ACT stimulus package to keep Canberrans in jobs, says Barr

By Shannon Jenkins

Friday March 20, 2020

Andrew Barr. AAP Image/James Gourley

Government fees and charges will be frozen and the health sector will receive extra funding under the ACT government’s $137 million stimulus package.

The package announced by chief minister Andrew Barr on Friday aims to “protect as many jobs as possible” by supporting local households and businesses.

He said more packages will be announced in the future.

Phase one of the ACT’s response to the escalating coronavirus pandemic includes support for public health services, with funding for respiratory assessment clinics, an increase in inpatient beds and ICU capacity, maintenance of COVID-19 testing capacity, and additional medical equipment and supplies, according to Barr.

“The health funding will also involve working with Winnunga Nimmityjah to enable the service to provide a respiratory assessment service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Canberrans,” he noted.

The government will offer rebates of $150 on residential rates “to help ease cash flow pressures for Canberra households”. Various government fees and charges will be frozen, including the fire and emergency services levy, public transport, vehicle registration and parking fees.

All public housing tenants will receive rental support of $250 in the coming months, with a one-off rebate for residential utility concession holders of $200 to help with power bills. Barr said there will be “more work” on income support in the future.

Local clubs and their staff will be supported with a payment of $1.5, as well as freeing up the existing $1.8 million in the Clubs Diversification Fund, Barr said.

“Immediate consultation will start directly with community clubs to investigate further ways the government can help them keep as many Canberrans employed as possible as they re-adjust to social distancing requirements,” he added.

The government will immediately spend $20m on infrastructure projects and maintenance on local schools, roads, and public transport, to keep local workers in the job. Existing government contractors who have been impacted by event cancellations will be redeployed with funding for the removal of dead trees, planting of new trees and maintenance.

Barr noted that his government will support its own casual workforce “through continued employment and appropriate access to COVID-19 leave where required”.

The arts sector will receive $500,000 in grants funding, while non-government organisation partners will be given $7m to meet increased service demand for emergency relief.

Following a recent spike in calls, Lifeline ACT will be given an additional $100,000.

ACT government agencies have been told to prioritise the processing of development applications, Barr said, with 10 more staff added into the DA assessment team. The chief minister noted the ACT has the lowest number of active DAs since December 2016. He said the government will also expedite the payment of bills to further provide cashflow support for small to medium businesses.

Small to medium businesses will receive a rebate on the fixed charge for 2019-20 on commercial rates for properties with an AUV below $2m. Businesses who lease premises will see a six month waiver on payroll tax for hospitality, creative arts and entertainment industries, the waiving of fees for food business registration and liquor licencing fees (excluding off-license) and outdoor dining fees, and a $750 rebate for small business owners to help with power bills.

The government will also give access to interest free deferrals of payroll tax for businesses up to a payroll threshold of $10m to significantly ease the cash flow pressures for medium sized businesses, starting July 1. A business liaison team will help local businesses with these measures.

Barr argued the economic impacts of COVID-19 “will be felt for years”, and so a phased response is needed.

“This is a once in a century economic shock, and no level of federal or ACT government stimulus will be able to fully offset the impacts of this global crisis,” he said.

“National and territory income will fall. Our stimulus efforts over the next 12-18 months will reduce the impact and support the eventual recovery, but the short term economic situation is grim.”

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