Energy savers centre stage in Chalmers budget roadshow

Poppy Johnston and Andrew Brown |

The treasurer’s job this week will be to tell more people how the budget investments can help.
The treasurer’s job this week will be to tell more people how the budget investments can help.

Cheap loans for solar, modern appliances and other energy upgrades announced in the federal budget are expected to help thousands of Australian households save on power bills.

Speaking in Sydney as part of a countrywide roadshow of his second budget, Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the $1.6b towards energy-saving upgrades were at the centre of the federal government’s cost-of-living relief for “middle Australia”.

“The budget is all about cost-of-living relief in middle Australia and investing in the future, and our $1.6b investment brings all of that together,” he told reporters on Monday.

Under the scheme, homes and businesses will be able to access low-cost loans for energy upgrades to improve energy use and pay less on power bills.

Funding has also been set aside to improve the energy efficiency of the social housing stock.

Rewiring Australia co-founder Saul Griffith said the funding was a game-changer.

“What was under-appreciated in this budget is that this is the recognition from the government that Australian households, Australian small businesses, are critical national energy infrastructure,” Mr Griffith said.

The energy expert said households can save thousands of dollars each year by electrifying their appliances and installing solar and batteries to run them. 

Along with the energy upgrade funding, the treasurer plans to spend the coming days spruiking the cost-of-living package in the budget.

Boosting income support payments for job seekers was one of the primary measures aimed at vulnerable Australians and now the treasurer has kept the door open to an opposition proposal to increase the working hours threshold for those on the payment.

The opposition wants people on JobSeeker to be able to work more hours before their payment benefits are removed.

Shadow treasurer Angus Taylor said his party’s priority was getting people into work and seizing the opportunity opened up by record numbers of vacancies.

“There is nothing like getting a job to improve someone’s life,” he said in Sydney.

Mr Taylor said the majority of people on JobSeeker were capable of working more than 30 hours a week.

“Once they’re in a job that gives them great opportunities, then they can go forward and improve their quality of life,” he said.

Dr Chalmers said the idea had already featured in the government’s examination of employment strategies, ahead of a white paper on the issue to be released later this year.

The federal budget has triggered a mixed response from the public, according to a Newspoll published in The Australian on Monday.

The polling found 33 per cent of voters approved of the 2023/24 budget measures, against 28 per cent who thought they would be bad for the economy and 39 per cent who were unsure.

Also, 39 per cent of the 1516 voters surveyed between May 11 and 13 believe the budget will make inflation worse, while 33 per cent think it will make no difference and 13 per cent expect it will make inflation “better”.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the $14.6b cost-of-living package was designed to put downward pressure on inflation.

“Treasury estimates that our plan for energy price relief will actually reduce inflation by three quarters of a per cent because instead of splashing cash, what we’re doing is we’re sinking the bills by working with state and territory governments and working with energy retailers,” Mr Albanese told Adelaide radio 5AA on Monday.

On a historical basis, he said the May budget had been better received than Labor’s last one in October as well as the coalition’s pre-election efforts.