THE Australian Government last week released its Budget for 2012-13, which includes $5 billion in new payments to households, funding for the first stage of a National Disability Insurance Scheme, a strengthened aged care system and increases in dental services funding.
The Budget predicts growth in real GDP of 3.25 per cent in 2012-13 and 3 per cent in 2013-14, while unemployment is forecast to remain low at 5.5 per cent in the next two years.
A deficit of $44 billion was in recorded in 2011-12 but the government expects to deliver a $1.5 billion surplus in 2012-13, and to grow that every year after.
In terms of infrastructure, the 2012-13 Budget unveils funding for three major projects:
- $3.6 billion for duplication the Pacific Highway, conditional upon the NSW Government providing the same amount.
- $232 million towards the Torrens and Goodwood rail project in Adelaide; and
- Funding to establish a Government Business Enterprise to develop the Moorebank intermodal freight terminal.
The Budget also includes $350 million per year to continue the Roads to Recovery program until 2019 and $11.9 million for the National Capital Authority.
$140 million will be provided to continue the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Package, with the funding to be used to provide rest stops and other roadside facilities for truck drivers.
ALGA: 'Budget delivers for local government'
The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) said the 2012-13 Budget has ensured the continuation of hundreds of millions of dollars in vital funding for local roads and infrastructure.
ALGA Vice President Felicity-Ann Lewis applauded the Australian Government for recognising the needs of councils by extending the Roads to Recovery (R2R) program to provide direct funding for local roads for a further five years beyond 2014, when the program was due to finish.
Financial Assistance Grants (FAGs) to local governments will be maintained in real terms, with the government bringing forward the first two quarterly payments of the 2012-13 FAGs into 2011-12, a move that was commended by Mayor Lewis.
REIA: 'No new initiatives to address housing affordability'
The Real Estate Institute of Australia (REIA) said the government failed to introduce any new initiatives to address housing affordability in this year's Budget, instead passing all responsibility onto the Reserve Bank.
"We had hoped the Government would recognise the need to directly intervene and not leave housing affordability dependent solely on the whim of the banks," said REIA CEO, Amanda Lynch.
"One of the most effective housing policy instruments in assisting first home buyers is the First Home Owners Grant, but it has been allowed to lose more than half its value relative to purchase prices since it was introduced in 2000."
IPA: 'Not an infrastructure budget'
Infrastructure Partnerships Australia (IPA) said that while the Budget makes some welcome progress on a selection of smaller projects and funding programmes, it makes insubstantial progress on the nationally significant infrastructure projects that Australia needs.
"This is not an infrastructure budget," said IPA Chief Executive Brendan Lyon, adding that taxpayers and business expected to see more substantial progress to get projects off the shelf and into the ground.
Mr Lyon said the Budget takes modest and incremental steps at a time when change and solid action is needed from policymakers.
"The Commonwealth will never be the principal funder of infrastructure, but it does need to make funds available to support the states in getting the next generation of major projects done.
"We hope that the Australian Government will take steps in the coming year to articulate a much bolder reform programme to close the gaps in the nation's infrastructure," Mr Lyon said.
RDC: 'Slim pickings for the residential sector'
The Residential Development Council (RDC) said there were slim pickings for the residential sector in the Budget, adding that it failed to deliver a plan to improve housing affordability.
RDC Executive Director, Caryn Kakas said funding cannot "be delivered on a stop-start basis" and called for the government to implement a long-term housing strategy to ensure an adequate supply of affordable homes.
Ms Kakas said the absence of funding for the next expansion of the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) is a missed opportunity and said a sustained commitment that increases the delivery of housing and removes impediments to supply is urgent.
"These barriers include the forward funding and timely delivery of infrastructure to communities; ensuring adequate supply of land for housing; unlocking urban renewal opportunities, and streamlining planning application processes."
Property Council: 'Missed opportunities and misdirected priorities'
The Property Council of Australia said the Budget "has relegated productivity growth, a greener built environment and a world class funds management industry to the policy knackery."
"It's a budget of missed opportunities and misdirected priorities", said Property Council of Australia Chief Executive Peter Verwer, adding that the Government has "broken its regularly repeated promise to seed the retro-greening of commercial buildings."
