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What you need to know about the ACT’s 2017-18 Budget

Emma Macdonald

There were no big surprises in Tuesday’s Budget as the ACT Labor Government ploughed further investment into extending the light rail to Woden and diverted the bulk of its commitments to health and education.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr looked decidedly upbeat as he spoke to the media lock-up on Tuesday morning, saying we had survived the Tony Abbott Public Service cuts, weathered the Mr Fluffy storm and were punching well above our weight in service exports.

A lot of the Budget pre-announced but here are the dollar figures you need to know. (And feel free to scroll down until you find the areas that interest you – we know it is a lot to take in).

A brief word on the ACT economy

The good news is despite the massive costs of buying back and demolishing more than 1000 homes affected by Mr Fluffy asbestos, the ACT economy is looking surprisingly healthy. The deficit was cut back by $46 million this year to $74 million and is forecast to blow out slightly to $83.4 million next year before converting to a small surplus of just under $10 million in 2018/19.

Home buyers hoping for a more affordable roof over their head can recoup further savings this year on the Government’s phasing out of stamp duty. Homebuyers will save just under $700 for a home worth $500,000. That doesn’t address the overlying issue of the ACT’s continued strong housing market keeping prices beyond the reach of many, but the Government has also increased dwelling commencements by 100 per cent this year to try and increase supply.

As forecast in last year’s Budget, rates will continue to rise – up to an average seven percent, and to almost 20 percent for multi-unit dwellings. Discounts for early payments have been cut back to just one percent – down from three percent. Rate changes will save the Government almost $35 million. Land tax is also being extended to all residential dwellings, whether they are vacant or not.

There were a few new charges too –  car registration will go up by five percent, while parking fines in Canberra will rise by 6 per cent. And the fire and emergency services levy will increase to $294 per household, up from $252.

Economic growth for this year is expected to be one percent higher than predicted (reaching 3.75 per cent) while unemployment is down to 3.percentnt and 3200 jobs were created in the last 12 months.

An extra 5778 people are now calling Canberra home this year and our population is expected to reach 428,000 in the next four years (that’s the equivalent of adding an entire new Weston Creek).

In a nutshell, Canberra is growing nicely and is not enduring financial strain or job cuts from the Feds as it has in past years (but watch out if the Commonwealth forces more agencies to relocate to the regions…).

Light Rail

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As promised, the Government will spend $53.5 million rolling out the second stage of the Light Rail between Civic and Woden. A further $59 million over four years will allow the new City Renewal Authority to revitalise the CBD, Dickson and Northbourne Avenue and to create a lakeside precinct in West Basin.

According to Chief Minister Andrew Barr “Civic is the first among equals” when it comes to the need for investment and it will therefore take the largest share of funds. It’s just a shame that that focus doesn’t include a new Convention Centre which Andrew Barr said during his Budget address would not be put on the agenda until “early next decade”.

While the bulk of public transport dollars are going the way of Light Rail, there is also $7 million for free travel on two new Rapid Bus routes, free off-peak buses for seniors and concession card holders and continuation of the Free City Loop, Airport and Weston Line services.

Health

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A total health spend of $353 million over the next four years will include $236 million to start the $500 million Spire Centre within the Canberra Hospital precinct, delivering improved elective surgery, emergency medicine, paediatrics and radiology.

  • $70 million will expand the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children and deliver 40 new maternity beds
  • $36 million will train and support more frontline health staff including 12 new nurse navigators to support patients with complex needs
  • $23.8 million will go towards mental health funding including $2.9 million for a new Office for Mental Health to coordinate better delivery of services
  • $17.3 million will renovate acute aged care and cancer facilities at the Canberra Hospital
  • $16.1 million will ensure the University of Canberra Public Hospital is ready by next year
  • $14 million over five years will start new Nurse-led Walk-in Centres in Gungahlin, Weston Creek and the Inner North
  • $12.1 million will provide a new health centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
  • $1.79 million will go to the Way Back and Black Dog suicide prevention strategies
  • $1 million will support increased bulk billing GPs in Tuggeranong and the Molonglo Valley

Education

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A total spend of $210 million over the next four years will include $100 million to upgrade the ACT’s ageing public schools (which are, on average, now aged in their 40s!). Other initiatives include:

