Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains the name of someone who has died.
As the world faces escalating climate disruption, environmental degradation and geopolitical instablity as well as growing inequality and human rights abuses, the development of wellbeing indicators for the Federal Budget presents both opportunities and challenges.
As much of Croakey’s Budget coverage has shown this week, we are a long way from having a Wellbeing Budget that lives up to the name.
Jennifer Doggett and Alison Barrett write:
Indigenous health, public health and environmental health experts and community groups will have an opportunity to contribute to the development of a landmark new set of wellbeing indicators that are being prepared for the 2023 Budget.
Treasury announced in this week’s Budget papers that it plans to consult with stakeholders and experts to help inform indicators for the new Measuring What Matters Statement, and how the Statement should link to other goals and frameworks.
The Government says it is “committed to measuring what matters to improve the lives of all Australians”.
“When policy processes consider these outcomes, they facilitate more holistic discussions of the type of economy and society Australians want to build together.”
The Budget chapter acknowledges that this is the beginning “of a conversation about how to measure what matters to Australians”.
Clearly, it will be important for Treasury to consult with people with diverse expertise in order to ensure equity considerations are integrated into the wellbeing framework.
A Croakey survey (reported in more detail below) produced the following suggestions:
“The first step in this is for the Government to undertake a public consultation to understand what wellbeing means to Australians.”
“The wellbeing framework should function as a budgeting tool, and inform the allocation of public resources, not just an adjunct to the Budget.”
“Reducing health inequities would be a great way of measuring societal progress.”
“When it comes to mental health, it will be important to have people with lived experience at the table, rather than just industry and providers.”
“We must take serious action on COVID, in order to allow disabled people and our families to live freely again, and without fear of severe illness and death.”
What is a Wellbeing Budget?
The Measuring What Matters Statement aims to measure social and environmental outcomes in addition to traditional macroeconomic measures to track Australia’s progress to determine “broader quality of life factors”.
While Australian governments publish many indicators that support decision-making, including Closing the Gap and the State of the Environment Report, “no national framework or central set of indicators” to track overall progress on wellbeing currently exists.
The Budget chapter states that one of the “central challenge[s] of progress reporting is bringing attention to the broader factors that underpin community wellbeing and longer-term economic prosperity, in a focused way”.
Other countries that have frameworks to measure non-economic progress and quality of life include Scotland, Wales, Canada, Germany and Aotearoa/New Zealand.
As the Measuring What Matters chapter acknowledges, some indicators in frameworks such as the OECD Framework for Measuring Wellbeing and Progress may not be relevant to Australia’s context.
This table shows policy areas covered in other country’s national frameworks for measuring progress, including income and wealth, social connections, knowledge and skills, among others.
Aotearoa/New Zealand is one of a few countries that integrates their ‘Living Standards Framework” with policy proposals and Budgets.
Their annual Budget reports on how policy proposals contribute to progress outcomes, which are then reviewed every three years.
What should be included?
The Budget paper acknowledges that the OECD Framework is “not tailored to Australia’s circumstances” and highlights the importance of adapting the Framework to “capture important aspects of the Australian context”, such as the impact of climate change on this unique continent.
This adaptation should include consideration of the specific challenges facing Australians in each area being measured.
For example, housing affordability in the Australian context should include not just measures of house prices and rents, but also costs associated with maintenance of a home, and servicing a mortgage.
The involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations, people with disabilities, and people with lived experience of mental illness will also be important if future wellbeing budgets are to genuinely address inequities within our society.
Indigenous knowledges around Caring for Country, connection and concepts such as social and emotional wellbeing have much to offer a Wellbeing Framework.
The importance of indicators around cultural safety and experiences of racism has been tragically highlighted this week, with a man charged over the murder of a young Aboriginal boy in Western Australia, and a 4 Corners investigation into missing and murdered Aboriginal women who have been ignored and overlooked by the police and justice systems.
It is also important that the data collected for the “Measuring What Matters” statement is robust enough to allow for an analysis of the differential impact of the outcomes measures across diverse groups.
Further consultation needs to be undertaken on how and when data is collected and this should involve partnerships between government and those involved.
It is vital that these communities are closely involved in both the collection and analysis of their data to ensure it accurately reflects their lived experience and avoids entrenching existing inequalities, for example by promoting a deficit view of Indigenous health or undermining Indigenous data sovereignty.
Just one suggestion
Croakey asked public health, mental health and social organisations “If you could make just one suggestion to Treasury about the ‘measuring what matters statement’ what would it be?”
Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis, Director, NHMRC Healthy Environments and Lives (HEAL) National Research Network
A new integrated Australian framework measuring progress and well-being would help to capture important insights on key health and environmental issues, beyond what traditional macroeconomic indicators or current specialised reporting can provide. Given Australia’s unique natural environment and high vulnerability to the effects of climate change, any such framework should be developed in close consultation with health, climate and environmental experts so that its indicators accurately reflect ongoing challenges and important milestones in addressing the climate crisis as well as environmental issues and social inequities which result in worse health outcomes in the Australian population, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other at-risk populations.
