What the budget (and budget reply) tells us about where the major parties stand on issues important to you
This week’s federal budget detailed the government’s plan to spend tens of billions of dollars trying to drive Australia’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Labor got its chance to formally respond on Thursday night, with leader Anthony Albanese setting out the Opposition’s priorities in his budget reply speech.
So how do some of the policies Labor announced compare with those of the government?
Keep in mind, the next federal election might not be until around this time next year so a lot could change between now and then.
The centrepiece of Labor’s budget reply was a $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund to build 20,000 new social housing properties over five years.
Labor says 4,000 of those homes would be set aside for women and children escaping domestic and family violence and for women on low incomes who are at risk of homelessness.
On top of that, another 10,000 affordable homes would be allocated to frontline workers such as nurses, police officers and cleaners.
Anthony Albanese said the fund would generate investment returns, some of which would be used to fund housing services for women, veterans and Indigenous people living in remote communities.
“Our home gave us so much more than somewhere to sleep,” he said, referring to the council house he grew up in with his mother, who was a single parent on the disability pension.
“It gave my mum and I pride and dignity and security, and it gave me a future, a future that led me here tonight.
“Our housing plan is good for jobs too. This initiative will create over 21,500 jobs each year.”
The government’s budget included a housing package, worth $782 million over four years, most of which will be used to extend the HomeBuilder program.
More than 120,000 people have applied for the scheme so far, which provides $25,000 grants to build a new home or renovate an existing one.
Concerns had been raised about people missing out on the grants because they could not start construction within six months of signing contracts, prompting the government to extend that deadline out to 18 months.
The budget also establishes a Family Home Guarantee, with 10,000 places for single parents to buy a home with a deposit of as low as two per cent, while the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme is being expanded by another 10,000 places.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said the government was also delivering social and affordable housing through the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation in a more cost-effective way than Labor would.
“I just don’t believe that Labor’s sums stack up for that promise,” he said.
“Unless these are ridiculously cheap, low-cost houses in terms of their design, they’re not going to be able to fund the numbers they promise under the fund that they say they’re creating.”
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Jobs and skills
Another announcement in Labor’s budget reply was a $100 million plan to directly support 10,000 apprentices in so-called “new energy industries” such as rooftop solar, energy efficiency upgrades and green hydrogen.
Apprentices would receive $2,000 cash when they start, followed by $2,000 a year for up to four years as they train — a total of up to $10,000.
The Opposition has also promised to set up a “Start Up Year” program to fund loans for up to 2,000 students to train at so-called “incubator” organisations which specialise in getting new businesses off the ground.
And Labor is promising to put TAFE at the “heart” of its skills and training policies, accusing the government of dropping the ball.
“Ever since the Liberals drove Holden out of the country, they’ve run up the white flag on manufacturing and skills and apprentices,” Mr Albanese said.
“I’m not going to see us surrender any more jobs and industries — and the communities that depend on them.”
A pledge to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs is at the centre of the government’s budget pitch, arguing that is the best way to help the economy out of COVID-19.
The budget includes another $500 million to extend the JobTrainer fund, which offers free or low-fee courses to job seekers and school leavers looking to reskill or upskill in areas of demand.
Another $2.7 billion is also being spent to expand the government’s apprentice wage subsidy, which helps employers pay the wages of apprentices and trainees.
“You’ve got to have employers offering the places to apprentices for those places to exist in the first instance,” Senator Birmingham said.
“Our [policy] will be far more effective at actually creating those apprenticeship places because we are supporting employers to take the decision to bring on a new young Australian as an apprentice.
“Albo’s got an idea in which he’s proposing to somehow hand out money to apprentices but he’s not actually creating any new apprenticeships.”
Childcare was the focus of last year’s budget reply speech, with Mr Albanese outlining a $6.2 billion proposal to deliver cheaper childcare to “virtually every family”.
Under Labor’s policy, the childcare subsidy cap would be scrapped and subsidy rates would be boosted, so they are offered to families earning up to $530,000.
“The government dismissed our policy, declared they had already fixed affordability and ridiculed the economic gain from investing in childcare,” Mr Albanese said.
“Now the government have rushed out a half-baked policy announcement that they say will lower the structural disincentive to work that they used to tell us didn’t exist.
“The Liberals’ new policy will only help one in four of the families who will benefit from our plan.”
The Coalition’s childcare policy sets aside $1.7 billion to remove caps and boost subsidies for families with two or more children in care.
It estimates 250,000 families would be better off by an average of $2,200 each year.
The changes are not scheduled to apply until July next year although the government says that could happen sooner, if its payments systems can be updated before then.
“We’re very happy for Anthony Albanese to campaign on giving childcare subsidies to families earning $500,000 a year,” Senator Birmingham said.
“If he wants to go out there and say that’s a good use of taxpayer money to provide childcare subsidy to the highest income earning Australians, to families who can already choose to re-enter the workforce, for whom the cost of childcare is not an impediment in making those decisions, he can go his hardest.”