Ahead of this afternoon’s 2022-23 ACT Budget, Chief Minister Andrew Barr has hinted the Territory will be in a better fiscal position than last year, with improvements to the Territory’s bottom line to be announced.
Major spending announcements have been made in recent weeks by relevant government ministers with health and housing, followed by education, the big winners on the infrastructure front.
Yesterday Mr Barr said the budget will show a lower headline net operating deficit and a lower trajectory of net debt than anticipated last year.
It follows calls from the Canberra Liberals for an independent audit into the budget and Territory debt, which Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said was unsustainable.
Ms Lee will move a motion in the ACT Legislative Assembly today calling for an audit to look into the ACT’s debt position and consider how to improve the accuracy of the government’s financial reporting.
“This government is very good at pulling the wool over the eyes of Canberrans in how they deliver the budget each year, which includes changing output classes, line items and reporting periods, which makes any review of the budget akin to comparing apples to oranges,” she said.
But the Chief Minister called this a “tired approach”.
Mr Barr said successive budget audits at the Federal and state level had simply led to public service job cuts.
“Let’s talk about debt and let’s talk about why we borrow. If we didn’t borrow, we wouldn’t be building the [Canberra Hospital expansion],” he argued.
The ACT Government’s five-year infrastructure program will cost a total of $7 billion.
But Mr Barr said spending would begin to return to normal in the next few years following the COVID-19 emergency.
“All states and territories were very clearly told at the beginning of the pandemic that we needed to use record-low interest rates and the spare capacity there was at that time across the infrastructure sector to bring forward [major projects],” he said.
No new major projects are expected in today’s budget, but those underway include the hospital expansion, Canberra Institute of Technology Woden Campus, the next stage of the light rail and an expanded Canberra Theatre.
But future projects for the Territory would likely be a stadium, northside hospital facilities and a convention centre.
Today’s budget will allocate $820 million for health infrastructure, of which $91 million will go to the Canberra Hospital expansion.
Funds will also be allocated to the Southside Hydrotherapy pool at Tuggeranong Lakeside Leisure Centre.
$140 million will go towards treatment services for alcohol and other drugs, funding for hiring more healthcare staff, improving staff safety and major investments in clinical services at the hospital.
Almost $40 million in the budget will be allocated to mental health support. This includes services specifically designed for young people and families.
The budget includes $57.3 million for public housing repairs and maintenance and a further $30 million for the Growing and Renewing Public Housing program which is expected to deliver 400 additional public housing dwellings by 2025.
More than $130 million will be plunged into education.
The government has allocated $76.75 million to build an 800-student capacity school in Whitlam and $39 million to expand Majura Primary School by 300 student places, and add three new demountable classrooms to the system.
$1 million will go towards planning and design work for a new college in Gungahlin and top up the $118 million Margaret Hendry extension/Taylor high school build project by $14.8 million.
A $1.14 million task force will also be set up to address school safety.
The budget will be delivered at 5 pm this afternoon (2 August).