Jim Chalmers has completed his first week of Australia’s Parliament as Treasurer. On Thursday, he presented a statement of the country’s finances without mentioning his well-being intentions (which some are claiming to be a gimmick). This does not mean that well-being is dead, as the “Wellbeing Budget” is not due until October; Chalmers needs to establish his authority, but it illustrates a common perspective on occupational health and safety (OHS) in the minds of many small business people.
So what level and type of well-being budget did Dr Jim Chalmers commit his government to? A lot less than we anticipated last week. Dr Chalmers gave a nod to the work of his New Zealand counterpart but seems to be waiting for further discussion in the “jobs summit” in September 2022.
“A coming test for consensus will be the September jobs summit. This will be an ideas-gathering exercise, but the government will also want to shape it as a prelude to the October budget, and that will require some common messages.”
Regardless of Dr Chalmers’ intention to develop a well-being budget, the jobs summit will have the same tripartite of industrial relations and occupational health and safety (OHS) invitees. Unless Dr Chalmers and Treasury offer up something fresh, like an OHS perspective on the prevention of mental health, innovation is unlikely. Little more than “in-principle” agreements should be anticipated.
The Australian Treasurer, Dr Jim Chalmers is receiving good media attention for his thoughts on a “well-being budget”. This newsworthiness has been helped by American economist Joseph Stiglitz being on an Australian speaking tour at the same time. Stiglitz strongly advocates using socioeconomic measures to complement traditional economic measures. Well-being budgets shift how governments view policies, programs and strategies in a similar ideological fashion to how we should consider safety differently. The occupational context of well-being is well-established, but this new approach to measurement may challenge those established well-being programs.
Australia is not ignorant of the well-being budgets. It is not something created by Chalmers or just imported from New Zealand.
Australia’s new Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, shows an awareness of the importance of good mental health in Australia’s citizens and workers but his strategy, which remains in its infancy, has some problems.
In one of Chalmers’ first interviews after the Australian Labor Party won power last month, he was asked about the Budget he will be releasing in October 2022 (the same month as National Safe Work Month!):