For all the measures announced in the Federal Budget, the average Australian is likely to focus on one – the $300 energy bill rebate for each household, according to CreditorWatch chief economist, Anneke Thompson (above).

“In conjunction with a boost to Rent Assistance, these are the key pillars of the government’s attempts to help with cost-of-living pressures. The Treasurer is attempting to thread the needle here – helping Australians with their bills while not making the shorter-term fight against inflation harder,” she said.

“We won’t know if the Treasurer will be successful until early 2025, tellingly just before the Federal election which needs to be held by May. However, even if these measures do help to bring inflation down to within striking distance of the 2-3% target band by the end of 2024, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) is unlikely to view this as enough to start cutting the cash rate. The RBA will look through these short-term impacts, much like they do with volatile items like fuel and fruit and vegetables.”

While the budget’s $325 energy bill relief for businesses on smaller electricity plans and extension of the $20,000 instant asset write off scheme, will help businesses, what businesses need is more confident consumers, as well home borrowers who can afford to engage builders to build houses, according to Thompson.

“This is unlikely to occur until the RBA begins to reduce the cash rate. Energy relief payments in the pockets of consumers, even in conjunction with already locked in tax cuts from July 2024, are unlikely to convince shoppers to go out and spend again. Inflation is still too far out of the target band, and the last thing the RBA wants is for goods inflation to take off again.”

ShopFully country manager for Australia, Brendan Straw was pleased that the budget addresses cost-of-living pressures while investing in a brighter tomorrow within the framework of a resilient economy.

“This approach, emphasising responsible economic management, looks to not only provide relief to those feeling the pinch today but lay the groundwork for sustained prosperity in the future,” he said.

“By easing cost-of-living burdens, facilitating affordable housing, and fostering opportunities within a ‘Future Made in Australia,’ this budget seeks to provide a thoughtful response to both present challenges and future aspirations.

“The cost-of-living crisis continues to hammer consumers with more shoppers looking for deals and savings to make their dollar stretch a little further. The budget’s measures will be a good first step in prioritising the wellbeing and prosperity of Australians.”

Prospa’s latest research with YouGov, which surveyed more than 500 SME business owners on their 2024 Budget wish list, found that 57% were hopeful for tax cuts, while 46% wanted more rebates or subsidies on business expenses like energy.

“This means support measures like the new energy bill relief for small businesses could be welcomed by some who are feeling the pinch from rising prices pressures,” Prospa co-founder and chief revenue officer, Beau Bertoli said.

“Consumers tightening their purse strings as a result of cost-of-living pressures has also contributed to the highest month on record for business insolvencies. Nearly three in four (73%) Australian SME owners and decision makers have noticed behavioural changes in their clients or customers over the past year as a result, with 41% now spending less frequently. Consumer spending may take a while to return to previous levels, so measures like the extension of instant asset write off measure could help small businesses to re-equip and invest in productivity to grow different business areas.”

However, Banjo Loans CEO, Guy Callaghan believes the budget has overlooked small businesses in favour of ‘headline-grabbing support for the top end of town’.

He said: “Once again, the budget measures are falling well short of what the SME sector needs as it grapples with high inflation, high interest rates and falling demand across many sectors. When will the Federal Government wake up and provide the support that small business needs? There are initiatives for big business, but the engine room of the Australian economy is small business and they’ve once again been overlooked in favour of easy headlines at the top end of town.

“While we welcome the continuation of the instant asset write-off, we hope that it’s finalised quicker than the extension announced this time last year, which is still languishing in Parliament.

“SMEs need more assistance — such as additional funding rebates — and they need the tax burden shifted off them so they can pay staff more and fund expansion plans. Small businesses are tired of waiting for the Federal Government to realise they can’t be taken for granted.”

One of the glaring omissions from the budget was any kind of measure that directly addresses Australia’s skills shortages beyond the construction sector, according to HiBob vice president of Asia Pacific & Japan, Damien Andreasen.

“Employers in Australia across several industries have struggled over the past few years to attract people with the right skills — especially in tech, AI, science and engineering — first during the pandemic and then again last year during economic headwinds,” he said.

“Now would’ve been the perfect time to announce further plans to fix this systemic problem through a mix of education and training programs for home-grown talent and further short-term visa incentives to attract high-skilled workers to Australia.”

A recent HiBob study found that pay is the number one factor that would encourage young people working in tech to switch jobs.

“For the immediate short term at least, employers who have invested in their culture, diversity, flexibility and employee wellbeing over the past few years will have to compete mainly on good old-fashioned compensation to recruit the most sought-after talent. That makes workforce planning for each employer even more important,” Andreasen added.

From food waste fighting social enterprise, Good & Fugly’s perspective, what’s missing here is support for farmers and by extension consumers.

“There is a serious issue of food waste in our system and the ability of the government to pull non-financial levers to do something about it by actively discouraging supermarkets from imposing unreasonable aesthetic standards on fruit and vegetables. The food waste created by this hurts our farmers and our planet and leads to food insecurity when one in four kids are going to school without enough food while produce goes to waste,” Good & Fugly co-founder Jonathan Englert said.

The positive news is the budget brings game-changing moves in technology and digital inclusion, was the opinion of Digital Inclusion Project co-founder, Kelly Slessor.

“The Energy Price Relief Plan and boosted Rent Assistance will help consumer spending, indirectly benefiting retailers,” she said.

“Likewise, the $466.4 million for quantum computing and a stronger Digital ID System, will be a massive boost for the tech sector, along with the $68 million digital inclusion initiative to expand community Wi-Fi and create a First Nations Digital Support Hub, bridging the digital divide. 

“Additionally, the introduced STEM programs and digital literacy initiatives will enhance skills and diversify industry participation. Though, while small businesses receive support through the $20,000 instant asset write-off and improved payment times, it’s a shame that there wasn’t a specific focus on driving retailer growth.”

Digital Inclusion Project co-founder, Carmel Zein believes the government’s commitment to supporting underrepresented businesses was encouraging.

“Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) programs provide Indigenous entrepreneurs and businesses with critical access to finance, business advice, and mentoring, helping to bridge gaps and create more equitable opportunities for First Nations individuals,” she said.

“The Building Women’s Careers Program, with its $55.6 million investment, is a significant step towards increasing diversity in traditionally male-dominated fields.

“While this is promising, it would be great to see a more inclusive approach to support all minority-owned businesses, such as expanding funding and resources to encompass a wider range of minority groups, including those from culturally and linguistically diverse, and disability backgrounds.

“We hope that the $8.6 million allocation to Digital Solutions will also support grassroots initiatives such as The Digital Inclusion Project to ensure sustainable success for minority-owned SMBs. Access to digital tools, training, and advisory services can empower these businesses to thrive in an increasingly digital economy.”

The budget lowering foreign investment application fees for new Build to Rent developments and for purchases of established developments was welcomed by Loop vice president of business development and strategic alliances,John-David Klausner.

“The new incentives for build-to-rent (BTR) encourage more rental developments, potentially increasing consumer spending in nearby brick-and-mortar shops and benefiting the retail sector. This could increase transaction volume, underscoring the importance of implementing policies that affect consumers’ spending power, and subsequently, the retail sector in new and developing spaces,” he said.

“Measures like BTR pave the way for an improved economic environment – and if coupled with solutions that improve customer experience and spending power, it could further boost the retail sector and ensure its continued growth.”