6 April 2020

ACT announces $200 million to keep businesses, job seekers afloat

| Dominic Giannini
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Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has announced a second stimulus package for the ACT worth $214 million. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Healthcare, tax and fee relief, and a job fund for Canberrans have formed the centerpiece of the Barr Government’s second economic stimulus package totaling $214 million of new measures.

The announcement is on top of the ACT Government’s $137 million stimulus package which was handed down almost a fortnight ago, bringing the total economic support up to $351 million – or just under 0.88 per cent of the Territory’s Gross State Product (GSP).

An extra $126 million will be pumped into the Territory’s health system on a 50/50 cost-sharing arrangement with the Commonwealth Government to fund an emergency department surge capacity of 50 extra beds and set aside a specialised COVID-19 ward within Calvary Hospital.

The money will also go towards establishing respiratory clinics and extra equipment – including protective equipment for frontline workers – and enhancing the operational capacity for public health services so they are better resourced to quickly trace confirmed cases.

Aspen Medical is also building a specialised, temporary COVID-19 Emergency Department at the Canberra Hospital Campus.

An extra $39 million has been set aside to give land tax and rate rebates to residential landlords who reduce rent by at least 25 per cent for tenants who have been impacted by COVID-19, meaning some renters could see a decrease of up to $200 a week.

Commercial landlords and owner-operated commercial properties will be divided into three categories, Mr Barr said, with relief being targeted at those who have been affected the most.

The first category covers those who have not been affected, or have only been partially affected. The second category encompasses those who have been significantly affected by having their business income reduced by more than 30 per cent and the third will cover those who have had to shut down completely.

Those in the first category must continue to pay their rent but are still eligible for the fixed $2,622 rebate announced in the first stimulus package. Those in the second and third category will be able to apply for a waiver or rebate of commercial rates that will be tied to the rental relief provided to tenants.

The cost-sharing proportion would be 25/75 and 50/50 for the categories respectively, and the amount available to landlords will be capped after further consultation with the industry.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said there would be measures in place to ensure residents and landlords do not take advantage of the scheme – including forming a new short-term rental agreement to cover the pandemic – but the Government will not go down every rabbit hole looking for rorters.

“We will be randomly auditing and the penalties will be severe,” Mr Barr said.

The rebate will be equal to 50 per cent of the rent reduction, which translates to a maximum of around $100 per week for up to six months.

A $20 million Jobs for Canberrans Fund will also be set up to allow the ACT public service (ACTPS) to employ additional workers on short-term contracts for specific tasks. The fund will aim to capture workers who have slipped between the cracks of the Federal Government’s Job Keeper program, including some casual workers.

Contracts for any casual or contracted employee within the ACTPS will automatically be extended to provide job security and long service leave will be made available early to those who have been impacted by the pandemic.

Some infrastructure projects will be fasted tracked under a $5 million package while the Canberra Institute of Technology will receive $1 million to help transition to online classes a day after Mr Barr flagged it is unavoidable that some students would be a year behind.

Access to the residential general rates hardship deferral will be extended to owner-occupiers experiencing financial hardship and no interest will be applied. The deferral will be for 12 months where a household income has dropped by more than 25 per cent because of the pandemic, but the deferral is subject to a $160,000 means test.

Community Clubs and the Canberra Casino will be propped up by an extra $7.5 million to keep staff employed, including $15,000 payments for voluntarily surrendering gaming machine authorisations, waivers and refunds of gaming machines tax liabilities for March and a rebate for fixed water and sewerage charges.

Liquor licencing fees and business licencing fees will also be waived for 12 months, while taxi drivers who lease their plates from private owners will get a one-off $5,000 payment.

More information about the Government’s economic support packages is available at https://www.covid19.act.gov.au/economic-support.

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HiddenDragon7:32 pm 02 Apr 20

“The fund will aim to capture workers who have slipped between the cracks of the Federal Government’s Job Keeper program, including some casual workers.”

Desirably this, and any other such initiatives, will be targeted at people who have lost jobs locally – i.e. Canberrans, and people from surrounding areas who have been working in Canberra until the close-downs started.

Aside from getting the best results for the ACT economy from ACT taxpayer expenditure, this should also reduce the health risks which could result if people from further afield in NSW are drawn to the ACT by this program.

Longer term initiatives, when there’s a better idea of what the ACT economy will look like after the restrictions are eased, will presumably include serious assistance for people who would benefit from retraining, and, perhaps, some carefully targeted incentives for businesses which might be attracted here to employ people whose old jobs don’t resume after “hibernation”.

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