Budget targets cost of living relief but Littleproud says regions ignored

Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese delivered their third budget on Tuesday night. Pictures: Mick Tsikas/AAP.

By Jeremy Cook

Cost of living relief proved the main focus for Treasurer Jim Chalmers in this year’s federal budget, but Nationals Leader David Littleproud has claimed it didn’t do enough for regional Australians.

Energy rebates of $300 for every household, average tax cuts of $36 a week, price caps on medicines and boosted rent assistance were included in the federal treasurer’s third budget.

“The number one priority of this government and this budget is helping Australians with the cost of living,” Dr Chalmers said in his budget speech

“Responsible relief that eases pressure on people and directly reduces inflation.”

Every household will receive a $300 energy rebate from July, while eligible small businesses will get a $325 rebate. Taxpayers will also save on average $1888 next financial year, or $36 a week, under the government’s stage-three tax cuts which come into effect in July

The cost of medicines will be capped at $31.60 for prescriptions included in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme while caps of $7.70 will be in place for five years for pensioners and concession holders.

Approximately $1.9 billion will be spent over five years on increasing Commonwealth Rent Assistance by 10 per cent while the higher rate of JobSeeker payments will be extended to those only capable of working up to 14 hours a week.

Cost of living measures will be split between broad relief for everyone and targeted programs, Dr Chalmers said.

But Mr Littleproud was critical of the government, claiming its budget did little to help regional Australians being hit hardest by the cost of living crisis.

“This year’s budget has demonstrated again that not only has regional Australia had critical infrastructure ripped away, but will also bear the cost of higher mortgages, higher energy bills and higher food prices,” the Maranoa MP said.

“Labor is remaining secretive about water buybacks in its budget and when new road projects will actually be delivered, given most of the funding is pushed off into the never-never.

“Sadly, it is clear Labor has no plan to fix its cost of living crisis and regional families will feel the pain in their wallets.”

Almost $21 million will be invested over seven years on initiatives aimed at engaging communities most affected by the renewable energy transition with the land access and planning approvals process.

States and territories will share in a combined $1 billion to support enabling infrastructure for new housing, subject to the signing of a National Agreement on Social Housing. An additional $40 million over three years will be put towards infrastructure grants for regional airports through the Regional Airports Program which will also be extended to assist air services in transitioning to net zero emissions.

Liz Ritchie, the chief executive for the Regional Australia Institute think tank, welcomed funding for regions to transition away from “fossil fuel dependency”, but said regional housing policy had been left wanting.

“There is no bigger pain point right now than housing in our regions: specifically, ensuring new homes in the right regional locations providing greater rental availability and affordability,” Ms Ritchie said.

“The consistent call from regions is that they need to see funding from the housing policy package that is targeted to and transparent for regional Australia, sadly it appears they are still left wanting.”

Live sheep exports will also be phased out by 2028, Agriculture Minister Murray Watt announced just days before the budget. It prompted the heads of some of Australia’s peak farming bodies to walk out of the minister’s post-budget speech in protest of the decision.

Mr Littleproud said a future coalition government “will reinstate the live sheep export trade”.

Other funding allocations included $519.1 million over eight years to support farmers and communities in managing drought and adapting to climate change.

Funding over five years will also be provided to continue implementing the Murray Darling Basin Plan, though exact figures were hidden due to ongoing buyback negotiations.