Bushfires put cloud over budget surplus

Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg is unsure if the government will deliver a budget surplus, as the nation counts the cost of the bushfire crisis.

Jan 21, 2020, updated Jan 21, 2020
Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch

Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch

The Morrison government has flagged it is prepared to sacrifice the much-hyped surplus as it responds to the deadly fires ravaging swathes of eastern Australia.

There’s a $2 billion federal relief kitty on the table, with $500 million expected to be spent this financial year.

Asked whether the government would deliver a surplus, Frydenberg said: “I’m not in a position to give a firm answer to that question because the full economic impact is still uncertain.”

The government’s latest package is targeted at small businesses through grants and low-cost loans to stimulate cashflow after the disaster.

“When you are responsible economic managers, you have the financial flexibility to respond to crises and economic shocks whenever they may occur,” Frydenberg said

“This is a time when the Australian people know that their government is there to spend on the things that they need most.”

The Business Council of Australia backed the government forgoing the surplus, with president Tim Reed pointing to “extraordinary circumstances”.

“While we would love to see the budget in surplus, we would not like to see it in surplus at the expense of these local communities,” he said.

Under the relief package, businesses with major damage or a significant dip in revenue because of the fires can access up to $50,000 in tax-free, grant funding.

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Low-interest 10-year loans of up to $500,000 will be offered for businesses to restore or replace damaged assets.

The total cost of the measures is unclear with the full extent of the devastating fires’ damage still unclear.


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