I’m going out on a limb when I say that I reckon this is the best ACT Budget I can think of, including those with which I had a part in creating.
You would say that, say my detractors. Well not always so. I have been critical of past Budgets because of the lack of attention to Tuggeranong, to the at times draconian increases in costs to families and for expenditure on large-scale projects that I could not see were worth the money.
I supported the prison but not the Arboretum. I got the latter one wrong big time. I called it a tree zoo. What we got was a national icon, an example to the country, possibly the world, of what a vision could deliver. And the added bonus was the greenhouse gas emission amelioration that Arboretums give.
It is the same for the tram. I didn’t like it at first, then warmed to it and now am a strong supporter. Having vision in budgets is a great thing. As an aside, the biggest vision thing that the Liberals have had was the redevelopment of Bruce Stadium and we all know how that turned out. If anyone wants to correct me on this one, go for it.
This Budget is the most balanced I’ve seen. It delivers on projects, it addresses social problems, it raises revenue (some would say a bit unfairly) and it reduces the deficit.
The projects it delivers on are, of course, the tram, major road works costing $100 million, renewal of public housing, upgrading the courts precinct, and land for a new school in the Molonglo Valley. Putting a swimming pool in the Weston and Stromlo region addresses an issue before it becomes a problem.
The budget addresses the issues at the Canberra Hospital with a significant injection of funds on a recurrent basis; 157 jobs is a huge effort with 59 jobs in the emergency department a most welcome initiative.
The levy for the “safer families” initiative is a novel way of addressing a real problem here in Canberra. What it means is that all property owners accept the same level of responsibility for the social impact of domestic violence and it is not spread unevenly across income brackets. Domestic violence does not discriminate when it strikes families and neither does the levy discriminate.
There has been some criticism of the government’s exemption for public housing tenants, but it needs to be remembered that these folks don’t own the properties, they rent them and don’t pay rates. Private tenants will only contribute to the levy if landlords find a way to pass the cost on to the tenants.
The reduction in concessions is always complained about but these reductions are not earth-shattering. For example, raising the age threshold for access to the Seniors’ card is commensurate with people staying in the workforce longer. Also the card is only available for those who work 20 hours or less a week. And the concessions associated with the Seniors’ card are not all that good, if you take away the bus concession. Also remember that once a person gets to 70 years old, they travel free on the bus anyway.
The reduction in the increase in rates is just that, though. A reduction in an increase. But it must be remembered that this increase in rates over time is to mean the abolition of taxes and duties. Apartment owners will complain because they cop a 20% increase in their rates. Well they chose that lifestyle and should pay a fair share of the rates pie. Remember that 20% sounds high, but compare the dollar amount of an average of $1100 per apartment against an average of $2000 for a residential block and things seem a bit different to me.
The health of the economy itself is reflected in the reduction in the projected deficit. This should ensure the retention of the AAA credit rating, upon which our borrowings depend for lower interest rates. All this nonsense of pushing towards a surplus is just that. How many home owners operate on a family surplus? Their mortgage ensures that the family is in deficit. The main issue is whether the household can service the loan. The ACT is in a good position to service the deficit and reducing it over time.
I should congratulate Jeremy Hanson for putting forward his ideas and showing that he will use the money from the tram on schools and health. The problem with this is like Brendan Smythe’s proposal in 2004 to use the cost of the prison, which they opposed, to fund more nurses. The major money was in capital expenditure and not recurrent expenditure, so he, and now Mr Hanson, are using one-off capital expenditure to fund a recurrent policy. Sure the projects came with some recurrent funds for ongoing costs but not nearly as much as the Libs banked on.
Responsible financial plan
I wonder also of the merit of freezing rates. There is no indication of how long this freeze will last. I can’t see it lasting that long because it is an integral part of the revenue required to offset expenditure on social infrastructure and services.
In the past, to give credit where it is due, the Libs have just bagged out the budget. At least this time they have said something more concrete, even if I don’t like the proposals.
I just wish, though, that Zed Seselja would remember he is a Senator and not the Leader of the ACT Opposition. Each comment he makes on the ACT Budget diminishes Mr Hanson’s image as leader of the local Libs.
I’m now nowhere near the centre of things, I’m not consulted on much any more, so I make up my mind on what I see and hear, just like the rest of you, but I do like the the direction the Budget sets. It is not the election bag of lollies but it is a responsible financial plan.
It is also a bit ho-hum and there won’t be much in the election campaign for anyone to talk about.