ACT Budget 2018: the rundown

Emma Macdonald

Oh what a beautiful surplus.

You know that feeling when you finally pay your credit card off after years of debt and interest payments? Yeah, me neither.

But ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr was feeling all of the surplus joy today when he delivered a budget that is back in the green instead of the red after six long years.

With a surplus of $31.9 million this year, the budget has been returned to balance in each of the forward estimates and economic growth is predicted to hit 4.5 per cent.

This is good news, and is due in a large part our cool little capital’s sustained population growth, the creation of almost 10,000 jobs in 2017, 2000 businesses starting up, and ACT exports rising by 22 per cent since 2015.

In fact, the ACT’s economy is shaping up nationally. It is now bigger than Tasmania’s, the Northern Territory’s and, if things continue this way, will surpass South Australia’s economy within two decades.

But “this is not a size-of-surplus envy game,” according to the Chief Minister, who is also the Treasurer and was delivering his eight Budget.

With the sticker shock of the light rail and the Mr Fluffy buyback slowly receding, Mr Barr announced a suite of spending measures in the heartland areas of health and education.

“We are fully covering the cost of delivering services for Canberrans while building in a responsible buffer for future risks or shocks,” he said in his Budget Statement, noting that the Canberra of half a million people is now only a decade away.

It was a steady, rather unexciting and “values-driven” Budget – and not at all how we would approach having cash in the bank after being broke for so long. But then we clearly aren’t as responsible as those good people in ACT Treasury.

Meanwhile, we have taken one for the HerCanberra team, and waded through 500-odd pages of budget papers to bring you this – the abridged version.

Housing

Image: Martin Ollman

  • The abolition of Stamp Duty for first home buyers with a household income below $160,000 – whether the home is new or old. Previously, first home buyers received a full stamp duty concession only on new properties below $460,000, and partially for anything under $609,000. The measure is expected to assist an additional 1200 new home buyers into the market and will replace (over a one-year transition) the $7000 First Home Owners Grant, which was deemed “not effective”.
  • Rates are forecast to rise by an average 7 per cent this year for houses and 10 per cent for units – down on last year’s 19 per cent rise for units and steady on last year for houses.
  • $1.2 million this year ($6.5 million over four years) will address homelessness among women and children escaping violence, young mothers, and migrant families including 36 new shelter places.

Health

  • $11.5 million this year ($48 million over the next four years) for more acute hospital care, including meeting demand for maternity places and increased demand in the winter flu season. The funding will cover an additional 54 full-time frontline staff including 35 nurses, 12 allied health workers and six doctors.
  • $16 million this year ($65 million over the next four years) for more elective and emergency surgeries and a reduction in waiting times – including 22 nurses and seven medical professionals.
  • $1.2 million this year ($31 million over four years) to expand Hospital in the Home – allowing 3000 more patients to be cared for in their own homes.

Education

  • $7.4 million this year ($31 million over four years) to pay for 66 new teachers and support staff for schools to meet the boom in enrolments.
  • $726,000 this year ($7.3 million over four years) for 15 additional school psychologists to address wellbeing and mental health outcomes for students.
  • $4.3 million ($18 million over four years) in needs-based funding to support students with disabilities across government schools in line with enrolment growth.
  • $5.7 million over four years for a new primary school in Molonglo to begin enrolments in 2021.
  • $4 million over four years to support growth in enrolments across Gungahlin.

Transport

  • $12.5 million for Stage 2 of the light rail through to Woden.
  • $10.2 million on roads including the duplication of William Slim Drive, planning a bridge across the Molonglo, extending John Gorton Drive and uprgrading intersections in Belconnen.
  • $1.2 million over four years will go towards a Belconnen Bikeway.
  • The bad news is car rego is going up by 5 per cent and parking in Civic is taking another 6 per cent hike.

Inclusion

  • $3.5 million over four years to strengthen adoption and permanency processes for vulnerable children.
  • $1.6 million this year ($5 million over four years) to engage the Canberra community either online, or face-to-face on Government decisions.
  • $22.8 million over four years to fund more supported accommodation for those experiencing mental illness including 3 new properties for long-term, 24-hour support.
  • Mental health outreach for the young ($1.14 million this year) through more headspace counsellors and the support through aged care homes for the elderly ($744,000 this year).
  • $2.6 million over four years to support the LGBTIQ community including a $400,000 community grants scheme, and $300,000 for the Office of LGBTIQ to focus on transgender and intersex issues.
  • $800,000 to make Reconciliation in the Park an annual event.
  • $14.2 million to contribute to the National Redress Scheme and support Canberrans who were sexually abused as children in institutions.

Women

  • $1.7 million over four years to support the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre and Domestic Violence Crisis Service to meet increased demand.
  • $6.5 million in more accommodation places for women seeking shelter through services like the Beryl and Doris Women’s refuges.
  • $6 million to pilot a new Family Safety Hub network of government, specialist and community organisations.
  • $700,000 to deliver the ACT Women’s Plan 2016-20 to progress gender equality and improve outcomes for local girls and women.

CBR

Image: Martin Ollman

  • $700,000 this year ($2.15 million over four years) to back the Brand CBR.
  • $2 million extra over four years for the Major Events Fund and $7.6 million over four years to boost local events including Enlighten, Australia Day celebrations, Canberra Day, SpringOUT and the Canberra Writers Festival.
  • $2.4 million over four years to expand the events calendar, establish the Canberra Arts Biennial, and reinvigorate Windows to the World, showcasing the city’s Embassies and High Commissions.
  • $740,000 for the CBR nightcrew to assist revellers after dark in Civic.

For the complete set of Budget papers click here.

Feature image: Martin Ollman

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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