“This is a solid budget which balances the need for cost of living relief with modest fiscal consolidation and some important initiatives to grow the economy,’’ Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott said.
“We welcome the expected return to surplus after 15 years, which will drive confidence in markets and put the country on a stronger footing.
“Our improved budget position has been driven by significant increases in taxes paid by companies and workers due to a combination of high commodity prices and a strong labour market.
“This reflects business doing the economic heavy lifting – creating jobs, delivering world class exports and increased revenue.
“Now is the time to put our foot on the pedal to accelerate growth by unleashing the private sector, reducing red tape, making it easier to do business, and realising the full potential of all Australians.
“There is a missed opportunity to drive whole of economy growth through incentivising investment which remains the key to lifting productivity, delivering higher wages and ensuring sustainable returns to government.
“Australia cannot continue to turn a blind eye to our investment drought and poor productivity, which risks other countries overtaking us and important projects and new industries going offshore.
“Growing the economy by 3.5 per cent a year over the forward estimates would help deliver a budget surplus.
“We welcome the government’s growth initiatives, including the $3.7 billion skills package, the new Powering Australia Industry Growth Centre, support to grow quantum and AI, measures to lift women’s participation and the creation of a Net Zero Authority.
“Small business makes up around a third of our economy, so we back the incentives and additional support for small business, particularly around the instant asset write-off and energy efficiency.
“Notwithstanding some important growth initiatives, we remain concerned that the combination of the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax changes, gas price capping and regressive changes to workplace relations send the wrong signals on investment and certainty.
“We welcome the retention of the stage three personal tax cuts. This budget demonstrates beyond doubt why they remain essential. Once again, bracket creep is doing much of the heavy lifting on budget repair – that’s money not in people’s pockets.
“The planned cuts simplify the tax system, hand back bracket creep to hard working Australians and incentivise people to earn more.
“The BCA supports the government’s highly targeted cost of living measures which will ease the pressure on Australians doing it tough.
“The increase in the JobSeeker rate, which we have long called for, is welcome but it needs to be coupled with meaningful welfare reform for those struggling to get work in one of the strongest labour markets in decades.
“This needs to focus on improving the job services system, to drive greater incentives for people to enter and stay in the labour market.
“This budget exposes some inherent risks in our long-term fiscal position.
“We are locking in significant increases in structural spending – which the community wants and needs – off the back of a temporary boost to revenue. At the same time, we are seeing economic growth dwindle to its lowest rate in two decades outside the GFC and the pandemic.
“It is therefore crucial that we continue to set strong fiscal rules in tandem with important reforms to government services.
“Accelerating growth is key to sustaining stronger budgets and higher wages; as well as driving big investments in the clean energy sector, infrastructure projects and creating new industries.
“We must make Australia a more attractive destination for investment if we are to lift our productivity, sustain wages growth and sustain a stronger budget position.”
Comments on specific budget measures that can be attributed to Jennifer Westacott:
“We welcome the government’s fiscal discipline.
“The government has banked 82 per cent of improvements in the budget, constrained forecast spending to 0.6 per cent a year on average, and slowed the rate of growth in debt and interest payments.
“But we remain concerned about the rate of growth in interest payments, which is now the second fastest growing expenditure item in the budget after the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This emphasises the importance of getting growth back on track.
“Growth can only be achieved by lifting investment to continue to create jobs, sustain living standards and ultimately help shore up the long-term budget position.
“If growth averaged 3.5 per cent a year over the forward estimates instead of the budget forecasts, this would see almost $100 billion more revenue collected over this period.
Cost of Living
“The BCA supports targeted cost of living measures which will ease pressure on Australians, including the increase in JobSeeker, which we have long called for, increases to rent assistance, reducing energy bills, introducing energy efficiency support, and the significant increase in bulk billing access.
“Combined, these measures will help our most vulnerable people at a time when they need it most.
“What is needed now is serious welfare reform and reform of the health and aged care systems so this increased investment genuinely results in better services and incentives for people to participate in the labour market.
“We strongly support the government’s commitment to higher migration. We advocated for a catch up after the pandemic. Tonight’s changes will help to alleviate chronic worker shortages which are crippling the ability of many businesses to grow and expand.
“We also welcome the government’s recent reset of our migration system, particularly towards easier pathways to permanent migration. These changes make us a more attractive destination for the highly skilled workers we need to build new industries.
“Changes to the Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold will need to be delivered with a process for essential workers to avoid unintended consequences in areas of real worker shortages.
Housing and Infrastructure
“There are some important steps to fix housing affordability and access to low cost housing with a new focus on build-to-rent projects and increased access to finance for community housing providers.
“We urge National Cabinet to consider how we can drive innovation around housing and infrastructure planning.
“We support a review of infrastructure priorities, targeting money to where it is needed most and where projects will unlock productivity, drive competitiveness and connect key economic centres.
Climate and Energy
“An essential element of stronger growth will be Australia’s transition to a lower carbon economy.
“We strongly support the $40 billion investment in a clean energy future which creates new export opportunities, de-risks our carbon intensive industries and makes Australia more competitive in the long term.
“Business welcomes the establishment of a Net Zero Authority which is a crucial step towards a managed transition and brings the community with us on this journey.
“We support the government’s three-pronged approach to supporting workers, regions and working with the businesses who will need to invest as old operations scale down and new ones ramp up.
Women’s participation and advancement
“Women are huge contributors to our economy and business welcomes the focus on improving women’s economic advancement.
“The budget builds on the changes to child care and Paid Parental Leave which allow more women to participate and advance in the labour market.
“This is a fundamental economic imperative for the country.
“The BCA welcomes the government’s commitment to improving our outdated skills system.
“This includes the investment of an additional $3.7 billion for a five-year National Skills Agreement to be negotiated with states and territories and $400 million to support an additional 300,000 TAFE and vocational education and training Fee-Free places.
“The job of the skills agreement is to target these opportunities to areas of greatest need in the labour market.
“Strong regions represent the arc of our economic opportunity, but better coordination is crucial to unleash their full potential.
“This is why the BCA welcomes the establishment of a Net Zero Authority, which will coordinate programs and policies across government to support regions and communities to attract and take advantage of new clean energy industries and set them up for success.
Health and aged care
“The changes to Medicare revitalise a critical part of Australia’s social and economic infrastructure by boosting bulk billing availability to 11.6 million people. This is a rejuvenation of the Medicare system.
“The funding for wage increases for aged care workers is welcomed. This must be supported by proper workforce planning and continued reform of the health and aged care systems.
“As a community we expect our health system to be there when we need it, and for our elderly to receive the care they deserve.”