‘Much more’: Treasurer’s major budget hint

Labor are preparing to deliver a ‘small’ surplus this financial year. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Tuesday’s budget will unveil a “broader than speculated” cost of living package that will help the “most vulnerable” as well as “middle Australia”, Treasurer Jim Chalmers says.

But as Labor prepares to hand down a “small” $4bn surplus this year, the Greens say every dollar in the black is a dollar not being spent on helping Australians struggling.

On Monday, the government confirmed the budget would contain a $14.6bn package for cost of living measures over the next four years, including a $1.5bn energy relief package. An expansion of single parenting payments will also make up part of the package.

It’s anticipated the government has signed off on a boost for all Jobseeker recipients, not just those over 55.

“This is a responsible budget which helps people doing it tough and sets Australia up for the future,” Dr Chalmers said.

“It is carefully calibrated to address cost of living pressures in our communities, rather than add to them.

“We will be helping the vulnerable in this budget this year.”

Treasurer Jim Chalmers says the cost of living package will be ‘broader than speculated’. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Dylan Robinson

Asked for further details at a pre-budget press conference, Dr Chalmers said the package “won’t all be limited by age or by distinctions”.

“There will be help for the most vulnerable, but also for middle Australia as we get through these difficult times together and lay the foundations for a much better future,” he said.

Greens treasury spokesperson Nick McKim said Dr Chalmers could not boast about a surplus when so many Australians were doing it tough.

“We won’t be celebrating surplus winning tonight, and neither will the millions of Australians who are getting smashed by interest rate rises, forced to the brink of homelessness by skyrocketing rents, or starving on income support,” he said.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers says the budget will be ‘responsible’, despite claims otherwise from the Opposition. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Dylan Robinson

Record Surplus

Dr Chalmers says he is “aware of the history” in potentially handing down the first surplus in 15 years, but that his eyes are “on the future”.

As the Greens accuse Labor of designing the budget surplus for “political reasons”, the Coalition say the only reason the budget has improved so significantly is because of them.

Tuesday’s budget will forecast a $4bn surplus forecasted for the financial year – the first surplus since 2007-08, before returning to deficit for the next four years.

Dr Chalmers said while there is a projected $143bn improvement over the four years to 2025-26, it was better to be cautious than to celebrate.

“It’s not my style to make back in black mugs like my predecessor did. I thought that was humiliating for the Liberals and Nationals frankly,” he said.

“I’m taking a much more cautious and conservative approach.”

Senator McKim said surplus was “nothing to be proud of”.

“Jim Chalmers really shouldn’t be crowing about bringing the budget back into surplus. It’s nothing to be proud of,” he said.

“Every dollar in the surplus is a dollar not being spent on lifting people out of poverty.”

Labor are preparing to deliver a ‘small’ surplus this financial year. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Shadow treasurer Angus Taylor said rather than focusing on a short-lived surplus, the government needed to ensure its budget didn’t add to inflationary pressures.

“As soon as the pandemic was done and the economies of NSW and Victoria opened up in late 2021, the budget was in balance – right through to (our last) budget,” Mr Taylor said.

He said Labor had inherited an “incredibly strong position base”, as well as a strong job market and a strong commodity sector.

“A drover’s dog could deliver a surplus with the record revenue being served up to Labor as part of this budget,” he said.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will hand down Labor’s second budget since last May on Tuesday. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

Dr Chalmers said the budget position “would not be possible if we copied the approach of our predecessors”.

“Or if we hadn’t imposed on the budget the sort of discipline that makes it possible for us from that stronger foundation to look after people in the here and now, at the same time as we invest in their future,” he said.

But Mr Taylor said a strong economic recovery post-Covid was “always the plan”

“It was truly a V-shaped recovery, that was always the plan. Now the challenge is this, this is the test for Labor – to deal with these inflationary pressures,” he said.

“By making sure that spending grows slower than the economy and that there’s balanced budgets over the medium term, not just the short term, and those inflationary pressures are dealt with now.”

Mr Taylor also said the budget would be “divisive”.

Dr Chalmers said Mr Taylor was “not a serious person”.

“He’s not making a serious contribution and that’s why no-one takes him seriously,” the Treasurer said.

Canavan’s coal message

Meanwhile, Nationals senator Matt Canavan has hit out at the government’s treatment of the resources sector in the budget, bringing a lump of coal along to his morning media appearances to drive home his message.

Matt Canavan
Nationals Senator Matt Canavan brought a lump of coal on budget day, calling it the ‘surplus’. Picture: NCA NewsWire/ Dylan Robinson

“This is your surplus,” he said holding the piece of coal in a stunt reminiscent of then-treasurer Scott Morrison.

“This is the only reason he is getting a surplus.”

When asked about whether coal was the reason for the surplus, Dr Chalmers said “of course not”.

“Obviously the resources sector is making an important contribution to the budget, but it’s not the biggest contribution,” he said.

“About a fifth of the upward revision to revenue comes from higher commodity prices.

“Twice that comes from a much stronger labour market and the fact that after a decade of wage stagnation, we’re seeing the welcome beginnings of wages growth and that’s made a much bigger contribution to the improvement.”