Budget loaded with election sweeteners

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has unveiled a federal budget loaded up on short-term handouts ahead of the federal election, with longer-term structural reforms largely ignored.

What we know:

  • $1.5bn will go towards a $250 one-off payment for pensioners and concession card holders (The Conversation); 
  • More than 10 million taxpayers will get a one-off $420 top-up to the low-and middle-income tax offset;
  • However, the entire $1500 tax offset will be abolished from next financial year, effectively increasing taxes for low and middle income earners while permanently cutting taxes for those earning more than $180,000 (ABC); 
  • The fuel excise will be halved for six months from 44.2 cents to 22.1 cents a litre, at a net cost to revenue of $2.9bn, bringing the average price of 95-octane fuel down from $2.22 a litre to $2 a litre (Drive); 
  • The budget ignored calls to increase wages for aged care workers, although it did include $49.5m for aged care training (Hello Care); 
  • Overall spending on climate change action will be cut by 35% over four years and offers nothing for electric vehicles (Renew Economy); 
  • Spending on flood recovery in NSW and Queensland will top $6bn over four years, after the Coalition abandoned resistance to using its Emergency Response Fund (The Guardian). 
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Parents to divide leave payment

The Morrison government has increased flexibility around the paid parental leave scheme, and boosted funding for women’s safety.

What we know:

  • The federal budget proposes to integrate the two weeks of “dad and partner pay” with the 18 weeks for the primary caregiver, to create a single scheme of 20 weeks that can be shared between eligible parents however they like (SmartCompany); 
  • The leave can now be used at any time within two years of the child’s birth or adoption if both parents are working, and the full 20 weeks will be available to single parents;
  • The government, however, ignored calls to extend the leave and to add superannuation to parental leave payments, while it may discourage men from taking any leave;
  • $1.3bn has been earmarked for women’s safety, including expanding the national prevention organisation, Our Watch, and establishing a national consent campaign (Women’s Agenda); 
  • There is also $330.6m over four years to fund initiatives supporting the maternal, sexual and reproductive health of women and girls;
  • The budget has, however, earmarked reducing legislated minimum redundancy payments for part-time workers that will disproportionately affect women (The New Daily). 
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Big payday for Defence

The Defence budget will increase by 3.1% this year in real terms, with the federal budget nearly doubling funds for the size of the nation’s leading cybersecurity agency.

Defence spending will jump to $48bn this year, pushing it above 2% of Australia's gross domestic product, and will continue to rise a further 7.1% in real terms by 2025-26 (Canberra Times). 

The spending includes a $9.9bn investment over 10 years in Project REDSPICE, increasing the cyber, data science and intelligence workforce by creating an extra 1900 Australian Signals Directorate jobs over the next 10 years (SMH). 

Defence Minister Peter Dutton said the investment “recognises the deteriorating strategic circumstances in our region, characterised by rapid military expansion, growing coercive behaviour and increased cyber attacks”.

The budget also includes $157m for assistance to Ukraine in its war with Russia, including $91m in lethal and non-lethal military assistance.

The promised nuclear-powered submarines from the new AUKUS pact have yet to be budgeted and will be decades away from delivery.

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Police swamped by domestic abuse cases

Domestic violence takes up more than a third of Queensland police officer time and puts them and victims at risk, an inquest into the deaths of Hannah Clarke and her children has heard.

Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers said officers in areas such as Logan, Kirwan and Caboolture could spend up to 90% of their time on domestic violence cases (The New Daily). 

Leavers was testifying at the inquest into the deaths of Clarke, her children and estranged husband Rowan Baxter, who torched the family in a car on a suburban Brisbane street in 2020.

He called for more face-to-face training, and warned a lack of information sharing between states and New Zealand put officers at more risk, while connectivity black spots meant technology failures forced them to often “go in blind”.

Domestic and Family Violence Death Review and Advisory Board manager Susan Beattie said most officers dealing with domestic violence breaches were not specialist investigators or detectives.

National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732

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Investors sue Star casino

A class action has been filed on behalf of investors in the Star Entertainment Group amid a damning public inquiry into the casino operator.

Law firm Slater and Gordon on Tuesday filed a class action in the Victorian Supreme Court on behalf of investors (7News). 

The investors are seeking compensation for misleading representations that Star made about its compliance with regulatory obligations.

Slater and Gordon senior associate Ben Zocco said potentially thousands of investors had a strong case against the firm.

“Star insisted that it took compliance seriously and ran its business ethically, honestly and with integrity. Our investigations to date ... suggest that they did everything but,” Zocco said.

It comes during a royal commission-style inquiry run by the NSW gaming regulator sparked by reports of suspected money laundering, organised crime, fraud and foreign interference.

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People that would just cut through any law or abandon any process that might get between them and the target of their judgement.

Former attorney-general Christian Porter hits out at the “rule of the mob” in his final speech to Parliament. Porter of course spent a career cutting apart norms and processes in his implementation of Robodebt, abolishing the Family Court, pursuing Witness K in a secret trial, and receiving anonymous donations from a blind trust to fund legal action over reporting of sexual assault allegations (ABC).

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Postscript: Mexico to rent out unwanted presidential jet for parties

Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, an austerity advocate who uses commercial flights, has been vowing to sell the Boeing 787 Dreamliner since his 2018 election campaign, calling it an “insult” to the people (France 24).

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Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.