Sections of the media referred to the Federal Budget as “beige”, the implication being that the government weren’t looking to upset the boat too much. The intention was to spur growth and decrease the deficit, so the announcement, made on 11 May, emphasised workplace participation and infrastructure development as this year’s main focus.
Some sectors of the country’s working population received welcome incentives, particularly small businesses and working parents. Others will face a worrying future however as public servants continue to see cuts to jobs and benefits.
Australia’s north might get a little less remote over the coming years. A $5 billion stimulus package was pledged to establish the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to encourage job growth and regional development. Developers operating in the private and public sectors of Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia can apply for large concessional loans for projects such as building pipelines, constructing ports and creating water and electricity infrastructure in an effort to open the north and restore local economies. This is expected to create a huge market for jobs in all aspects of infrastructure, and has the potential to draw workers from all across the country.
Things are also looking up for small business owners, who received some surprise tax breaks and refunds tucked into a $5.5 billion incentives package. Small businesses that have a yearly turnover of less than $2 million can now receive instantaneous tax deductions of up to $20,000 per year on top of a decrease in tax of 1.5 per cent. These measures are aimed at spurring job growth in the small business sector and helping start-ups succeed.
In a shift from previous years, the budget sees childcare policies favouring more support for parents who also work or study, while cutting benefits for stay-at-home mothers and fathers. Single-income households earning more than $65,000 will no longer be guaranteed childcare subsidies, which could lead to an influx of parents entering the workforce, perhaps after years of absence.
Stricter guidelines determining who qualifies for parental leave funds are also to be introduced, which will see an end to ‘double-dipping’, whereby a new parent receives both state and employer support. An employee who receives more generous employer-provided parental leave cover than that provided by the government, which is capped at $50,000 over six months, will need to re-evaluate his or her options and learn more about defaulting to employer-provided coverage.
The squeeze on public sector jobs is set to continue. Ten departments, including education and health, are slated for reviews targeting waste and duplication, and another 32 will be abolished altogether. Already, 17,000 jobs have been cut since the previous election with 11,000 of those in this past year alone. As a result, more workers will make the shift from public sector to private sector jobs, creating a surplus of workers in some areas and shortages in others.
In response, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has promised the largest round of industrial actions since the 1980s. Strikes and rolling work stoppages are planned to oppose cuts to pay and working conditions. Union representatives state that protests will range from not answering calls or emails, to refusing to attend management meetings and walk-outs.