Federal Budget Digital economy a priority as budget dollars flow

Digital economy a priority as budget dollars flow

Federal budget preview
The government is preparing a spending splurge. Photo: TND
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Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese have laid out their priorities for next week’s budget, with a bottom line looking in better shape than had been predicted just a few months ago.

Billions of dollars have already been pledged by the government in a range of areas in the run-up to Tuesday’s budget, including a $1.2 billion digital economic strategy announced on Thursday.

In a speech in Melbourne, Mr Morrison said at a time when the coronavirus remains a threat to the world, “Australia must remain ahead of the game”.

He said that means investing in infrastructure, a better approach to skills, keeping taxes low, and affordable and reliable energy to support Australia’s industries.

“It means less red tape, it means building a faster moving economy that is more responsive to the opportunities in the global economy,” he said.

Australia wants to be a leading digital economy by 2030, which will involve investment in emerging technologies, building digital skills, encouraging business investment and enhancing government service delivery.

The strategy includes $100 million for digital skills including a new $11 million pilot program for work-based digital cadetships, and scholarships for emerging technology graduates.

A tax offset of 30 per cent will support businesses seeking a slice of the $250 billion global game development market, and there will be changes to the way Australian businesses can claim depreciation of intangible assets like intellectual property and in-house software.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said the budget will pursue a big agenda, but at the top of its list of initiatives will be keeping Australians safe and secure.

“We will invest in a range of of ways to keep our economy strong as well as to keep people safe,” he told Sky News.

But in his speech in Sydney, the opposition leader said the real test for the budget is whether it lays out a credible plan to help people get ahead and build a better future for themselves

“Or will this government just tinker around the edges,” he said.

“Australia simply can’t afford to return to the pre-pandemic conditions of stagnant wages, insecure jobs and increased debt,” Mr Albanese said.

He said the aged care system needed serious investment, including better nutrition for residents, improved pay, training and conditions for staff, minimum staffing levels, a crackdown on unscrupulous providers and a ratings system.

“A Labor government under my leadership will rebuild our broken aged care sector – tackling the workforce challenges will be front and centre,” he says.

In a joint statement, deputy Labor leader Richard Marles and shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers slammed the government on speculation that its much trumpeted JobMaker hiring credit scheme will be dumped.

“If media reports are correct, and Josh Frydenberg dumps JobMaker, it will be yet another embarrassing admission of failure from the treasurer, which makes a mockery of any promises he makes in next week’s budget,” they said.

“Josh Frydenberg said JobMaker would support 450,000 jobs – it’s reportedly only supported 1100.”

Meanwhile, the independent Parliament Budget Office said the budget is tracking better than expected at the time of the mid-year budget review in December, albeit with deficits still much larger than they were a year ago.

It estimates the 2020/21 deficit stood at $133.3 billion in the financial year to March, compared to a full-year deficit of $197.7 billion forecast in December, but still much larger than the $22.4 billion shortfall a year ago.