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Daniel McCulloch and Colin Brinsden
(Australian Associated Press)
Scott Morrison has framed next week’s federal budget as the most important since the Second World War.
“We find ourselves in unprecedented times,” the prime minister told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.
“The budget will confirm once again the strong plan we have for economic recovery.”
New initiatives continue to roll out before the October 6 budget.
The latest is an $800 million package aimed at helping individuals and businesses work online, which Mr Morrison likened to an “upgrade of the circuit board” of the economy.
He will also announce an advanced manufacturing package later this week.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said coronavirus had changed the way firms do business, with nine in 10 using digital technologies.
More than $400 million of the package will be aimed at modernising business registers, allowing companies to quickly view, update and maintain their data.
It will allow for easier distribution of documents, while digital invoicing by Commonwealth agencies will reduce the cost by about two-thirds.
More than $250 million will be spent upgrading online systems so Australians can access more government services using facial recognition.
At least 1.6 million people and 1.16 million businesses already use facial recognition to access 70 government services.
The technology will be extended to all of MyGov and 14 additional services, such as getting a director identification number or tax file number.
Another $30 million will be spent supporting private companies in key industries invest in 5G technology trials.
The announcements build on earlier promises to upgrade the national broadband network and invest in online safety.
But Labor’s Andrew Leigh is worried about the coalition’s record on technology.
“You’ve just got to look back at the census fail and the robo-debt disaster to worry about the government’s ability to really get it right when it comes to technology,” he said.
Still, expectations of a big-spending budget to lift the economy out of recession has helped to boost consumer confidence, rising for a fourth straight week.
The weekly index, which points to future household spending, has reached its highest level in more than three months.
But it remains to be seen whether everyone will be happy with the treasurer’s fiscal strategy.
National Seniors Australia is urging him not to forget pensioners.
Chief advocate Ian Henschke wants a lift in the pension, changes to how self-funded retirees are assessed, and lower interest rates for people using their home as an asset to draw money against.
“If you want to stimulate the economy one of the best places to do it is by giving pensioners more money,” he said.
Early education advocates also want child care funding prioritised, arguing it will set families and the economy up to emerge from the pandemic in better shape.
Thrive by Five chief executive and former South Australian premier Jay Weatherill says every $1 million spent on child care creates 9.2 jobs, which is far more work than the same money creates in construction.