Dr Tess Ryan, academic and writer
I think for me it’s about ensuring the money spent on health isn’t just about infrastructure – it’s training, employment, equity and access. More money on hospital services are great, but regional GP shortages are the start of a system in collapse.
Simon Katterl, Mental Health and Human Rights Consultant
The Measuring What Matters Statement will be crucial to developing an economy that works for us. When it comes to mental health, it will be important to have people with lived experience at the table, rather than just industry and providers. Measures need to match people’s needs and ambitions, and while mental health services and organisations have a key role to play in this, their voices and needs should be subservient to those they work for. This highlights the necessity of Treasury and the Department of Finance engaging state lived experience peak bodies, and fast-tracking the development of national consumer and carer peaks to assist in this process.
Samantha Connor, President of People with Disability Australia
The disability community is Australia’s most diverse community. We have different perspectives, different lives, are of different backgrounds, races, ages.
It’s impossible to gain consensus, let alone speak for an entire community. But personally, if I had one request to Treasury, it would be this:
We must take serious action on COVID, in order to allow disabled people and our families to live freely again, and without fear of severe illness and death.
We must take any and all reasonable measures to ensure that all Australians, including Australians with disability, are able to equally participate in Australian life – for while we are locked out of schools, workplaces and Australian life, our lives are compromised.
We must find a balance between protecting the economy, preventing death and disease – including long COVID – and making sure that the rights and freedoms of ALL Australians are protected. Because we, as people with disability, have the right to take up our place in society. That is at the heart of what we fight for as disability rights advocates.
Our DPOA statement of ethics outlines the rights we have under international human rights law – the CRPD, to which Australia is a signatory. Statement of Concern – COVID-19: Human rights, disability and ethical decision-making – Disabled People’s Organisations Australia (DPO Australia)
I would implore Treasury to reconsider the Budget, which reimagines COVID as a mild disease with an end date of December 2022, and take all possible steps to keep Australians with disability safe. There’s even a guide, developed by grassroots disability advocates, to follow. Call to Action (weebly.com)
Last of all, I would ask them to remember the impact on our health system, our health workers, our doctors, nurses and caregivers. Because all of us matter.
Sharon Friel, Professor of Health Equity and Director of the Menzies Centre for Health Governance
It would be great if health inequities was a measure. Reducing health inequities would be a great way of measuring societal progress. Also measuring social inequities (inequities in income, wealth for example) – the evidence shows us that more equal societies have better health, environmental and social outcomes.
Cassandra Goldie, CEO of Australian Council of Social Service
ACOSS is strongly supportive of the development of a new approach to budgeting which centralises wellbeing as a core objective. The Wellbeing Budget should provide a framework for a poverty reduction target, which reflects our Sustainable Development Goal commitment to halve poverty by 2030 and is underpinned by a national definition of poverty.
A high priority will be ensuring that the framework embeds the measurement of poverty across the population and sets benchmarks for improvement as a key yardstick of national progress.
This should be a headline indicator, complemented by other useful living standards indicators relating to incomes, health, education, employment, and wellbeing.
Importantly, the wellbeing framework should function as a budgeting tool, and inform the allocation of public resources, not just an adjunct to the Budget.
Dr Sandro Demaio, CEO of VicHealth
VicHealth is pleased to see the Federal Government outline a path towards a wellbeing economy in the budget.
Australia’s long-term ambition is for a wellbeing budget and wellbeing economy to be fully realised. The first step in this is for the Government to undertake a public consultation to understand what wellbeing means to Australians. They must also future proof this move towards measuring what matters by developing a wellbeing framework and enshrining it in a Wellbeing Economy Bill overseen by a Minister for Wellbeing.”
Public Health Association of Australia spokesperson
We note that there are just three indicators that relate closely to health outcomes (BP1, p130):
- life expectancy at birth
- premature mortality
- exposure to outdoor air pollution
There are some other measures that relate to social equity, which of course provide determinants of health. But, these health measures are looking thin. There could easily be additional measures relating to major disease prevalence, obesity, addiction, mental health, child development, and other factors.
Adjunct Associate Professor Lesley Russell-Wolpe
It’s important to have meaningful goals that can be meaningfully assessed and measured.
Leanne Wells, Director of Health and Social Policy at 89 Degrees East and former CEO of the Consumers Health Forum Australia
It is essential for Treasury to include measures that matter to the community in a wellbeing framework. Exclusive research by 89 Degrees East shows almost 70 percent are supportive of a wellbeing budget, and 71 percent want mental and physical health as priority for government action. The social determinants of health also rated, with 73 percent wanting housing security as a priority.
More from Twitter
At The Conversation: ‘Chalmers hasn’t delivered a wellbeing budget, but it’s a step in the right direction‘, by Dr Warwick Smith
Save the dates
- 5pm AEDT, 8 November: Health policy and the Federal Budget
- 5pm AEDT, 15 November: Health in All Policies and the Federal Budget
More details to come closer to the time.