HALF a billion dollars will be injected into dental care for the poor, while families with schoolchildren will receive cash payments in two of the few big-spending measures in Tuesday's austerity budget.
The Sunday Age can reveal that 400,000 Australians stuck on the public dental waiting list because they can't afford a private dentist will be targeted for help in a $345 million blitz on the public backlog, starting on January 1.
Another $170 million will be used to lay the groundwork for a national dental scheme, funding more graduate training places and paying dentists to relocate to remote areas.
''Improving our dental health system has been a priority for me since I first became health minister and this package delivers hope to those who have waited too long on public dental lists,'' Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said. ''It will lay the foundation for a new way of providing dental services that will ensure that those most in need will get care when and where they need it.''
Despite widespread cuts in the budget, the government will make twice-yearly payments totalling $820 for secondary students and $410 for primary students into the bank accounts of one million eligible families, replacing the complicated education tax rebate.
Recipients of Family Tax Benefit A will receive the payments from July, when the carbon tax comes into effect.
The program, believed to cost more than $2 billion over five years, will assist the many thousands of families who are eligible for the current rebate but don't claim it.
While the family payments will add up to $400 million to the government's bottom line, the dental package combines $225 million in new money with $290 million offset from the Commonwealth Dental Health Program.
But to deliver its much-vaunted budget surplus, the Gillard government is gambling on clinching parliamentary support to shut down the existing Medicare-funded dental scheme - which funds private dental work if tooth problems are linked to a chronic illness. The program has blown out from $377 million to $1.9 billion in four years.
Labor will hold talks with the Greens over the next two months to design a new national dental scheme, but does not intend to fund a replacement until the 2013-14 budget. That could leave a gap of up to a year in which there may be no Medicare funding for dental services, shunting some people who now qualify for the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme onto the public dental waiting list.
It is unclear whether the Greens would help Labor axe the Medicare scheme if there is a lengthy wait for a replacement, given the minor party ultimately wants universal dental care. But Greens dental spokesman Richard di Natale hailed this week's budget dental boost - which was a condition of Greens support for Labor to form government in 2010.
The budget package will include:
■$35.7 million for 100 extra places a year in the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program from 2016.
■$45.2 million on 50 more places a year for a Graduate Year Program for Oral Health Therapists from 2014.
■$77.7 million for relocation and infrastructure grants for up to 300 dentists who set up practices in rural and remote areas.
■$10.5 million for dental health promotion.
■$450,000 for NGOs to co-ordinate extra pro-bono work by dentists for disadvantaged people.
Treasurer Wayne Swan is predicting a modest surplus for 2012/13 when he hands down his fifth budget on Tuesday, but one that will contain measures to support small business.
Last November Mr Swan forecast a $1.5 billion surplus in the next final year compared to a $37.1 billion deficit in 2011/12.
''It will be a modest surplus, the surplus will build over time,'' Mr Swan told the Nine Network today.
''The aftershocks of the global financial crisis have hit our revenues.''
Mr Swan said the government has had to make very significant savings because revenues had been down around $150 billion over five years since the GFC.
The government is also going ahead with a recommendation from its Business Tax Working Group to introduce in the budget from July 1 ''loss carry-backs'' for business - where a company applies operating losses to a preceding year's income to reduce tax liabilities.
''At the moment small businesses can only carry their losses forward to be offset against future income and future profits,'' he said.
''They can't carry their loss back and offset it against past profits.''
It will be capped at $1 million of losses with a maximum benefit to any firm of $300,000. While he would not put an exact figure on the cost to introduce the measure, he said it would be in the ''hundreds of millions'' over the forward estimates.
Federal shadow treasurer Joe Hockey has questioned the credibility of any budget surplus forecast expected to be announced by the government on Tuesday.
Treasurer Wayne Swan is predicting a modest surplus for 2012/13 when he hands down his fifth budget on Tuesday.
Mr Hockey says it needs to be questioned if Mr Swan's expected surplus will actually be delivered in September next year - and if Mr Swan will be around.
Mr Hockey said the treasurer had announced a revision of the deficit three times so far this year - $12 billion, $22 billion, then $37 billion.
''The year hasn't finished. We fully expect it's going to be deficit to be somewhere in the mid-40s,'' he told ABC TV today.
Mr Hockey says the deterioration of the deficit figure ''undermines the credibility of the claim'' of a surplus, as does the instability of the Gillard government.
''Whatever they claim on Tuesday night is flawed because nobody - including members of the Labor party - believes that Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard are going to be there to actually have to deliver it.''
Mr Hockey also cast doubt on the government's budget process.
''On the one hand they say it's going to be a tough budget, they're going to have to make hard decisions about cut backs,'' Mr Hockey said.
''On the other hand they're making massive new spending commitments, including substantive changes to parents of school children.''
- with AAP