Budget Speech

Growing services for our growing city

The 2018-19 Territory Budget invests in the core public services Canberrans need.

At the same time as we deliver on our commitment to return the budget to balance, we are growing services and infrastructure to make sure this city keeps getting better for everyone who lives here.

We are delivering new local schools and more places for kids at our existing ones.  We are strengthening frontline care in our hospitals and making commuting quicker with better transport infrastructure.  We are boosting our investment in services for our city and suburbs, and keeping Canberrans safe by recruiting more first responders for our police and emergency services.

Madam Speaker, Canberra is growing.

People from across Australia and around the world are moving to Canberra because we are a city of brilliant possibilities.  A place full of good jobs that make a difference.  A hub for world‑leading study and research institutes.  A community that embraces creativity and champions new businesses.

Our city’s growth is an opportunity; Canberra is more diverse and dynamic today because more people from many different places call it home.  But we understand that it also brings some challenges.  Services and infrastructure have to step up alongside our community to make sure Canberra keeps getting better as we grow.

No other government in Australia delivers as many services as we do.  We take seriously our task to keep Canberra liveable with great schools and health care, efficient public transport and local government services, more housing options, a clean environment and exciting events.

That’s why the ACT Government is growing services for our growing city through the 2018‑19 Budget.

Strong and sustained growth, delivering a balanced budget

Four years ago our Government made an important decision.

We chose to prioritise protecting local jobs and services by using the ACT’s budget to keep our economy growing and ensure the Commonwealth’s cuts and the Mr Fluffy crisis did not mean cuts to the local services Canberra families rely on.

That decision came with a plan to return the budget to balance over time. Today, we have achieved that goal.

The 2018‑19 Budget confirms a balanced fiscal position in every year across the forward estimates. This means we are fully covering the cost of delivering services for Canberrans while building in a responsible buffer against future risks or shocks.

Madam Speaker, our work to support the Territory economy through tough times has paid off. Canberra has now seen a sustained period of very strong economic growth over the past few years.

This Budget estimates this year’s growth for our economy will be 4½ per cent.  This will bring our total economic growth since 2014‑15 to a very strong 13.6 per cent.

This rapid growth drove the creation of almost 10,000 jobs in 2017.  There are 2,000 more businesses operating in Canberra today than there were three years ago.  And our companies are doing more international business than ever before, with the ACT's services exports rising by 22 per cent since 2015.

Canberra is seeing the benefits of economic growth where it really matters: in the creation of more good jobs and better opportunities for local businesses.

Our tax reform plan is also working to cut costs for homebuyers while providing a fairer and more stable revenue base from which to fund essential services for Canberrans.

We have cut residential duty rates in every budget since 2012, and we will continue to do so every year across the forward estimates.  By 2021‑22, someone buying a $500,000 home will be paying half the amount of stamp duty they would have been up for when we started this reform – a saving of $10,500.

We are also continuing to reform commercial conveyance duty – from 1 July this year commercial property transactions worth $1.5 million or less will be abolished.  This will mean about 70 per cent of commercial property purchases will no longer involve duty, a significant boost for small businesses and investment.

But we know there is still more we can do.

That is why we are abolishing stamp duty for eligible first home buyers through this year’s Budget.

We understand that buying a home is a challenge for many – particularly young people and those on low incomes.  Stamp duty can put another hurdle in front of these Canberrans by adding tens of thousands of dollars to the price of a home.

From 1 July 2019, first home buyers with a household income below $160,000 will pay no stamp duty – whether they are buying an established property or a newly built home.

At the same time, we will abolish the payment of First Home Owner Grants.  A range of experts and analysis has found the grants have not been effective in helping first home buyers enter the housing market.

In fact, they can actually make housing less affordable by inflating people’s borrowing power and channelling too much demand into one small segment of the market.

Together, these changes will help more Canberrans buy their first home, sooner.

More places at our local schools and faster frontline health care

We know that great local schools and easy to access, high quality healthcare are two of the things that matter most to Canberrans.

The ACT Government already invests an average of $10,000 for every Canberra household on delivering healthcare through our hospitals and local health services. We provide $7,600 per household to deliver the local public schools attended by over 46,500 students and that employ 3,800 teachers.

This Budget will grow our investment with more places for kids at new and expanded schools and a major new investment in frontline hospital services, nurses and doctors.

We are delivering on our commitment to build a new primary school in Molonglo, which will provide places for 600 students from Kindergarten to Year 6 as well as a pre-school and early learning centre.  The school will be ready to take students from the start of the 2021 school year, while the funding delivered through this Budget will also support the preparation of services for a future Year 7 to 10 campus on the same site.

As the next big frontier of our city’s growth, the Government is committed to making sure services are ready and available in Molonglo as more people move into that region.

