What to expect when we are expecting a budget

Against a backdrop of geopolitical tension, higher interest rates, and cost-of-living pressures, treasurer Jim Chalmers will hand down his second budget on 9 May. While the economic challenges are being felt by households and businesses across the country, we will see significant opportunities in areas such as energy transition, digitisation and defence. 

Anyone who has looked at a paper or tuned into the news recently knows that the government has a lot to think about right now. The economy continues to recover from COVID-induced disruptions, amid a rise in migration, and the opportunities attached to the AUKUS alliance are set to create a pipeline of work across the defence and manufacturing sectors. 

The treasurer has said the ‘best way to shift the needle’ is to ‘find out where those challenges are most acute’.  He has indicated he will use the May budget to spearhead “a much bigger focus” on entrenched disadvantage in Australia’s most vulnerable communities, to ensure people have better pathways to economic participation. 

In saying this, the treasurer has also flagged the need for ongoing spending restraint, both to repair the budget and to ensure inflation continues to ease, but from all reports, we know that the budget will deal with some of the following issues:

Cost-of-living: Undoubtedly, number one is going to be cost-of-living issues and cost-of-living relief, targeting lower socio-economic households that really are heavily affected by high rents and higher mortgage rates. It is the issue on everyone’s minds at the moment, including the government.  

Welfare: Hopes are high that the government may raise the JobSeeker rate, along with other social security benefits, but there are no guarantees. 

Single parents: The Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce wants the government to axe the policy that moves single parents off the parenting payment and onto JobSeeker when their youngest child turns eight. 

The Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce has also called for the axing of ParentsNext and starting again, claiming the Coalition program is too onerous. This is also something Gallagher has appeared open to. 

Health: The government will be looking at how to make sure that it’s controlling expenditure, and what the treasurer has identified as those fast growing areas of expenditure – especially Medicare, NDIS, and disability care.

Stage-three tax cuts: It seems almost every major group has called for these to be scrapped or delayed. Despite the predicted $250bn in lost tax revenue over the last decade, don’t expect any action either way on stage three. The government’s position on the policy “hasn’t changed” and, given it is not legislated to begin until July next year, consider this one parked. 

Anticipate any further tax reform, beyond the modest superannuation changes already announced, to be floated outside of the budget process. 

JobSeeker: The debate is reaching fever pitch with ACOSS revving up pressure. Minister Katy Gallagher told Insiders that the government didn’t “set up these taskforces to then not seriously consider the recommendations that they come forward with”. She said “the budget will look to do as much as it can within the responsible fiscal environment that we are in, to deal with addressing disadvantages and inequality where we can.” 

If you are a not-for-profit organisation, or a for-purpose organisation, I realise you will have questions should you find out your particular program or initiative did not receive budget funding. Here’s some top tips:

Get started: You have already framed your ask and pre-Budget submission. By now you may know if you’ve been successful. Now is the time to get ready to say something on budget night, and in the days that follow. 

How to approach it? Frame your commentary in a context that will make a constructive contribution to the post-budget coverage. That can be cranky and even angry, but back it up with data and information about the impact of the government not acting. 

If you’re in Canberra on budget night, pre-brief the press gallery so they know you’ll be saying something. 

Otherwise, think about saying something more considered in the days immediately following the budget when more in-depth reporting is undertaken. 

So get on the phone now, and let people know you will be making a contribution to the conversation.

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