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Treasurer pitches the budget's softer side

Making a difference in sick people's lives is a key reason federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says the budget needed to get back to surplus.

After the hard-nosed numbers were released on Tuesday night, Mr Frydenberg started selling the softer side of the budget in a speech on Wednesday.

He talked about a close colleague who had depression and suicidal thoughts, but who got treatment and manages his illness with medication.

"These are the real stories of the budget. Programs that make a difference to people's lives, people who need our help," he told the National Press Club in Canberra.

"A strong economy is not just a piece of paper or numbers on a page. It matters to people. It allows you to do things that you might not have otherwise done."

But Mr Frydenberg had to be pushed into a budget measure to help people living on Newstart, who will now also get a $75 energy supplement originally targeted at pensioners.

Labor was going to amend the supplement laws when they got into parliament, before the coalition caved on Wednesday morning.

"We made this decision because we want this legislation to pass the house," Mr Frydenberg told parliament.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told ABC TV it had been a "deliberate decision" to leave Newstart recipients out of the plan, but an "adjustment" was needed to get the bill through parliament quickly.

The rest of the federal budget - including income tax cuts - will have to wait until after the May poll to pass parliament.

The coalition insists there is no time to progress $158 billion in tax relief for low- and middle-income earners.

But with Labor promising to support them, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the tax cuts could be ready to go before July 1.

"If the Labor Party says they support our tax cuts, then the tax office can administer it on that basis," Mr Morrison told Nine's Today Show.

He also defended the wages forecasts in the budget, which shadow treasurer Chris Bowen labelled "heroic".

"The wages growth is going to come from businesses continuing to expand ... because of the low tax environment we're creating for them," Mr Morrison said.

But Labor says the budget is propped up by an underspend on the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

"It's a fake budget promise with fake promises," Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said.

The budget predicts wage growth to lift from 2.5 per cent in 2018/19 to 3.5 per cent in 2021/22, but economists are skeptical about the figures.

Budget surpluses totalling $45 billion are expected over the next four years, starting with a $7.1 billion surplus in 2019/20.

Mr Shorten's budget reply speech is due on Thursday night, with an election potentially called the next day.

Former prime minister John Howard said the election will be fought on taxation and protecting the value of people's houses.

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