Budget balancing act

Treasurer Jim Chalmers has unveiled a federal budget that he says strikes a “considered, methodical balance” between tackling inflation and supporting struggling Australians.

What we know:

  • The Labor government has delivered Australia’s first surplus in 15 years in a budget that includes nearly $21bn in new spending over five years, led by a $14.6bn cost of living relief package (The Saturday Paper).
  • At the centre of the budget is a significant boost to Medicare, an increase to the JobSeeker payment, clean energy spending and tax rises for gas production and tobacco.
  • In his budget speech, Chalmers said he aims to help “people through the hard times” and set Australia up “for a better future”.
  • A surplus of $4.2bn is set to be reached this financial year, although the budget predicted a return to deficit of $13.9bn in the following year and of $35.1bn in 2024-25.
  • Despite the $20.6bn increase in spending, Chalmers said the budget is deflationary and that combined measures included in it addressing energy costs will reduce the consumer price index by 0.75%.
  • Chalmers is confident the budget has found a balance between “spending restraint to keep the pressure off inflation, while doing what we can to help people struggling to make ends meet” (SBS).
  • While not included in the budget documents, the treasurer revealed that the cost of the controversial stage 3 tax cuts has skyrocketed to $69bn over four years, up from the previous estimate of $41bn.
  • In response, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said the budget “fails hardworking Australians” and “removes addressing inflation as a priority”, while Greens leader Adam Bandt labelled it a “betrayal” of the promise that nobody would be left behind by the government (The Australian).
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Medicare gets $5.7bn boost

One of the most significant new measures on budget night was a $5.7bn boost to Medicare, aiming to help more Australians access free or subsidised medical appointments.

What we know:

  • Of the package, $3.5bn will go towards the tripling of incentives for GPs to bulk bill consultations for children aged under 16 and those on Commonwealth concession programs (The Guardian).
  • These changes will help 11m people access free medical appointments, the government said, and will apply to a range of face-to-face and telehealth appointments.
  • The tripling of the incentive was labelled by Health minister Mark Butler as the “largest in Medicare’s 40-year history”.
  • In 2022-23 just 64% of patients were fully bulk-billed, down from 67% in the previous year.
  • The Medicare package also includes $98.2m for new rebates for consultations over an hour (SMH).
  • GP clinics will receive $445m to employ allied healthcare workers and $951.2m will go towards digital health initiatives.
  • Eight more urgent care clinics will be established with $358.5m in funding, to help take the pressure off hospital emergency departments.
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Pennies for JobSeeker and rent

Those on JobSeeker and other government payments will receive an extra $20 a week under a $4.9bn budget measure, while rent assistance has been boosted by 15%, as the government looks to assist Australians who are “under the pump”.

The government confirmed on Tuesday night an increase in the base rate of JobSeeker from $693 a fortnight to $733 from September, ending weeks of speculation (ABC).

People on JobSeeker aged over 55 who have been unemployed for nine months will get $50 extra a fortnight under the plan.

The JobSeeker pay rise equates to an increase of $2.86 a day and is far below the $18.29 the government’s own economic inclusion advisory committee recommended (The Conversation).

Australian Council of Social Service chief Cassandra Goldie said the increase will keep people in poverty while independent senator David Pocock said the small rise is “laughable” and “embarrassing” (Sky News).

Commonwealth rent assistance will also be boosted by 15% for 1.1m Australian households, at a cost of $2.7bn over the forward estimates.

The increase to rent assistance will lead to an extra $31 a fortnight for these households, something Chalmers labelled the “largest increase in more than 30 years” (9News).

An Anglicare report found that a single person on Youth Allowance would need to spend a third of their income on rent before becoming eligible for assistance (The Guardian).

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Big bet on hydrogen

The federal government will bet $2bn on green hydrogen as part of its clean energy investments in the federal budget.

The $2bn Hydrogen Headstart will aim to bridge the gap between the market price of hydrogen and the cost of producing green hydrogen, and will enable Australia to be a “world leader in producing and exporting hydrogen power”, Chalmers said (InnovationAus).

The production credit scheme won’t provide money until 2026 though, with the next three years to be spent on designing the program.

The investment is aiming to make Australia a “renewable energy superpower”, Chalmers said, and comes after the US government unveiled plans to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on hydrogen production (SMH).

The budget also included $1bn for low-cost loans to help households and businesses install energy-saving features such as double glazing and solar panels, and $300m for making social housing more energy efficient.

Changes to the petroleum resource rent tax were also confirmed to bring in $2.4bn over the forward estimates, but a number of crossbenchers called for these reforms to go much further.

Independent MP Allegra Spender said the tax changes were “tinkering around the edges” and a “big opportunity that’s been missed”, while the Greens said it was “less than the bare minimum” (The Guardian).

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Trump liable for sexual abuse

A jury has found former US president Donald Trump guilty of sexual abuse and defamation in a civil trial, and ordered $US5m to be paid in damages.

The jury found that writer E. Jean Carroll had proved that Trump sexually abused her in the mid 1990s, but did not find that she had been raped (NYT).

Carroll had claimed that Trump attacked her in the dressing room of a Manhattan department store (SMH).

Trump also defamed Carroll when he called her case against him a “complete con job” and a “hoax and a lie”.

The unanimous decision awarded Carroll $US2.7m in compensatory damages and $US280,000 in punitive damages.

Trump has labelled the verdict a “disgrace” and claimed he had “absolutely no idea who this woman is”.

National Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence Counselling Service 24-hour helpline: 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732

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A blunder that is just epic

After a records request, the LAPD released the names and photos of 9000 cops, including undercover officers in dangerous assignments (The Guardian).

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Postscript: In Australia, scientists begin vaccinating koalas against chlamydia

Australian scientists have begun vaccinating wild koalas against chlamydia in an ambitious field trial in New South Wales (NPR).

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