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The ACT Budget: Reforms, red tape and roads

Jodi Morrell

The Chief Minister was clearly in his element when he presented his 2015-16 Budget to the Canberra Business Chamber ACT Budget Breakfast on Tuesday morning. It was Mr Barr’s fourth budget as Treasurer and first as Chief Minister, and he clearly felt comfortable as he delivered the speech in a relaxed but authoritative manner.

“I found the Treasurer very compliant to the Chief Ministers’ needs,” Mr Barr joked at the beginning of his speech.

This budget focuses on developing the key areas of education and health in the ACT, and improving facilities and services for the general public. The Government is also continuing its focus on suburban renewal and better transport, including developing the bus and rail systems, an area Mr Barr has consistently focused on throughout his tenure as Chief Minister.

The ACT Government forecasted a bigger than expected budget deficit of $407 million when he handed down the budget earlier this week. The Mr Fluffy asbestos buyback has naturally had a huge impact on this with the ACT Government being forced to borrow $1 billion from the Federal Government, but Mr Barr acknowledged that it was a necessary action.

“It was the right decision, the only decision the Government could take to look after these households…the only decision a caring and responsible Government could take,” said Mr Barr.

Here’s how the ACT 2015-16 Budget might affect you…

If you have…school-aged children

The budget will deliver $160 million across a range of education measures, including classroom and IT upgrades, and added support for students with disabilities. Most of the funding allocated to education will go towards replacing and upgrading computer equipment, and expanding the wireless capacity across primary schools. A number of high schools well overdue for refurbishment will have been allocated funding for updating, including Belconnen High School and Caroline Chisholm School. The Canberra Institute of Technology will also receive funding to update their campuses in Tuggeranong, Bruce and Reid.

If you have…a family and parents living in the Territory

The Government will invest $1.5 billion into the health system, with $161 million in new funding over the next four years to deliver support, services, equipment, facilities and more beds. Work is also starting on Canberra’s newest hospital, the University of Canberra Public Hospital. Construction will begin on the new hospital in early 2016 and physical completion is expected in 2018. This construction includes building the hospital car park.

Preventative programs will target chronic disease and encourage active living across Canberra. Mental health services will receive a boost in funding and assistance in delivering a coordinated, patient-centred approach for people accessing drug and alcohol services.

If you’re an ACT Public Servant

The Government announced that jobs growth in the Territory is expected to be faster than previously projected. The ACT Public Service will add 291 full time jobs in 2015-16 giving a badly needed shot of security to existing ACT public servants.

If you own…a small business

The Government is spending more than $20 million in new funding to support Canberra’s business community and boost investment. The Government is upgrading ICT systems, simplifying processes and working in partnership with all sectors to make it easier to do business in the ACT. A range of initiatives are being introduced to continue to encourage innovation in business and will develop innovative products and services with a view to development towards sale to other governments and clients. Mr Barr pointed out that the Government is particularly keen to identify where they can assist this development of the private sector and where the Government needs to get out of the way to enable the private sector to grow.

The Government is focused on reducing red tape for business via the creation of Access Canberra, which puts everything businesses need to operate within compliance in one, easy to access place. Doing business with the ACT Government will become simpler and easier via standardised and simplified processes. Mr Barr has also continued improve the simplicity, efficiency and fairness of the ACT tax system to ensure the Government has access to a revenue base which is obtained fairly and in an equitable manner.

Promotion of the Canberra brand will move into phase 2 with the program continuing to be focused on supporting tourism in the Territory. Cooperative marketing campaigns will promote Canberra as a key business and leisure destination in domestic and international markets.

If you…drive a car in Canberra

The Barr Government signalled that it intends to make a $375 million capital contribution for the light rail line to Gungahlin. This amount will be funded from the sale of assets including ageing public housing stock and out dated Government office blocks. The payment will also include money raised from the 15% asset recycling bonus from the Abbott Government worth $60 million, but will only be made after completion of construction and the start of services on the line from the city to Gungahlin, expected in 2019.

Parking fees are expected to rise and new mobile speed cameras will be introduced throughout the city. In support of continued transport reform in the capital, the Government has allocated additional funding to ACTION buses to deal with operational capacity and worker’s compensation costs.

If you…own a house in Canberra

There will be significant ramifications for the housing market in Canberra flowing from this budget. Homeowners can expect rates to rise by an average of 9% and will also take the hit on the increased fire and emergency services levy. Home buyers on the other hand, can expect to see a continued reduction in stamp duty on purchases of new homes and the first home owners’ grant will continue to be cut in stages.

The Government will spend $160 million replacing public housing units in Red Hill, Allawah Court in the city and the Karuah Dickson garden flats and Owen flats on Northbourne Avenue. The land will be sold and replacement units will be built elsewhere. Other replacement public housing has also been budgeted for and will include four-bedroom homes and multi-unit developments of up to 10 units each around the city.

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Jodi Morrell

Jodi Morrell recently abandoned her long-term public service career to pursue her passion for writing full time. She is passionate about politics, federal and local, and loves to explore and understand opposing political standpoints. Jodi loves travel, good food and wine, fitness and obstacle races (the muddier the better) and books.

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