15 May 2024

Federal Budget: Barr goes to Plan B after Budget letdown on Convention Centre precinct

| Ian Bushnell
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Chief Minister Andrew Barr: “You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need”. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

There is more than one way to skin a cat or get funding for a new convention centre.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr did not get the co-funding deal he asked for in the Budget, but he said a way was open through the $150 million Urban Precincts program announced in last year’s budget that commences in 2024.

Mr Barr said the ACT would submit a funding proposal for the planned Convention Precinct, but that would be limited to the planning phase because construction would, in any case, be several years away.

“I wasn’t expecting construction funding. The project is not at that stage,” he said.

“What we were looking for was a precinct partnership arrangement, like what we got for Bruce.”

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The Albanese Government committed $10 million to planning work for the Bruce Precinct, where Mr Barr envisages a new stadium, among other things, such as housing and hospitality, to complement the education and health assets there.

Mr Barr said an actual business case for the combined convention centre and entertainment pavilion was years away, but the government had already allocated some funding to start planning the precinct.

He said the government infrastructure plan had an order to it and the convention centre was not at the top of the list. That position went to the Canberra Theatre redevelopment, which did not rely on Commonwealth funding, although Mr Barr said he would still ask for a contribution.

“The in-principle issue that I’m seeking to resolve with the Commonwealth is their willingness to be a partner with the ACT Government in the development of the [convention centre] project, and that really starts at the planning and precinct phase,” he said.

National Convention Centre Canberra

The ACT Government wants to build a combined Convention Centre and entertainment pavilion in a new precinct. Photo: Facebook.

That’s not good enough for ACT Independent Senator David Pocock or Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee.

Senator Pocock said he was disappointed there wasn’t more investment in the ACT after decades of neglect and the big game Labor had been talking.

“We’re still getting almost 20 per cent less than our per capita share of infrastructure funding in 2024-25,” he said.

“Aside from the AIS, there is nothing major on the table to help deal with Canberra’s pressing problems like access to a GP or funding the big future-building projects our city needs.”

For Senator Pocock, that includes a convention centre and stadium co-located in the city.

Ms Lee said Mr Barr had failed to deliver despite his supposed special relationship with the Prime Minister, and Canberrans could not expect any 50:50 deals on infrastructure from the Commonwealth.

She said Mr Barr specifically asked for convention centre funding and had received nothing in the budget.

Mr Barr said he was disappointed that the $100 million national Active Travel program did not start until next year when the ACT had shovel-ready projects ready to go.

But a philosophical Mr Barr invoked the Rolling Stones when he said, “You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need”.

He welcomed the $300 energy rebate and extra rental assistance, which would help Canberrans doing it tough.

The cap on international students was qualified by capacity for building accommodation to house them, and the ACT’s universities had that.

The planning funding for light rail stage 2B and the Bruce Precinct also signalled the Commonwealth’s intent when it came to these projects.

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Mr Barr said getting the Commonwealth to commit early to the Territory’s bigger projects was important, particularly as a 50:50 partner.

“You’ve got a much better chance of getting them to commit to construction funding if they’ve been involved in the development of the project, and clearly there are examples of projects in other jurisdictions where that’s been the successful pathway,” he said.

Mr Barr said there were precedents, especially in road and rail, and the Commonwealth had funded convention centre and stadium infrastructure in other jurisdictions.

“We’ve been careful about which projects we’ve put forward to work with the Commonwealth on and in the national capital,” he said.

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HiddenDragon7:32 pm 16 May 24

With at least ten years of federal budget deficits in prospect (and that’s with some implausibly optimistic assumptions built in), it’s just as well that our forlorn little local government is so practised in the art of denial.

As long as the feds are willing and able to bail us out and clean up the mess when the model of self government which they imposed on Canberra collapses under its own weight, the little disappointments along the way can probably be borne without too many hurt feelings.

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