By Colin Packham
CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia’s embattled government amended its annual budget on Wednesday, 12 hours after it was unveiled, extending an energy rebate to the unemployed after criticism it’s pre-election budget failed to adequately help those without a job.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative government on Tuesday unveiled a 2019-20 budget ahead of an expected May election it is forecast to lose, promising a voter sweetener of $158 billion worth of tax cuts over the next 10 years.
The budget also contained a one-off cash rebate for pensioners of A$75 for an individual and A$125 for couples to assist with rising energy costs, but those on unemployment benefits were excluded.
“Being told you aren’t eligible for the same help with bills as others receiving income support is outrageous and must be remedied immediately,” Ian Yates, chief of the Council on the Ageing, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Opinion polls suggest the government is facing a heavy defeat at the election, due in May but not yet called, and it is banking on the budget and tax cuts to woo voters.
In announcing the extension of the energy rebate, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the move would cost about A$80 million.
“Last night, the prime minister, the finance minister and myself discussed the issue and we thought it was appropriate to extend it,” Frydenberg said in a National Press Club speech on Wednesday.
Frydenberg did not specify why the rebate was extended.
Haydon Manning, a professor of political science at Flinders University in South Australia, said the move was aimed at deflecting criticism of the budget which will be a major campaign platform.
“The government needs clear air, particularly this week when voter attention is on them. They are so far behind in the polls, they can not afford to be seen as confused,” said Manning.
An election must be held next month and there is speculation that Morrison could call it after parliament rises this week.
Morrison said in a television interview on Wednesday that he had yet to decide on a date, but he could choose from May 11, 18 and 25.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)