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Frydenberg sets coalition on election path

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has laid the groundwork for the coalition’s re-election bid, promising lower fuel prices and cash to ease cost-of-living pressures in his fourth budget.

Revealing a halving of the fuel excise and a one-off $420 tax offset for 10 million low and middle income earners, Mr Frydenberg boasted Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19 was “leading the world”.

“This is not a time to change course,” he told parliament, ahead of an expected May election which polls show Labor should win.

“This is a time to stick to our plan … a plan for a strong economy and a stronger future.”

The budget also included a one-off $250 payment to be delivered within weeks to six million pensioners, carers, veterans, job seekers, eligible self-funded retirees and concession card holders.

A further measure will mean people will need fewer scripts before they are eligible for free or further discounted medicines.

Small businesses will get a tax deduction for training their employees and investing in new technologies like web design and cyber security.

New apprentices will be encouraged with $5000 payments and up to $15,000 in wage subsidies for employers.

With Russia deploying cyber warfare alongside its invasion of Ukraine, the government revealed a $9.9 billion spend on the Australian Signals Directorate to put more computer professionals on the frontline.

The funding comes alongside a $38 billion boost in the defence workforce.

Mr Frydenberg said the government was spending responsibly, with the budget deficit of $78 billion in 2022/23 narrowing to $43.1 billion in 2025/26.

Easing the pressure is the forecast jobless rate of 3.75 per cent, which is putting a lid on welfare spending.

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said it was a “ploy for an election, not a plan for a better future”.

“While inflation has risen to 4.25 per cent, real wages are going backwards 1.5 per cent this year – more than the 0.25 per cent the last budget anticipated,” he said.

“This will leave the average Australian worker $1355 worse off.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese will deliver a detailed budget reply on Thursday.

Peak welfare group ACOSS said the budget ignored the nation’s biggest challenges – poverty, inequality and climate change.

“Whilst we welcome people on JobSeeker and Youth Allowance receiving the $250 bonus payment, when you live on $46 a day this payment will help for a week – but how do you pay the next week’s rent?” chief Cassandra Goldie said.

Business Council chief Jennifer Westacott said the budget’s allowance for more skilled migrants and $7 billion in skills and training would go a long way to addressing handbrakes on the economy.

Ai Group chief Innes Willox warned the budget did not make any headway on structural problems like tax reform and low levels of business investment, which he hoped could be addressed in the lead-up to the election.

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