South Australia will hand out cash to businesses across the state to put an end to its unenviable reputation as the unemployment capital of Australia.
The government has allocated $109 million in the state budget to provide grants of up to $10,000 to small to medium companies for each new worker they take on.
Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis says the measure is designed to fire up the small business sector, the engine room of the state economy.
“Lately it’s spluttering a bit and our unemployment rate is unacceptable,” he said.
“This is a way of helping them to give another South Australian an opportunity to have a job.
“South Australian businesses aren’t looking for handouts, they just want it to be a bit easier.”
With SA’s jobless rate hovering around 7 per cent and the worst in the nation, the program has been welcomed by business groups and unions.
But the state opposition said the budget would drive South Australia “further into the slow lane”.
“South Australians needed measures to reduce business costs and provide cost of living relief, but these measures were severely lacking in today’s budget,” Opposition Leader Steven Marshall said.
“Households needed immediate relief from surging bills, including electricity, water and state taxes.”
Delivering his third budget, Mr Koutsantonis revealed the state’s finances were back in the black for the first time since 2010.
The budget also projected growing surpluses across the forward estimates at the same time as maintaining existing infrastructure spending, including money for health facilities, road projects and public transport.
The government also allocated $250 million to build or upgrade science labs in 139 public schools to encourage more students to study maths and science.
It will also provide $250 million for low-interest loans to private schools for similar improvements.
Property Council executive director Daniel Gannon said the budget was all about hard hats and steel caps.
“If you’re a builder, tradie, an engineer, architect or developer, it’s time to get comfortable wearing your hard hats and steel caps as there are a lot of infrastructure projects in the 2016/17 budget,” he said.
The budget papers show South Australia will finish 2015/16 with a $258 million surplus with a similar result of $254 million tipped for 2016/17.
The surplus is then forecast to grow to $466 million by 2019/20.
The state economy is projected to grow by about 2 per cent across the next four years but despite the emphasis on job creation, employment growth is likely to remain stagnant at 1 per cent.
If there are losers in the SA budget, it could be the state’s public servants, who will have wage increases capped at 1.5 per cent a year over the next three years.
Public Service Association general secretary Nev Kitchin said the move on wages was a “slap in the face” for the restraint shown by public sector workers in recent years.