  • $26.2 million to expand schools in Gungahlin including Harrison, Gold Creek, Neville Bonner and Palmerston District and $500,000 to start planning for the new school in Molonglo
  • $5.9 million for Stage Three of Belconnen High’s modernisation
  • $17.2 million for technology upgrades
  • $16.1 to fund 66 new school assistants to take some of the pressure off teachers
  • $2.4 million for the first five of 20 new school psychologists for government schools
  • $3.3 million to upgrade walking and bike paths around schools
  • $400,000 to continue the Safe Schools program

Women and Children

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Apart from the investment in the Centenary Hospital, the Budget allocates $865,000 for a perinatal mental health support for new mums. Of $5.5 million in new sports funding, there will be a focus on women’s sport to extend the agreement with the Canberra Capitals basketball team and increase support for the Canberra United Women’s Football team. There’s also $1 million to boost female representation in male-dominated trades and $150,000 to get more women into the Emergency Services. A further $541,000 will go towards the Family Safety Hub to better link support services to families in crisis.

Children will receive $10.1 million for two new frontline assessment teams in Child and Youth Protection Services, while $1.6 million will help clear the backlog in Working With Vulnerable People background checks. $2.1 million will go to the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre while $883,000 will go to the Children and Young People Death Review Committee for harm minimisation strategies.

Canberra’s LGBTIQ community will receive $1.4 million to “establish Canberra as the most LGBTIQ-friendly city in Australia” through reforms and events while $500,000 over three years will support ‘A Gender Agenda’ which is a community organisation aimed at improving access to services for intersex and transgender residents.

The Arts

Australian Dance Party. Image: Supplied

Australian Dance Party. Image: Supplied

There is a significant arts budget of $21.6 million over the next four years. This includes:

  • $15 million will expand the Belconnen Arts Centre over the next three years, including new dance studios and expanded performance and exhibition spaces (and we hear a bar is under consideration)
  • $880,000 over four years to upgrade the Ainslie Arts Centre, Gorman House, Strathnairn, Tuggeranong Arts Centre and the Watson Arts Centre
  • $280,000 to upgrade Canberra Museum and Gallery and $100,000 to improve the Canberra Theatre Centre
  • New baseline funding of $750,000 to support individual arts projects in Canberra
  • $500,000 to help support Art, Not Apart, DESIGN Canberra and the Canberra Writers Festival as well as pop-up arts events in Woden and Gungahlin from 2018

Cool capital investment

Image: Martin Ollman

Image: Martin Ollman

 

Given tourism is one of the ACT’s fastest growing industries, the Government will invest $7.5 million over four years to support our big public events including Enlighten, Canberra Day and SpringOUT. Another $4.1 million will attempt to increase visits through business events, a Major Events Fund and attracting more domestic and international carriers to fly in and out of Canberra.

The Budget also includes a $5.3 million “Nightlife” package which includes $4.9 million over four years for six more police to patrol nightlife precincts and boost public safety. It will also support cafes and restaurants to host outdoor dining through a one-month discount on permit fees or a free one-month trial which is expected to save businesses $181,000.

Our suburbs

Credit: Martin Ollman

Credit: Martin Ollman

$30 million will go towards suburban improvements including:

  • $11.1 million to improve waste management, increase recycling and introduce a container deposit scheme
  • $5.4 million to improve playing fields
  • $4.5 million to resurface roads
  • $1.9 million to control weeds

The Environment

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A total of $6 million will address environmental priorities and the impact of climate change through:

  • $1.9 million over three years to deliver the ACT Climate Change Adaption Strategy
  • $845,000 to promote waste reduction and increase recycling in business and schools and at public events
  • $550,000 to undertake a four-year community zero emissions grants program for community groups
  • $1.3 million to protect native species
  • $720,000 on pest control

You can access all of the ACT Budget 2017-18 papers and press releases at apps.treasury.act.gov.au/budget

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

  • CLJF

    An irresponsible budget that hikes taxes by unreasonably large amounts to fund vanity projects that relatively few (and the relatively well-off) will benefit from, and the foisting on the community of discredited marxist social engineering experiments and minority self-promotion activities.

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