Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas may have mentioned ‘business’ only five times in his budget speech as he delivered an election-year budget focused on health and education today, but there is a raft of new funding measures for small businesses included in the budget papers.
Among the initiatives for small business is a $10 million Business Acceleration Fund, which the government says will “cut red-tape and streamline regulations” to help businesses and their owners save time.
Small Business Minister Jaala Pulford said the fund will “streamline applications and approvals, improve information flow and provide faster licensing at local and state levels, helping new and growing small businesses”.
Pulford said thousands of small businesses will also benefit from a replenishment of the $5 million Specialist Advice Pathways program, which provides subsidised access to accounting, bookkeeping, tax and legal advice, while the government has pledged to spend an extra $10 million over two years on a skills partnership program with industry, TAFEs and universities.
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The state government today revealed plans to attract more innovative businesses to the state, and an investment fund that will provide grants to businesses.
As part of the $120 million Victorian Industry Fund, the government says it will create a $40 million industry investment fund that will dish out grants to “rapidly growing businesses, including supply chains that underpin economic resilience”.
Another $40 million has been earmarked for “targeted financial incentives” to attract international business investment to Victoria, while a $20 million equity investment pilot fund will be targeted at “young, highly innovative companies” in key industries, including medical technology.
Small business owners will be able to continue to access free mental health support via the Partners in Wellbeing program, which is set receive another $2.9 million in funding, and the government has promised $760,000 to social enterprises to create more jobs for women, young people, people with disabilities, Indigneous people and people from multicultural backgrounds.
The government also plans to spend $14.8 million on trade programs, which includes establishing a trade and investment office in Paris.
With the state’s books showing a deficit of $17.6 billion, Treasurer Tim Pallas had foreshadowed a budget that will focus on growth rather than cuts, despite Victoria holding more debt than any other state or territory.
“Austerity is not a solution,” he said in media interviews leading up to today’s budget.
The government has chosen to invest in this growth in regional areas, ahead of any new funding to revive the Melbourne CBD, with $30 million in funding for the Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund included in the budget, while overall investment in infrastructure investment totals $21 billion.
Regional economies also stand to gain from the $2.6 billion allocated towards the state hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games in regional centres including Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat and Gippsland.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says health would be a key focus for the government and the budget papers include significant investment in this key industry, including $700 million in funding to expand the state’s in-home healthcare service and $1.5 billion to go towards a catch-up plan for surgeries affected by the pandemic.
The budget also includes the previously announced $250 one-off payment for households to help address cost-of-living pressures. The payment will be available to all households that register on the Energy Compare website, which helps users find a better deal on energy prices.
Also previously announced is the government’s $246 million pilot program to provide sick and carer’s leave entitlements to casual and contract workers, which businesses are expected to eventually be required to pay for via a levy.
The limited focus on business in this year’s budget compares to the 2021 Victorian budget, which increased the payroll tax-free threshold to $700,000, while also introducing a payroll tax surcharge for businesses with payrolls above $10 million, to help pay for increased funding for mental health services.
While members of the business community welcomed efforts to improve mental health support services, others, like Adir Shiffman, objected to this being done via a charge on businesses.
Last year’s Victorian budget also continued the government’s wage subsidies for small business employers, as well as the new jobs tax credit.