The Council said that in the budget of "missed opportunities", the Government has done "virtually nothing to leverage productivity growth and greater liveability from the cities that generate 80 per cent of the nation's wealth."
"The Budget includes no new programs to improve housing supply, nor does it make a notable investment in the Federal Government's much trumpeted urban and population strategies released in 2011," Mr Verwer said.
UDIA: 'Budget offers little for development industry'
The Urban Development Institute of Australia said the Budget offers little for Australia's development industry but expressed relief that it refrained from cutting key housing funding commitments such as the National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS), the Housing Affordability Fund (HAF) and the Building Better Regional Cities (BBRC) program.
"We are mindful that this Budget was characterised by difficult decisions, but the Government should consider the importance of the development industry to Australia's economy," said UDIA Chief Executive Officer, Richard Lindsay.
The UDIA welcomed funding to implement the reforms to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act but said it is opposed to face that this will be offset by a process of cost recovery on environmental impact assessments.
"UDIA is fundamentally opposed to this reform as it is inequitable and unjustified. The administration of the EPBC Act should continue to be funded directly through taxation revenue," said Mr Lindsay.
AAH: 'No fair-go for housing'
Australian for Affordable Housing (AAH) said the Budget was "full of disappointment for households struggling to get into the housing market and those trying to keep a roof over their heads said Australians for Affordable Housing."
"With no new money invested in social housing in this budget, the system will continue to decline, leaving almost 250,000 households languishing on public housing waiting lists," said AAH Campaign Manager Sarah Toohey.
"With no increase in the rate of Commonwealth Rent Assistance, over 450,000 renters in housing stress will have less to spend on food, clothes, transport and the other basics of life," Ms Toohey said, adding that the government needs to fix the "broken housing system."
ACOSS welcomes overall Budget approach
The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) said it welcomed the overall approach in the Federal Budget.
"This Budget reduces supports and tax breaks for those that need them least, and strengthens them for those that need them the most, except for the poorest sole parents, who are left up to $60 a week worse off," said ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie.
"Overall this budget begins the work we need: securing a more sustainable revenue base, whilst funding important national priorities. We must make sure that the 100,000 sole parents are not collateral damage along the way," Dr Goldie said.
HIA calls the Budget a missed opportunity
The Housing Industry Association (HIA) said the Budget represents a missed opportunity to reinvigorate new home building activity and alleviate the nation's housing affordability pressures.
HIA's Senior Economist, Andrew Harvey, said that while the Federal Budget provides a handful of useful measures more broadly, it contains nothing to address the ongoing weakness in residential building, nor anything to help the nation's chronic housing shortage and poor levels of housing affordability.
"At a time when new home building is in decline in virtually every state and territory, the Budget has failed to deliver any new measure to reinvigorate the home building sector, despite the sector's health being absolutely crucial to a healthy domestic economy," said Mr Harvey.
Mr Harvey said the Budget was an opportunity to introduce measures to progress housing supply-side reforms with the states and territories, reduce the excessive tax burden on new housing, and expand and extend existing measures aimed at boosting housing supply.
"Without dedicated housing policy measures and housing supply-side reforms the residential building sector will continue to act as a drag on the macro-economy and the nation's growing housing shortage will continue to place undue pressure on the household budgets of home buyers and renters," Mr Harvey said.
GBCA: 'Australia's green future takes a step backwards'
With the Budget scrapping tax breaks for the green buildings program, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) said Australia’s low carbon economy is taking a step backwards.
"The decision to scrap the Tax Breaks for Green Buildings program is extremely disappointing,” said Chief Executive of the GBCA, Romilly Madew, adding that the Gillard Government is backing away from a 2010 election promise and abandoning its commitment to provide incentives for green buildings.
"The decision to scrap the Tax Breaks program is particularly bewildering, coming as it does at a time when Australia's future green economy is a high priority. The scheme would have delivered triple bottom line advantages and helped the retail, hotel and commercial office sectors when confidence is low. It would have delivered jobs, green buildings and a sustainable future," Ms Madew said.