We are also expanding capacity at four schools in Gungahlin so that kids can continue to find a place at a great local school, close to home.  We will deliver capacity for an additional 500 students across Amaroo School, Gold Creek and Neville Bonner Primary, as well as expanding the Franklin Early Childhood School so that current students can continue on past Year 2.  We will also continue the planning work that is underway for another new school to cater for Gungahlin’s ongoing growth.

At the same time as delivering new and better school facilities, we are also investing in more teachers and support staff.

We will hire the equivalent of 66 more teachers and support staff to meet growing school enrolments, and we will recruit a further 15 school psychologists – fully delivering on our election commitment to make mental health services more accessible for kids through their schools.

We are also investing in more support for students with disability and those who have complex health needs to ensure local schools can offer them the same learning opportunities as other Canberra kids.

Like our schools, Canberra’s hospital and health services need to keep growing to make sure all Canberrans can access quality care when they need it.

The number of people presenting to local emergency departments has grown by about 40 people a day since 2015, while at the moment elective surgery waiting lists are growing faster than our hospitals can reduce them.

Canberra’s doctors, nurses, midwives and allied health staff are working incredibly hard to keep up with this growth.  This Budget will back them up with a significant new investment in frontline staff and services.

We are funding 4,000 more elective surgeries over the next four years, raising ACT Health’s annual target to around 14,000 surgeries a year.

We are growing funding for emergency surgery and the Emergency Department at The Canberra Hospital, to cut wait times and ensure more patients get the care they need sooner.

We are delivering on our election commitment to upgrade critical parts of our public hospitals, including an expansion of the Calvary Public Hospital Emergency Department.

And we are funding more hospital beds across the Territory including more maternity places and more beds to cope with the annual winter surge that hits The Canberra Hospital during flu season.

We are making these investments in hospital beds and staff now while we continue to invest in new health infrastructure for the future.  This includes progressing the development of SPIRE and developing new Northside hospital options.

Importantly, we are also investing in other frontline health services to help take the pressure off our hospitals.  This Budget delivers a significant expansion of the Hospital in the Home program – with 30 nurses and six doctors to the service so that an additional 3,000 patients a year can receive the care they need in their own homes and community health centres.

With the Government’s investment in the new University of Canberra Hospital also coming online this year to provide rehabilitation and sub-acute health care, we are ensuring more tertiary hospital beds are available for those who need the most intensive and specialised care.

We understand that mental health services and supports are also a critical part of frontline health care.  That’s why the Budget delivers new supported accommodation options for people with complex mental health needs, and a boost to the targeted services that support teenagers, older people and those transitioning out of the justice system.

We will establish three community-based mental health accommodation facilities to provide long-term care for people who need 24-hour support.  We will also establish a Step‑Up‑Step‑­Down facility on the south side of Canberra to provide short-term residential and clinical treatment for people discharged from hospital, and refurbish the 10-bed Extended Care Unit at the Brian Hennessey Rehabilitation Centre, to help provide a secure facility for people to transition back into the community.

Our support for Canberra’s health care services and schools already accounts for over half the ACT Budget each year.  But from this year we are stepping up our investments on the front line – on top of the major expansion in hospital and school infrastructure already underway that will come online in the next few years.

Keeping Canberra moving and delivering more services across our city and suburbs

Madam Speaker, we are overhauling Canberra’s public transport system.  We are designing a system that can move large numbers of people around quickly, efficiently and with the lowest possible impact on our environment; one that is simple to use and provides a genuine alternative to the car.

Light rail is at the heart of our plan for a city wide integrated public transport network. That’s why this year’s Budget delivers more funding to progress the planning and approval of Stage 2 from the City to Woden, as well as to start the design work on the enabling infrastructure.

We will continue working through the design and approvals with the National Capital Authority and the Federal Parliament to progress Stage 2 of Light Rail because this is the next step in delivering the essential public transport spine we need to connect Canberra’s north and south.

Keeping Canberra moving also requires more investment in road and active travel connections – not just from our suburbs to the city, but between our town centres too.

That is why this Budget funds design and planning work on duplicating William Slim Drive from Ginninderra Drive to the Barton Highway, to help reduce congestion between Gungahlin and Belconnen.

Along with Commonwealth funding, our investment in upgrading the Monaro Highway will deliver shorter travel times and improve road safety.  We will also start planning and design on the extension of John Gorton Drive and a bridge across the Molonglo River.  This will provide a major new transport link for Molonglo as the region’s community grows.

At the same time as we are building new roads, we are actively working to cut the ACT’s emissions from local cars.  Once Canberra reaches our target of being powered by 100 per cent renewable electricity in two years’ time, tackling emissions from our transport fleet will be the next big task on our path to zero net emissions by 2045.

That is why this Budget will invest in 50 electric vehicle charging stations at ACT Government sites across Canberra.  This builds on our recently-released Transition to Zero Emissions Vehicles Action Plan, and will see us pursue Australia’s most ambitious emissions reductions effort across the transport fleet.

We are also helping to cut this city’s emissions by getting more people out of their cars for the daily commute.

