Tonight, we go further

By Chris Johnson

March 29, 2022

A round-up of the main takes from Tuesday’s budget. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

From midnight, the fuel excise will be slashed in half and Australians will soon be able to drive further for less. 

This temporary six-month measure was a big selling point for the treasurer when he rose to deliver his fourth budget address to the federal parliament.

Six months far exceeds the election campaign the government is desperate to win, and tonight’s budget was delivered with that imminent date with the polls in mind.

Josh Frydenberg repeatedly used the phrase “tonight we go further” during his speech while promising a long string of spending initiatives and cash offers he hopes will reverse the Coalition’s floundering public appeal.

With the cut to the fuel excise, that phrase can be taken literally.

“For the next six months, Australians will save 22 cents a litre every time they fill up their car,” he said. 

“A family with two cars who fill up once a week could save around $30 a week or around $700 over the next six months.”

The effects of the cut will flow through to the bowser over the next two weeks, with the competition watchdog monitoring retailers to make sure it does.

Frydenberg insisted the measure will not come at a cost to road funding, with more than $12 billion to be spent on roads in the coming financial year alone.

This budget commits an additional $17.9 billion to the 10-year transport infrastructure investment pipeline aimed at better connecting regional centres and major cities with improved road and rail links.

In a budget big on boosting the regions, there was also significant cost of living relief measures for Australians everywhere.

A new one-off $420 tax offset goes to more than 10 million low and middle-income earners from July. And a new one-off $250 cost of living payment will soon be delivered to six million pensioners and concession cardholders.

From July, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme Safety Net thresholds will reduce from $1,542.10 to $1,457.10 for general patients and from $326.40 to $244.80 for concessional patients, lowering out-of-pocket medicine costs for 2.4 million people.

An additional $1.3 billion is packaged to help tackle violence against women and children; $468.3 million is committed in further response to the Aged Care Royal Commission; the Home Guarantee Scheme will be doubled to 50,000 places; and a further $547 million goes into mental health services.

This is also a budget big on defence spending. With war in Europe and a looming election in Australia, announcements increasing defence capacity are a given.

The government’s plan to boost the defence workforce by 18,500 by 2040, at a cost of $38 billion, has already been well flagged – like almost all of this year’s budget initiatives. 

A new $9.9 billion spend over 10 years will deliver the Resilience, Effects, Defence, Space, Intelligence, Cyber and Enablers package – or REDSPICE.

“This is the biggest ever investment in Australia’s cyber preparedness,” Frydenberg said.

“Creating 1,900 jobs, more data analysts, computer programmers, and software engineers to boost our capacity to prevent and respond to cyber threats.”

In this budget, there is a $15.2 million investment over seven years to establish more APS Hubs in regional Australia to increase the public sector’s footprint and locate more staff closer to the communities they serve.

COVID-19 revealed the public sector’s mettle, with staff rising to the challenge to modernise and collaborate across agency and jurisdictional boundaries. This budget directs another $15 billion over four years into the health system.

In a year of continued pandemic, natural disasters, global conflict and uncertainty in our own region, the APS has been called on to step up – and as the budget papers state, it has “demonstrated and continues to demonstrate a culture of excellence”.

And in this big-spending budget, held ransom to what will surely be a gruelling election campaign, Frydenberg and his boss Scott Morrison are hoping it will help them to “go further”.

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