With the Turnbull government ailing in the polls, Treasurer Scott Morrison will tackle cost-of-living pressures in a federal budget expected to make a broad-based pitch to voters concerned about rising expenses and stagnating wages.
After announcing cuts to the tertiary education sector and backing away from strong action on housing affordability, Mr Morrison has foreshadowed measures designed to reach across the political spectrum to provide relief for households.
“We understand that families, households, individuals are under a lot of stress because they just haven’t seen their wages going up,” the Treasurer told the Nine Network on Sunday.
Immediate winners will include age pensioners, disability support pensioners, veterans and those on single parent payments who will get a one-off payment ($75 for singles and $125 for couples) to help with this winter’s power bills, paid by June 30.
But voters hoping for robust action on housing affordability may be disappointed.
The government is reportedly considering allowing first home buyers to sacrifice their salary to save a home loan deposit more quickly, similar to current superannuation arrangements, and slugging investors with a tax on vacant properties in Tuesday’s budget.
Measures aimed at making savings in the tertiary education sector have already been foreshadowed, and uni graduates will begin paying back their loans sooner.
WA, health in winners’ circle
Mindful of the anger expressed in the recent Western Australian state election, the federal government has also struck a $2.3 billion deal with the new Labor government in a road and rail package for the state that will create 6000 jobs as a result of 17 new projects.
Mr Morrison also hinted at a major health announcement in the budget, following the government’s schools and university funding plans last week.
He said Health Minister Greg Hunt had been working with the clinics, the medicine sector, pharmacists and doctors to ensure the budget delivered a “healthy Australia”.
“This budget is all about making the right choices,” he said.
“The choices you have to make are about growing the economy but they’re also about ensuring the services that Australians rely on, and Medicare and the PBS these are critical services.”
Other initiatives expected to attract funding include $350 million to support mental health services for defence force veterans and funding for an inland freight rail network between Brisbane and Melbourne.
‘This is ALP-lite’
But not everyone likes the sound of this year’s budget.
Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen said it looked like the budget was adopting “pale imitations” of Labor policy in an attempt to save the Prime Minister’s political life.
“It is designed to save Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, desperate to get a positive Newspoll,” Mr Bowen told ABC TV.
Mr Morrison hit back at critics who say the Commonwealth government can’t make a difference to housing affordability and have accused the Treasurer of wrongly raising expectations.
“I don’t agree with the cynics,” Mr Morrison said.
He said there would be a comprehensive plan that worked with the states and territories in the budget.
“It will address everything from the needs of those who don’t even have a roof over their head to those who are trying to buy one to put over their head,” he said.
“It will deal with those later in life who are looking to change their own housing arrangements.”