How the Federal Budget aligned with Professionals Australia’s budget priorities

The Federal Budget strikes a balance between managing a difficult fiscal and economic climate, providing vital cost of living relief and investing in long-term growth opportunities for STEM professionals working in priority industries such as energy, advanced manufacturing and defence.

In the months leading up to the Budget, Professionals Australia’s advocacy focused on twelve budget priorities which were outlined in our pre-budget submission and we have now assessed progress against each of these in the table below.

The Budget has invested in measures that will ensure a just transition to clean energy, create a fairer industrial relations system and improve gender equality in the workforce. Strategic investments have been made in construction, emerging knowledge-based industries, renewable energy, advanced manufacturing and defence, with STEM skills funding underpinning these national priorities.

Importantly for union members in local govenment, including Local Government Engineers' Association members in NSW, the budget also provides an increase to the Federal Assistance Grants for Local Government with $3.1billion allocated to the sector for next year, with further increases promised to follow. This funding boost is particularly welcome and will help pay for community infrastructure projects as well as provide better employment opportunities within the industry.

What we asked for

Why it’s a priority for us

What the budget delivered

Our assessment

Creating a fair industrial relations system

The Secure Jobs and Better Pay legislation passed in late 2022 contained much-needed reforms to make Australia’s industrial relations system fairer, by establishing job security and gender equality as objects of the legislation and strengthening employment protections. The implementation of these reforms and their practical impact will now need to be monitored and assessed.

Major IR reforms were delivered prior to the Budget and the targeted review of modern awards included in the Budget is welcome to ensure a fair safety net in the context of the new gender equality and job security objectives in the Fair Work Act.

While significant progress has been made in industrial relations reform, further changes will be required to deliver better outcomes for all workers – changes that will benefit casual employees and improve fairness, pay and conditions for gig workers, a growing number of whom work in professional roles.  

Strategically investing in emerging knowledge-based industries

As our nation grapples with significant domestic economic pressures and an uncertain economic future, Australia's international competitiveness and future prosperity could be protected by an uplift in strategic investment in emerging knowledge-based industries like biotechnology, advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence, ICT, and technology-led environmental sustainability.

$116.0 million over 5 years for development of technologies in industries that support new jobs, particularly in quantum &AI.

Commitment to AUKUS and advanced manufacturing with 4000 new STEM university places to underpin Australia’s investment.

Strategic investments in hydrogen and renewables to make Australia a leader in these sectors.

$1 billion boost to strengthening biosecurity.

The investment in renewables and advanced manufacturing (particularly in defence and AUKUS) are big wins for workers in knowledge-based industries.

We are pleased this has been matched by a dedicated STEM skills investment, so these long-term investments result in local jobs.

Ensuring a Just Transition to Clean Energy

An independent Just Transition Authority is essential to ensure that: the transition to a low carbon economy is well planned and coordinated, the voices of affected workers and communities are heard and shape the future and that secure, well-paid green jobs are available in strong and diversified local economies.

A new National Net Zero Authority will be established to:

support workers in emissions-intensive sectors to access new employment, skills and support as the net zero transformation continues;

coordinate programs and policies across government to support regions and communities to attract and take advantage of new clean energy industries and set those industries up for success;

help investors and companies to engage with net zero transformation opportunities

This has been a priority for the union movement, including Professionals Australia for a long time and is a win for all workers affected by energy transition.

Investing in workplace skills

Investment in the evolving technical and broader workplace skills of engineers, scientists, IT professionals and other professionals through modular training is required to ensure we have a highly skilled and agile workforce to lead us through economic recovery.

4,000 new university places for STEM disciplines to support the AUKUS program.

Over $5 billion for a new national skills agreement, additional fee-free VET and TAFE places, and support for foundation skills programs and apprenticeships.

The investment in STEM skills is a big win for those working in STEM professions.

Importance of engineers to the economy

Without qualified engineers, our economic recovery, and the delivery of priority projects to drive economic growth are at risk. Qualified engineers provide new ideas, products and solutions across a range of sectors. Unfortunately, the engineering profession still does not have its proper place at the decision-making table, and a lack of engineering input is thwarting innovation, increasing project waste and cost, and the timely delivery of safety and quality outcomes. National leadership to support Chief Engineers in each state is needed to ensure that reconstruction efforts are delivered and do not compromise quality, standards and safety.

$5 billion for 4000 new university places in STEM.

As mentioned above, the STEM skills investment is strong recognition of the critical role of our sector in the future growth industries.

We will continue to advocate for greater national leadership on Chief Engineers and engineer registration to lift the status and recognition of engineers, including as part of state-federal relations to gain a consistent approach.

Building STEM skills in the Australian Public Service

The Australian Public Service is critical to delivering the new Federal Government's reform agenda. However, public service and public sector agencies continue to struggle to attract and retain highly skilled technical staff due to poor wages and conditions of employment. This problem's scope and impact were noted in submissions to the APS Hierarchy and Classification Review. The 2023-24 Federal Budget must develop and fund a full public service STEM workforce plan and change the current wages policy to attract and retain staff with vital STEM skills into the public service and public sector.

The Government has committed to wind back its reliance on consultants and outsourcing with the Finance Minister stating they would rein in these costs incrementally, in the order of 10-15% per year. This is part of the Government’s agenda to in-source and re-invest in the capacity and capability of the public service.

Key commitments include $10.9 million to establish an in-house consulting function, $8.4 million to build the capability of the APS and $3.4 million to support the Government's commitment to achieve 5% First Nations employment by 2030.

