Millions of Australians are set to benefit from cost-of-living relief, free GP visits and lower than expected power prices thanks to the second budget handed down by Treasurer Jim Chalmers who promised the relief measures would not have a major impact on inflation.
Low-income Australians and children will be eligible for bulk-billed doctor visits under Medicare reforms which Dr. Chalmers called the “centrepiece’ of the budget.
Bulk-billing incentives will be tripled for GP consultations for children under 16 and concession card holders as part of a $3.5 billion commitment over five years.
“One of the things that makes this the best country in the world is our shared belief that every Australian should be able to access affordable, reliable health care,” Dr. Chalmers said.
Eligibility for a higher rate of JobSeeker will be lowered from 60 to 55, following a rise in the number of older people on the payment. About 52,000 Australians aged between 55 and 59 will get an extra $92 a fortnight.
Almost $5 billion will be spent over the next five years to support more than 1.1 million people on income support. Single parents will see a boost, with the threshold for the single parent payment increasing when the youngest child turns 14 — up from the previous limit of eight years old.
The maximum rate of Commonwealth rent assistance will rise by 15% for 1.1 million households.
Both Dr. Chalmers and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese defended the budget’s $14.6 billion cost-of-living package for vulnerable and low-income Australians, insisting it won’t fuel inflation and necessitate more interest rate hikes.
“This is a responsible budget which at the same time looks after people,” Mr. Albanese told ABC Radio.
It includes energy relief worth $3 billion with five million households set to receive up to $500 in assistance, while one million businesses will receive up to $650. That’s forecast to produce lower than anticipated price increases for electricity and gas.
Dr. Chalmers said power price relief would be targeted and the amount received would differ in states and territories.
“We’ll make sure this relief is provided on the bill, rather than spraying around cash cheques to people,” he said.
The budget forecast a $4.2 billion surplus for the current financial year although deficits are set to follow in the following three years.
Revenue gains were driven by high commodities prices, especially iron ore, and a strong labour market which led to a surge in tax collections.
Mr. Albanese reiterated that the government had no plans to reverse its support for stage three tax cuts slated for 2024-25 and claimed they would not be inflationary.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton believes the budget will add to the pressures on already stressed middle-income households.
“At the very least, we know that interest rates will be higher and for longer, which is going to be a double whammy for Australian families,” he told Sky News.
“For families, they are struggling at the moment, big time, and there’s nothing at all for them in this budget,” he added.
The Australian Council of Social Service said while the extra bulk-billed GP visits, cheaper medicines and help for single parents was welcome, JobSeeker remained one of the lowest unemployment payments in the OECD.
ACTU president Michele O’Neil said the relief measures were much needed.
“After a decade of neglect and policies that have driven down wages, getting wages moving is still one of the biggest challenges for the economy,” she said.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said it was a credible budget, but more business incentives were needed.
Chief executive Andrew McKellar said while a surplus was delivered, economic uncertainty remained.
“With the prospect of returning to a structural deficit of more than $35 billion in two years, we cannot rely on record commodity windfalls, strong migration inflows and an ultra-tight labour market to drive down debt,” he said.
With Australian Associated Press