Sparks fly over energy bill handouts for the wealthy

Treasurer Jim Chalmers insists cost-of-living relief in the federal budget is substantial, despite criticism over plans to offer energy rebates to every household.

While more than 10 million homes will have $300 trimmed from their power bills, advocates have hit out at the lack of a means test, with concern wealthy Australians will also receive the support.

But Dr Chalmers said those in need would still benefit.

Jim Chalmers and Anthony Albanese
Jim Chalmers is defending budget measures to reduce power bills for all households. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

"More help is on the way, this is a responsible budget which is all about easing cost-of-living pressures and fighting inflation," he told parliament on Wednesday.

"The cost-of-living relief in the budget is both substantial and responsible."

Households will receive a $75 credit off each quarterly bill in the coming financial year as part off the rebates, with small businesses also to get a $325 discount.

Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie said the billions of dollars spent should have been used to increase income support payments.

"Somebody who is on $200,000 plus, who owns their own home, who possibly has an investment property ... they will be getting $300 extra when we've got somebody in poverty who is unable to feed themselves more than once a day," she told reporters in Canberra.

Master Electricians Australia executive Kate Raymond says the government could have delivered better bang for its buck if it used the funds on targeted relief for low-income households and incentives for solar and battery systems that could offer long-term relief.

"There's no doubt the cost of living is causing a lot of pain right now but investing in household energy storage would be the gift that keeps on giving, if it's invested wisely," she said.

"This would lead to lower wholesale power prices, which would benefit all electricity customers now and into the future."

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the cost-of-living measures would help bring down inflationary pressures on households.

"All of these measures are designed in a calibrated way to make a positive impact on the economy, at the same time as they're having a positive impact on household budgets," he told parliament.

Commonwealth rent assistance has also been bolstered by 10 per cent, with those on the payments to receive an extra $19 on average per fortnight.

The cost of medicines will be frozen, with prescriptions for medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme to be capped in the next financial year at $31.60, as well as limits of $7.70 for concessions and pensioners.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has said the coalition will support measures that provide relief but he is still worried about the budget's impact on inflation.

"This is a smoke and mirrors game going on here and giving $300 to people ... is just not going to cut it for the average family," he told ABC radio.

Leader of the Opposition Peter Dutton.
Peter Dutton says he will support measures that provide relief but he's worried about inflation. (Mick Tsikas/AAP PHOTOS)

He accused the government of using the budget to prepare for a federal election.

"They're trying to buy themselves an interest rate cut before the election and pretend everything's okay," he said.

Greens leader Adam Bandt said the budget was a betrayal of renters, women, students and mortgage holders.

He said the government was posting an expected $9.3 billion surplus for 2023/24 at the expense of many of those hit by high prices.

"Labor has found billions for the bad guys in this budget, while you are left doing it tough," he told ABC.