including jobkeeper and free childcare, but charging it with failing to make long-term change to improve equity and health.
The report adds to a growing push to extend free childcare, with advocates including thinktank the Australia Institute, small and family business ombudsman, Kate Carnell, and the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
The Menzies centre said that Australia’s economic response to the Covid-19 recession – with 156 separate measures at state and federal level – has been “impressive and to be commended”. But it warned Australia’s policies must “not return to conditions that will keep people in poverty”.
“To prevent an accumulation of disadvantage and health inequities throughout the life course, the temporary supports for childcare should continue and enable access to free childcare for, at the very least, socially disadvantaged households,” it said.
The Menzies centre was most critical of the housing stimulus, warning that “none of the housing-related measures that were introduced address the medium and long-term housing precariousness that is prevalent in Australia”.
It noted that main beneficiaries of homebuilder – which provides grants of $25,000 for new builds or renovations of at least $150,000 in value – “are people who can already afford major renovations”.
State and territory grants for tenants who have lost work are “insufficient” and investment in public housing “modest”.
It proposed “investment in social (public and community) housing could help bridge the gap in housing investment, job creation and income growth and at the same time reduce homelessness” – echoing Labor’s proposals for social housing investment.
The report praised jobkeeper wage subsidies for providing “immediate financial relief and security to businesses and workers” but noted they are accompanied by industrial relations changes that allow employers to cut workers’ hours.
“Job insecurity and precariousness … is not good for health and is more common in low paid, and youth and female dominated sectors,” it said, calling on the government to address “longer-term systemic issues of poor employment arrangements and working conditions”.
The Menzies centre said the government should keep “in place the positive changes to income support schemes that occurred due to Covid-19”, including doubling jobseeker with the $550 fortnightly coronavirus supplement, which is set to be cut to $250.
The Menzies centre concluded that Australia’s economic supports did not “challenge the status quo” but rather maintained “business as usual”.
It cited the aged care response – which provides “additional money to keep staff employed” rather than provide “long-term investment in publicly funded and run frontline services”. “The privatised model and its inadequate regulatory framework is harmful.”
The profit-motive and inadequate government funding of aged care has been targeted by the Greens, Labor and even Liberal MP Russell Broadbent.
The Menzies centre also cited “silence on climate change in Australian policy” as an example of a “missed opportunity” in the effort to “bounce back better” from Covid-19.
“Unless something significant changes, climate change will continue to exacerbate existing health inequities,” it said. “Fundamentally, we need climate change mitigation.”
In May, Guardian Australia revealed the then-National Covid-19 Coordination Commission’s plan for economic recovery centred on taxpayers funding a massive expansion of the domestic gas industry including helping open new fields and building hundreds of kilometres of pipelines.
The head of the commission, Nev Power, has said although business leaders have called for the government to use the recovery to lock in low-emissions energy, his organisation is not recommending “a green recovery per se”.