Budget surplus over roads, rail: treasurer

Angus Livingston, AAP National Economics Writer
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Experts want more infrastructure spending to boost the economy, but Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says delivering a budget surplus is the key priority for the federal government.

Tax refunds will start to flow this week with an extra $1080 heading back into many workers’ pockets, which the coalition hopes will stimulate a flagging economy.

But Mr Frydenberg is resisting calls from economists, the Reserve Bank and Labor opposition to lift infrastructure spending while interest rates are low.

“When Labor was last in office they were spending $6 billion on infrastructure – we’ll spend $10 to $11 billion a year, and plus,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday.

Economists say that federal figure is in line with the long-term average, while states like NSW and Victoria are doing the heavy lifting with significant extra infrastructure spends.

Mr Frydenberg said Prime Minister Scott Morrison was speaking to state premiers about infrastructure projects to ensure good coordination and timelines.

When asked if there was money available for states if they came forward with new projects for federal funding, Mr Frydenberg replied: “There’s already money there for states.”

He said maintaining a budget surplus in 2019/20 – predicted to be $7.1 billion – would give Australia flexibility to pay down debt and keep a triple-A credit rating.

“If it wasn’t for the Howard and Costello government’s success in paying down Labor’s debt, Australia wouldn’t have had the fiscal flexibility to spend through that economic downturn when it hit in the name of the GFC,” Mr Frydenberg said.

But Labor said the coalition was watching a weakening economy fall even further.

“Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg have ignored now more than a dozen warnings from the Reserve Bank that we need to lift investment in road and rail infrastructure,” shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers told reporters.

“The government needs to recognise that only 30 per cent of their investment in infrastructure which is currently in the budget will actually get out the door in the next four years’ time.

“That’s not good enough.”

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