FEDERAL BUDGET 2012: Productivity push

Govt moves to boost productivity after weaker-than-expected company tax receipts.

By a staff reporter

In its fifth budget, the Labor government has moved to boost productivity, following weaker-than-expected company tax receipts for the current year.

Among a raft of measures designed to boost training and workforce participation, the government will boost the personal tax-free threshold, increase spending on higher education and introduce measures to retrain and upskill mature age workers.

From fiscal year 2013 the government will treble the personal tax-free threshold, from $6,000 to $18,200, in order to encourage workforce participation.

The government has pledged to boost the tax-free threshold further, to $19,400 the following year, with an open-ended plan to increase this again "when fiscal conditions permit”.

In addition, the federal budget pledged $38.8 billion in spending on higher education programs, following recommendations of the Bradley review.

Meanwhile, a $43 million boost to the ‘National Workforce Development Fund’, which will fund workplace training for 15,000 individuals, will take the total spend on the program to around $110 million in fiscal 2012.

Another $25.7 million over four years will be spent on helping mature-age job seekers re-enter the workforce. Workers aged 55 and over will be able to access up to $500 in fiscal 2013 to spend on workplace preparation and training, a measure expected to cost $25.8 million over the four years of the program.

However, the programs will be weighed against a reduction in support for work seekers registered with Job Services Australia, expected to save $162 million over four years.

Around $19.4 million over the four years to fiscal 2016 will be spent on business skills training for workers establishing a business within two years of completing a trade-related apprenticeship, with 500 grants up to $,5000 available in fiscal 2013 and 1000 grants available in 2014.

Manufacturing

The federal government has allocated $29.8 million to the creation of a ‘Manufacturing Technology Innovation Centre’ in an effort to boost the ailing sector, which has been hit by the high Australian dollar and reductions in personal and business spending following the global financial crisis.

The centre will create formal alliances between major manufacturers, small and medium-sized enterprises and research centres including universities and the CSIRO, with an aim to provide "best practice" examples to industry and boost the sector’s presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

"This initiative will build on the government’s existing business capability programs and help businesses realise new market opportunities, particularly in the Asian market,” Industry and Innovation Minister Greg Combet said.

An additional $25 million will be spent in the six years from 2013 on assistance for automotive manufacturers, including $20 million on grants covering up to 50 per cent of costs on activities intended to expand companies’ customer bases or product range. The grants will be decided on the basis of company "merit”, the government said.

A further $0.9 million will be available to help identify international opportunities for the ailing sector.

Infrastructure

"As well as investments in education and training, building a stronger, more competitive and more productive economy requires investments in critical infrastructure,” Treasurer Wayne Swan told Parliament.

The government included an allocation of $3.6 billion to duplicate the Pacific Highway, in a 50:50 funding partnership with the New South Wales government. The highway, which is slated for completion by 2016, is expected to improve freight efficiency along with other initiatives including development of the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal in New South Wales and the contribution of $232.1 million to Adelaide’s Torrens and Goodwood rail project.

The measures come under the umbrella of a total of $36 billion spending on roads, rails and ports in the six years to fiscal 2014.

Meanwhile, spending on government communications related to the national broadband network, is expected to reach a total of $20 million in the current year.

The funds have been spent to "improve public understanding, address misconceptions and provide updated information about the NBN”, the government said.

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