One group to miss out in budget
Treasurer Jim Chalmers may have described the budget best when he told a group of reporters in the lockup there was “not room in the budget to help every single Australian”.
His second budget in less than a year delivered a much needed increase to Jobseeker payment and a small rise to rent assistance, while handing down a small but short lived surplus for the first time in 15 years.
But for many Australians the budget will have little impact on their lives.
Take energy bill relief as one example. The government’s rebadged $1.5bn package, delivered as part of a deal with the states, will credit up to $500 into the electricity accounts of more than five million Australians.
But first it depends on where you live.
If you’re in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia or Tasmania and are eligible for the payment, you’ll receive up $500 in relief, which includes the contributions from the states.
However, if you live in Western Australia, the Northern Territory or the ACT, you’ll be short changed. The government will chip in $175 which will be matched by the state and territory governments.
Even then, unless you’re a pensioner, veteran, senior or other concession card holder, or are eligible for the family tax benefit or state and territory electricity concessions, you won’t receive a cent off your energy bill.
The government says other Australians will benefit from the fall in wholesale electricity prices spurred on by intervention to cap coal and gas prices last year.
But that may not mean much to the many people who are struggling right now.
The same caveats apply to the “centrepiece” of the budget – a boost to the cash incentive general practitioners receive for bulk billing patients.
The increased incentives will be paid to GPs who bulk bill 11.6m eligible Australians including children under 16, pensioners and other concession card holders.
GPs will be able to claim the higher incentives for face-to-face consultations more than 6 minutes in length and certain telehealth consultations.
Asked about the lack of sweeteners for middle Australians, Dr Chalmers said he did not agree that this group of people was missing out.
“On the contrary, this is a government very, very focused on the prospects of middle Australia,” he told reporters at Parliament House before the budget was handed down.
“But also the ability to hook up people who are doing it tough with the opportunities that a good strong growing economy creates including in the labour market.”
The Treasurer repeatedly stressed this budget was about helping out the most vulnerable and claimed the cost-of-living relief measures would shave 0.75 per cent off inflation in the 2023-2024 financial year.
“We very carefully tried to target cost of living relief in this budget to areas that are in most acute need – rents, medicines, energy, out of pocket health costs,” he said.
“When you can’t throw the kitchen sink at some of these cost of living pressures, you want to be really carefully about it, really targeted about it and spread it out over a period of time so you’re not making these cost of living pressures worse.”
But in the same year the government did not extend the Morrison-government era low and middle income tax offset (LMITO or sometimes affectionately known as “the lamington”) worth up to $1500 at tax time, only time will tell if the budget passes the middle Australia pub test.