The Federal Coalition Government has handed down their final budget before the looming election expected to be called for May.
The Government anticipates a budget surplus, underpinned by nearly $8 billion from company tax receipts over the forward estimates, largely supported by the resources industry and increased commodity prices. The government acknowledged the strength in company tax receipts – which are forecast to grow by 10.8 per cent in 2018-19 and 5.5 per cent in 2019-20.
The Government has also pledged $3.4 million over four years from 2019‑20 to encourage more women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education and careers. The funding will support an extension of the Science in Australia Gender Equity program for an additional three years; and a digital content National Awareness Raising Initiative, led by the Women in STEM Ambassador. This comes as the Government launched the Women in STEM Decadal Plan, which has found that under-representation and under-utilisation of women in STEM poses a threat to the Australian economy.
Ten ‘Training Hubs’ across Australia have also been pledged at a cost of $50.6 million over four years. This comes as part of a $525 million investment in a new skills package, targeting skills gaps. Training Hubs will support industry pathways in areas of local skills shortages that complement the completion of secondary education. This project will target regional areas and could help create better connections between the resources industry and schools.
Part of this skills package is also a National Careers Institute and a Skills Commission to provide a more structured approach to the pathways for employment. This will likely contribute to increased opportunities for Australians in the resources industry, particularly those in regional areas.
The Opposition delivered its budget-in-reply speech outlining their economic plan and response two days after the Government handed down their 2019 Budget. The Opposition is not obliged to hand down extensive budget papers, so often key specifics outside of the Opposition leader’s budget-in-reply speech are more difficult to obtain.
In the budget-in-reply speech itself, the Opposition has pledged further investment in industries where Australia can be ‘the best in the world’ including science and research, and mineral exploration to unearth new wealth.
Through the promise of greater TAFE funding, the Opposition has pledged up to $200 million to renovate campuses in regional and outer suburban Australia. This might mean new training facilities and new workshops in targeted areas relevant to the resources sector. The Opposition has also committed to paying the upfront fees for 100,000 TAFE places to encourage more Australians to train in high priority areas which could include skills pertinent to the resources sector.
It should be noted that with an election to be held in a matter of weeks, the addresses given by both the Government and the Opposition were given in the context of a campaign leading up to May. Not all of these measures mentioned may ever be implemented as it will be the party of government post-election that is tasked with implementing its economic plan and agenda.