On Tuesday night Treasurer Jim Chalmers handed down the Albanese Government’s first budget.
It’s taken me a little bit of time to finish off this budget wrap because in addition to the Budget it has been a HUGE few days dealing with legislation in the Senate. I’ve negotiated a bunch of amendments with government and will send through a summary of these separately.
So now back to the big news.
Framed as a “responsible reset” this “bread and butter” budget was all about delivering Labor’s election commitments.
For me the priority was one, making sure the ACT wasn’t overlooked and left even further behind as it has been for so long. And two, tackling housing affordability.
Housing has been the number one issue raised with me by our community and that I’ve been pushing with the Government so it was good to see it at the heart of the budget.
Obviously it was disappointing to find that waiving the historic housing debt wasn’t included but I’m really pleased to see Senator Gallagher re-open the door to including it in a future budget. I’ll be continuing to push that hard.
To give credit where it's due, the Government has delivered on its promises, which is great to see and housing was a welcome centrepiece, even if there’s still a lot more to do.
But in playing it safe, the Government has also avoided dealing with a few areas of pressing need, putting off some really big, tough debates that sooner or later we are going to have to have.
Debates around the future of the Stage 3 tax cuts, around taxation more broadly, around revenue.
Around how we keep delivering on the essential social compact between taxpayers and government that is really what a budget is all about.
I look forward to engaging in those debates and pushing the Government to show greater ambition in tackling these challenges.
Below is a high level snapshot about what’s there, what’s not and what’s next.
I’m really keen to hear your thoughts and reactions so please don’t hesitate to shoot through an email or come along to my next Town Hall in Gunghalin on 16 November 2022 to share your views.
What’s in it for the ACT
While largely ticking off on election commitments, there were a couple of nice surprises.
The big ticket item was a new “National Security Office Precinct” (price tag undisclosed). Details remain scarce on this secret new facility but the government has said it will accommodate up to 5,000 workers and be used by the Office of National Intelligence and DFAT.
Another surprise was an additional $85.9 million in Commonwealth funding for light rail stage 2A, which brings their total contribution to a shade over $218 million. No word yet on 2B or beyond. While this may seem a hefty whack, it pales in comparison to the multi-billion-dollar new investments made in other states and territories, including the $1.9 billion being handed over to the NT for the “Middle Arm” project (the same as the last published cost estimate for what the whole of light rail Stage 2), which the Government is trying to pitch as infrastructure although it looks a lot like just another fossil fuel industry hand out.
Disappointingly, we are still only getting a fraction of the national spend and nothing like our share on a per capita basis, which is a bitter pill when you consider the ACT has, over the five years prior to this budget, received less than a quarter of our share of federal infrastructure funding.
Other measures were (as expected):
- Very welcome $15m to get the AIS Arena up and running again
- $750k for feasibility work into the University of Canberra’s Sports Hub Precinct Proposal
- $5m for inner north bike paths
- $38.5m for Scrivener dam upgrade
- $5m for Gorman House Arts Centre upgrade
- $800k for new and upgraded courts and facilities at the Weston Creek Tennis Club
- $10m for Youth Foyer at Woden CIT Campus
- $3.225 million for ACT waterways
- 3 community batteries (not costed)
- Free Tafe places (still being allocated)
Funding wasn’t detailed for the promised three new community batteries or the Medicare Urgent Care Clinic and details around the promised Veterans Wellness Centre were still being finalised.
In Education, the ANU had its full request met when it came to the allocation of additional Commonwealth Supported Places with the University of Canberra being given just over a third of its ask.
Eight local schools shared in $250,000 in funding for infrastructure and the APS was a big winner with a $72.9 million investment to support the Government’s plans to move away from consulting and rebuild in-house capacity.
Despite what critics like to say about this being some sort of special deal for Canberra, only 38% of the APS is based here. The APS serves all Australians and is spread out around our nation so this is an investment that will benefit everyone.
Disappointingly the ACT is still lagging well behind when it comes to NBN upgrades. Of the more than 1.1 million premises that will benefit from this NBN upgrade there will be only 9,000 in the ACT, while states like Tasmania will get 45,000.
Giving so few homes and businesses in the ACT access to this latest NBN upgrade is hugely disappointing. I did some analysis during the election campaign which revealed Canberra has already been largely abandoned in the NBN Co’s rollout of Fibre to the Premises (FTTP).
I will be redoubling my efforts to push for a better outcome for the nation’s capital, Norfolk Island and Jervis Bay in the lead up to the next federal budget in May 2023.
Big ticket budget items
There were a couple of big and welcome budget elements including the new National Housing Accord that aspires to deliver 1 million homes in five years, expanded early childhood education subsidies which are set to benefit some 23,200 families in Canberra, an increase in paid parental leave to 26 weeks and cheaper medicines.
It was terrific to see a genuine funding commitment to give effect to the Uluru statement from the heart. Some $75 million for the referendum on a Voice to parliament and $5.8 million to establish a Makarrata Commission for truth and treaty.
There’s also quite a large investment into aged care - some $2.5 billion - to deliver on commitments to get RNs into aged care facilities 24 hours a day, seven days a week as well as underwriting a pay increase to the aged care workforce.
And $1.7 billion to improve women’s safety initiatives together with the return of gender responsive budgeting are also fantastic to see. There’s more to do but this is a welcome start.
Other budget bits and bobs
Here are some other highlights/points of interest:
- $83.7m for the ABC
- Extra $200m for Ukraine
- $500m for veterans
- $102m for community solar banks
- $3.4m to examine the health risks of climate change
Budget bad news and gaps
The federal budget also contained a fair whack of bad news that will hurt household budgets.
Rising inflation, rising interest rates, slowing GDP growth, rising unemployment and growing cost-of-living pressures are all cause for concern.
This last one is a real killer. The Government is forecasting a 56% rise in electricity prices, a 44% rise in gas prices and a jump in the cost of both groceries and rent.
The Treasurer is saying we’re unlikely to see a rise in real wages for at least another couple of years.
The budget also points to a huge increase in the cost of the NDIS, which is forecast to reach $102 billion per year by 2032.
But despite all this the government hasn’t done anything in terms of raising the rate for Jobseeker, Austudy or Commonwealth Rent Assistance
Now I absolutely understand and commend the need for responsible economic management. But equally I simply don’t accept that we can let this crisis continue, especially for the most vulnerable members of our community.
We can’t let 3 million Australians remain in poverty, including more than 38,000 people right here in the ACT of which 9,000 are kids.
So what does this mean?
We need to gear up for some hard conversations and harder decisions ahead of the next federal budget.
We need to talk about redesigning the Stage 3 tax cuts, about accelerating the transition to all electric homes and businesses, and tightening tax arrangements for multinationals (there was a good first step on this in Tuesday night’s budget).
If we are to fund the things our community needs, we also need to look more broadly to find solutions.
We need to look at how we can better capture the benefits of the natural resources that belong to ALL Australians. It is also imperative that the Government stop getting Australian taxpayers to spend billions subsidising uber-profitable resource companies.
Instead we need to be spending a whole lot more to put an end to species extinction, to protect against climate change and the invasive species that cost our economy and our environment so dearly.
We're going to have to have some tough conversations about what services we value as Australians and how we're going to pay for them now and into the future.