The Government has laid the foundations to re-build public sector capacity over the past 12 months.

Wages and conditions remain a high priority for Professionals Australia and will be a focus of our advocacy for APS staff in the coming months, along with seeking a commitment to a public services STEM workforce plan.

Investing in construction and infrastructure

Further investment in residential construction and civil infrastructure, including road and rail projects, is critical for ongoing growth. While the new Federal Government's commitment to investing in social housing is welcome, after a decade of inertia, further investment in social housing construction is required to address housing affordability and accessibility.

Construction and housing sectors were big winners of this budget. 

$2 billion for social and affordable housing is matched with a significant change to the tax system that incentives for build-to-rent projects.

Those working in the building and construction sectors will benefit from growth in build-to-rent and social housing.

Investments in roads and rail are steady but not growing. This should be a priority in future budgets and will remain a focus of our future advocacy.

Improving gender equality & diversity in STEM

PA welcomed the Respect@Work Bill in 2022 and looks forward to the positive impact this will have on Australian workplaces across the country. While an essential first step, significant work is still required to support more women to enter, develop and remain in the STEM workforce. This will increase the capacity of STEM to drive higher ongoing workforce participation and productivity growth. In addition, ongoing government investment in affordable and geographically accessible quality childcare will be critical to strengthening women's workforce participation.

The Australian Skills Guarantee now includes national targets for women in apprenticeships, traineeships and cadetships on major government projects. This aims to see the proportion of women apprentices and trainees on major government construction projects more than double by 2030 and the proportion in trades apprenticeships triple.

The government passed its cheaper childcare package last year and this is funded in the budget. The lower childcare costs will start flowing from July. A typical family earning about $120,000 with a child in care three days a week will save about $1,700 a year.

Improvements to Paid Parental Leave (announced in October Budget)– the amendments to the Paid Parental Leave Act 2010 have passed, giving effect to the first stage of paid parental leave reforms announced in the October 22 Budget.

Extending the single parent payment has also assisted many women.  

The Government has done more in its October and May budgets to support gender equality than the previous government did in a decade.

There is however more work to be done to encourage more women to work and remain in the STEM professions.

Further action is also needed to pay super on paid parental leave and remove the activity test for childcare.

Transforming primary healthcare

As the nation's health system emerges from the extreme difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic and governments seek to review the structure, operation and delivery of primary health care, a significant opportunity exists to recognise the crucial role pharmacists play in health care and how their pay, conditions and working arrangements can be improved to ensure we build a pharmacy workforce that meets our community’s health care needs now and into the future.

The Government will /support more than 300 Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medicines to be dispensed in greater amounts, phased in from 1 September 2023. Some patients will be able to get 2 months’ worth of the medicine they need for a stable, chronic health condition.

Pharmacists will also be funded to deliver vaccines to eligible patients under the National Immunisation Program, with an investment of $114.1 million over 4 years. The Government is providing $2.2 billion over 5 years for new and amended listings to the PBS, including treatment for cystic fibrosis.

The new dispensing policy provides financial relief to many community members.

We are working through the impacts of the full suite of budget initiatives with the Government, prioritising the interests of workers in community pharmacy.

The investment in pharmacy under the National immunisation program is a start in recognising the bigger role pharmacists play in primary health care and we will be working to ensure that investment is made in workforce development and that the skills and expertise of employee pharmacists are fully recognised.    

Supporting key professions in regional communities

Greater support is required for professional employees such as pharmacists and veterinarians who provide critical services in regional communities. Employee pharmacists and vets in regional communities report being significantly understaffed, working long hours, with inadequate remuneration which fails to reflect their skills, responsibilities, and workloads. Incentives are urgently required to attract and retain pharmacists and vets in regional locations or risk exacerbating the country/city economic, health and social divide.

The Government will support regional and remote pharmacies by investing $79.5 million over 4 years to double the Regional Pharmacy Maintenance Allowance which supports the continued operation of around 1,093 community pharmacies in regional and rural Australia.

Support for regional and remote pharmacies is a positive but further action is needed to attract and retain pharmacy employees in regional communities.

Increasing R&D investment by 0.1% every year to 2030

To provide high-quality job growth, Australia needs to continue to increase our current research and development investment of 2.2% by 0.1%, or more, each year until we achieve 3% of GDP. Increased R & D investment underpins the innovation required to create new products and services and to strengthen our international competitiveness.

While we are disappointed this year’s budget did not make significant progress in this area, we recognise this is a long-term priority and investment needs to occur over multiple years.

Increasing R & D investment will remain a key priority for Professionals Australia and will feature in our advocacy efforts throughout this Government’s term. 

Enhancing education and research

The former Federal Government failed to provide adequate assistance to universities and research institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic, significantly affecting staffing, organisational capabilities, research, and the education of tertiary students. Universities and research institutions are vital to lifting productivity, generating jobs, and creating new businesses. Further investment in research capacity is required to ensure that Australia strengthens its research base after the challenges of the pandemic. The tertiary education system must be supported to respond to industry needs, build the nation's STEM skills base and better meet the changing needs and circumstances of tertiary students.

The budget makes worthwhile investments with $4.5 billion in science and research through universities in 2023–24 and $3.3 billion to support research and development in industry.

There is also more than $3.5 billion in the science agencies like CSIRO, Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and Questacon received some additional support.

Professionals Australia will continue to advocate for investment in education and research to ensure that we have strong STEM workforce capability to support innovation, industry development and economic growth.