Canberra is already Australia’s most active community, with many of us walking or cycling to work and school. We gave a commitment to deliver an additional $30 million in active travel infrastructure over the life of this Parliamentary term, and I am very happy to say that the 2018‑19 Budget fully achieves that.

We are delivering an integrated bike network for Belconnen which links suburbs like Florey with the Belconnen Town Centre, the Lake Ginninderra foreshore, and major sporting and study institutions in Bruce.

We are improving cycling and footpath connections in the Woden and Tuggeranong town centres, constructing an off road ‘rapid’ bikeway network and completing the Lyons to Weston Creek (Heysen Street) cycle path link.

These investments will make it easier than ever for Canberrans to get active when they are moving around our city.

On top of these improvements to our town centres, this Budget steps up services for our suburbs.

We are delivering more funding every year for mowing, weeding, cleaning up graffiti, maintaining local waterways and tree trimming.  We are investing in playgrounds through a community-led process that will give Canberrans a say in where funds should be targeted to provide the most community benefit.

We are also significantly expanding the funding provided to City Services, because we recognise that a growing city means more demand for municipal services.  The number of homes receiving rubbish collection has risen by about 6,000 in the past five years, while we have added four new ovals, 24 new suburban playgrounds and 10 playground upgrades in that same time.

More investment in core municipal services will mean tidier suburbs across Canberra, along with parks, playgrounds and public spaces we can continue to be proud of.

This builds on last year’s Budget funding for the roll out of green bins to every Canberra suburb by 2019 – a key election commitment and a time and cost-saving benefit for households.

More support for Canberra families and inclusion

Canberra is the wealthiest, best educated and longest-living community in Australia.  That brings huge advantages for many of us, but it also comes with responsibilities: to support those who are not doing as well, to take good care of those who need our protection, and to work to close the gaps that some members of our community might otherwise fall through.

The ACT Government currently delivers half a billion dollars each year for community services and public housing.  But we know there is more to do.

With this Budget, we are delivering 36 more places for women seeking safe and secure accommodation through services like the Beryl and Doris Women’s refuges, as well as for asylum seekers and migrants with uncertain immigration status.  We are also funding three more counsellors for the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre and Domestic Violence Crisis Service, to ensure women in crisis can get the help they need as quickly as possible.

Building on the investments made in keeping Canberra’s children safe through recent budgets, we are investing in a dedicated team within the Community Services Directorate to improve the adoption process for kids in out of home care and help more young people find a permanent home, sooner.

We are also providing new resources to deliver family group conferencing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families who are at risk of ongoing involvement with the child protection system.

Secure, suitable and affordable housing is one of the basics that people build a good life from, and we understand that finding the right place to live is a growing challenge for Canberrans on low incomes and those who have complex needs.

Our ongoing Public Housing Renewal program is currently delivering the largest overhaul of the Territory’s housing stock since self-government, with 810 new properties already delivered and a further 478 to go by mid-2019.

The Deputy Chief Minister has been leading a detailed conversation with the Canberra community about what comes next and how we can work to ensure our affordable housing supply keeps up with our city’s growth.  That will come together in the new housing strategy that will be released later this year, laying out the next phase of our investment in public, community and affordable housing.

But there are some priority investments we are getting on with now through this Budget, including delivering on our commitment to build a second culturally-appropriate housing complex for older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Canberrans.

This Budget also kick starts the development of a second Common Ground complex at Dickson with funding for design and approvals.  We know that it will take a significant further investment to ensure vulnerable Canberrans can access safe, suitable and affordable housing, and we are taking the time to get this right in partnership with service providers, clients and the sector.

The ACT Government is doing what we can to support vulnerable Canberrans and families who are finding it hard.  But our programs and services are only one part of the equation.

Today, I add the ACT Government’s backing to calls being voiced around Australia for a rise in the level of income support available through Newstart.  At just $273 a week – some $400 less than the national minimum wage – the current rate of Newstart is too low to help people get back on their feet when they end up out of work.  Instead, it simply traps them in disadvantage.

Progress towards lifting Newstart was a glaring omission in last month’s Commonwealth Budget, and we urge the Federal Parliament to do the just thing by providing better support for Canberrans, and all Australians, who rely on it.

A better Canberra, as we grow

Canberra’s growth is both a challenge and an opportunity.

As a Government, it challenges us to think harder about how this city works, where we need to invest more and what we can do smarter, better or differently.

As Canberrans, it challenges us all to consider what we value about this unique place we call home; what we can protect and preserve, and what will change.

For this city, and our community, the opportunities are limited only by our collective imagination and goodwill.

We believe Canberra can take hold of the opportunities in front of us.  By growing services for our growing city through the 2018-19 Budget, we are backing our community to do it.

ACT Chief Minister, Andrew Barr MLA
5 June 2018


Budget Paper 1: Budget Speech (pdf 747 KB)