ACT Budget largely reliant on Australia’s continued COVID-19 success

By Shannon Jenkins

February 10, 2021

Andrew Barr says the territory will get “very close” to its entire population being vaccinated as it continues to lead the national rollout. 
Andrew Barr says the territory will get “very close” to its entire population being vaccinated as it continues to lead the national rollout. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The ACT has signalled that it is ready to tackle climate change, roll out the COVID-19 vaccine, and continue to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic.

Chief Minister and Treasurer Andrew Barr handed down the 2020-21 Budget on Tuesday after a pandemic-induced seven month delay and an election win.

While the ACT’s fiscal position has “improved” by $578.5 million over the coming four years, compared to the August update, the 2020-21 deficit is expected to be $603 million, with net debt of $4.6 billion. That is expected to grow to $7.7 billion in 2023-24.

Economic growth is forecast to be between 2% and 3% over the next four years.

Despite the improvements, the government has warned that there are still risks.

“For our good economic performance to continue, we need to continue to ensure an effective public health response to the pandemic, support the general economy and provide additional assistance to those sectors and businesses who are most affected by the pandemic,” the budget papers state.

“The ongoing risks of further outbreaks, along with the possible reimposition of restrictions, continue to have implications for the ACT’s economic outlook over the forward estimates.”

The territory’s economic forecasts are based on a number of assumptions, including that COVID-19 vaccines are effective and reach the entire Australian population by the end of 2021. Another assumption is that there will be no more large-scale COVID-19 outbreaks, that state and territory borders remain “largely” open, and that international border restrictions will be progressively lifted from July 2021.

In his budget speech on Tuesday, Barr said the government’s priorities were to protect public health, roll out the COVID-19 vaccine, take action on climate change, protect jobs, and support new industries.

The government has set aside $20 million for its COVID-19 vaccination program, including $8.2 million for this financial year. It will also increase funding for chief health officer Dr Kerryn Coleman and her team, and for COVID-19 testing facilities.

Among the government’s commitments — many of which have already been announced — the ACT will provide assistance for the higher education and tourism sectors, which have been impacted by COVID-19, and funding for housing and homelessness services, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs.

The territory has committed $914 million to its Infrastructure Investment Program in 2020-21, amounting to a total $4.3 billion over the four years to 2023-24. This will fund projects such as the $100 million Big Canberra Battery, new and expanded schools, expanding the Canberra Hospital, and growing and renewing public housing.

The territory has previously announced it would commit more than $300 million to support its transition to net-zero emissions. One aspect of this is the $150 million Sustainable Household Scheme, which will offer zero-interest loans of up to $15,000 to help households pay for rooftop solar panels, household battery storage, zero emission vehicles and efficient electric appliances.

On Tuesday Barr said the scheme would be “one of the most significant investments in clean energy ever in the ACT”.

A total of $50 million has also been allocated to improve building efficiency and sustainability for social and public housing, lower income owner occupiers, and the lowest performing rental properties.

Read more: ACT to establish climate action entity under $307 million climate change plan


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