Good, bad; what Australia needs is a Budget fit for a 21st century purpose

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As our nation gathers in the House of Representatives, a function room or in front of the TV tonight we’ll hear the commentators declare it a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ budget. This black and white approach to considering the value of our country’s economic future is not how we should be looking at the budget.

This nation’s future is bigger than a binary narrative. At SBA we’ve been looking at it from the perspective of what is and isn’t in it for an economy with sustainable development at its core. Australia’s ecological, economic and social agenda should align to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). All of the talk so far on the budget far has been on the ‘retail politics’ of the statement. We’ll be delving more deeply this week looking for what’s in it for sustainable business.

We hope and expect that SDG are in there by name or intent. They need to be. In December 2015, the world signed up the Paris Agreement; a global contract with its future. In November last year, Prime Minister Turnbull announced that Australia had ratified this historic document. It therefore follows that in this budget the government should operationalise the Agreement domestically as we will only honour the agreement by addressing the goals. The delivery date on the goals is 2030.

While the SDGs are universally applicable, “each government will also decide how these aspirational and global targets should be incorporated in national planning processes, policies, and strategies.” Despite the great ambition that has been set within the 2030 Agenda, the good news is that we increasingly have the resources to be able to deliver – both in terms of the financial and the technical know-how. This is particularly the case for the Australia.

Initial country-level efforts, are presently focused on putting in place the building blocks necessary to support SDG achievement. Many countries are now developing institutional arrangements to promote coordination and policy coherence across sectors and government levels, are starting to align national and sub-national development plans and budgets with SDG targets and to assess the availability of data and capacities of data systems to monitor progress. Australia should be too.

The next (and often more difficult) stage involves the identification of priorities and areas for ‘acceleration’ and requires approaches that help identify and address the bottlenecks and complex interrelations underlying sustainable development. While the ‘indivisibility’ of the Agenda calls for an integrated approach, implementing the 2030 Agenda will require some level of prioritization as not all goals and targets can be achieved at once. Our hope is that the Australian Government makes some statement on this within six months, roughly three years after the release of the SDG and two years after the signing of the Paris account. Time is ticking by and quickly.

In any statement, we need to see resources targeted towards ‘accelerator interventions’ which can trigger progress across multiple goals and targets and across different sectors. So with the increasing size of the budget also comes the challenge of spending more prudently and equitably and finding new ways delivery through partnerships. Without increased private sector resources, however, there is no guarantee that the integrated economic, social and environmental objectives of sustainable development will be met. It must be a partnership between government, business and community.

The right policy and institutional frameworks will therefore need to be in place. This too should feature in any such statement. A number of countries are well advanced on this. We as a country need strategies, policies and budgets that are fit for a future with a more far reaching purpose.

Additional Information

How to Link SDGs to the Budget

SDG+1: Turning Words and Plans into Concrete Budgets



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