Treasurer unveils trillion-dollar debt, billions in tax breaks, wage subsidies

Budget 2020: Treasurer unveils trillion-dollar debt, billions in tax breaks, wage subsidies

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Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

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The private sector will do the heavy lifting in pulling Australia out of the coronavirus recession, aided by billions of dollars in government wage subsidies and tax breaks.

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The private sector will do the heavy lifting in pulling Australia out of the coronavirus recession, aided by billions of dollars in government wage subsidies and tax breaks.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said nearly one million jobs would be created over the next four years, as part of the two-phased recovery plan outlined in Tuesday's budget.

"It's about jobs. It's about helping those out of work into work and those in a job stay in a job," Mr Frydenberg said.

"It's about helping those who need it, encouraging reward for effort while believing in the power of aspiration."

Mr Frydenberg said the budget would create jobs by boosting demand while giving businesses incentives to invest and grow.

More than 11 million taxpayers will receive a tax cut backdated to July this year, as the government brings forward its legislated tax cuts by two years.

The low-and-middle income tax offset will also be extended for an extra year.

Under the changes, over seven million Australians will receive a tax break of $2000 or more this year.

Mr Frydenberg said the tax cuts alone would support 50,000 jobs.

Around 5.1 million Australians will also receive two one-off payments of $250, as part of a $2.6 billion stimulus package.

The payments, which will go to pensioners, veterans, low-income families and eligible concession card holders, are in addition to the two $750 economic support payments provided earlier this year.

Businesses will also be encouraged to take on young jobseekers through the new JobMaker hiring credit.

Starting on Wednesday, businesses will receive between $100 and $200 per week for each worker they take out of the dole queue.

The program is predicted to support around 450,000 workers aged under 35, at a cost of $4 billion.

The government has also pledged to create 100,000 new apprenticeships and traineeships, with a 50 per cent wage subsidy for businesses who employ them. The measure is expected to cost around $1.2 million.

Around 3.5 million businesses will also be able to fully write-off the full value of new assets from now until June 2022.

The measure will apply to an estimated $200 billion worth of assets.

The path ahead is stark. Unemployment is forecast to peak at eight per cent in the December quarter of this year, before falling to 6.5 per cent in the June quarter of 2022.

However Treasury estimates unemployment would have hit 12 per cent over the next 18 months without government intervention.

Of the 1.3 million jobs lost since COVID hit, around 700,000 have been regained.

It has come at a heavy price though.

The budget deficit will hit almost $214 billion this year, but is predicted to fall to around $67 billion by 2023-24 as the economy recovers.

Gross debt will increase to $872 billion - 44.8 per cent of GDP this year - and peak at $1.14 trillion in June 2024 - 51.6 per cent of GDP.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann acknowledged the debt was "at higher levels than we're used to" but said it was "sustainable" because of historically low interest rates and the temporary nature of the government's spending measures.

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Senator Cormann said there was "no alternative", as failure to act would have had a devastating impact on young Australians now and into the future.

"We've taken this debt on with our eyes wide open," Senator Cormann said.

He also pointed out Australia's net debt as a share of the economy will peak at half of that in the United Kingdom and around a third of that in the United States.

Once the unemployment rate is "comfortably below" 6 per cent, the government will change tack and start reducing debt.

However the numbers hinge on a nationwide vaccine being available by the end of next year.

"We are leaving no stone unturned to get access to a vaccine," Mr Frydenberg said.

If a vaccine is available from next July, Treasury predicts there would be a $34 billion boost to the economy by the June 2022 quarter.

If there are further outbreaks though that require mass containment measures in the first half of next year though, it is estimated there would be a $55 billion hit to the economy.

Senator Cormann said the fiscal measures were deliberately targeted at the private sector, as the private sector would be key to jobs growth.

"That's why most fiscal support is targeted at private businesses," Senator Cormann said.

Mr Frydenberg also said there would be a keen focus on creating jobs through investment in research and development.

There'll be an extra $2 billion in research and development tax incentives available More than 11,000 companies will benefit from the changes.

Universities will also receive a boost, with $1 billion for new research funding.

Mr Frydenberg also said the budget would have a focus on upskilling and reskilling out-of-work Australians.

The $1 billion JobTrainer fund will create up to 340,000 free or low-cost training places for school leavers and job seekers.

Another 12,000 Commonwealth-supported university places will also be created next year, at a cost of $299 million.

However Labor accused the government of racking up record debt while leaving millions of Australians behind.

"Despite producing a grab-bag of headline-seeking announcements, the government expects another 160,000 Australians to be added to the jobless queues by Christmas," treasury spokesman Jim Chalmers and finance spokeswoman Katy Gallagher said.

"Scott Morrison is leaving Australia with one trillion dollars of debt but unemployment is too high for too long, with the jobless rate not expected to get back to pre-crisis levels even after four years."

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