The Australian government is forecasting a return to surplus for the first time in over a decade, thanks to an unexpected surge in mining industry profits and a greater collection of individual and company taxes.
The Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) announced the government collected $8.3 billion more than anticipated in the first six months of this financial year, which, in turn, saw the budget over the forward estimates revised up from $2.2 billion to $4.1 billion in 2019-20. The anticipated deficit for this year was lowered from $14.5 billion to $5.2 billion.
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According to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, this ultimately means additional money for Australian wallets and a “better way of life for more Australians.” Many are hoping the additional government revenue will see increased funding for new health and education initiatives.
"Today’s MYEFO is a strong demonstration that the Liberal and National parties' government and their economic plan is working," Frydenberg announced during a press conference in Canberra. "This will be the first budget surplus since the last year of the Howard government."
We’re on track to bring the Budget back into balance. But there's still more work to be done.— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) December 17, 2018
Only a Liberal-National Government can be trusted to manage the economy and guarantee the essential services that Australians rely on. pic.twitter.com/GZxmCVQXdP
A significant $1 billion health investment in 2018–19 MYEFO for primary care and aged care was widely applauded, as was the six-year low unemployment rate of 5%.
"We are spending a further $512 million in primary care, which includes $318 million for GPs in their important role of keeping people healthy," Health Minister Greg Hunt stated. "2018–19 MYEFO strengthens the four pillars of the Government’s long-term health plan — Medicare and access to medicines, hospitals, mental health and preventive health, and research."
Today's MYEFO will not confirm a return to budget surplus: It will contain a forecast for a return to budget surplus - and we know how accurate some of those Treasury forecasts have been in recent decades #MYEFO— Stephen Koukoulas (@TheKouk) December 16, 2018
Criticism has arisen, however, over the fact that despite the predicted strong economy, no increase to foreign aid was announced.
The Australian Council of International Development (ACFID) criticised the government for failing to link the aid budget with the Consumer Price Index. Failing to do so, it claims, results in real-term cuts to aid and shows a “lack of commitment” to alleviating global poverty.
"The aid program is a force for alleviating poverty, injustice, and inequality, which serves to strengthen Australia’s international partnerships," ACFID CEO Marc Purcell stated in a press release. "But the Government continues to reallocate funds into knee-jerk schemes that lack detail, without a strategic vision for Australia’s aid and international development budget."
Save the Children Australia echoed ACFID’s response, labelling the Australian government’s lack of foreign aid funding as ‘stingy’.
"Beyond disappointment to see no increase in overseas aid in today’s #MYEFO despite a return to surplus," Save the Children wrote on Twitter. "The Australian Government must stop being stingy on foreign aid."
Beyond disappointment to see no increase in overseas aid in today’s #MYEFO despite return to surplus. The Australian Government must stop being stingy on foreign aid @scottmorrisonmp@joshfrydenberg#auspol— Save the Children Australia News (@SaveAusNews) December 17, 2018
On Tuesday, the opposition party announced at the Labor National Conference that they would increase the aid budget every year if elected in the next election from the current rate of 0.22% of gross national income to 0.5%. The United Nations has a universal 0.7% recommendation.
"Labor will rebuild and grow Australia’s international development program and increase Official Development Assistance to internationally accepted levels in a timely manner," Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced. "Australia should do its fair share internationally, and work with the international community to achieve the longstanding funding targets reiterated by the Sustainable Development Goals."