Chief Minister Andrew Barr will take the wind out of the Opposition’s sails on one of its major election policy planks by announcing the ACT Government’s own rates freeze today as part of the COVID-19 recovery plan.
In his online State of the Territory address to the Canberra Business Chamber today, Mr Barr will gazump the Canberra Liberals promise to freeze rates if they win power at the 17 October election.
Mr Barr will also go one better than the Liberals, arguing that most households will actually enjoy a reduction in their rates bill as a result of government policies.
”This commitment, combined with our $150 residential rates relief, provides an actual rates reduction next year for over 110,000 Canberra households and 4,600 commercial property owners, in a year where they will need it most,” he will say.
”Thousands more will see effectively no increase in their rates next financial year.”
Opposition Leader Alistair Coe has been campaigning heavily on cost-of-living issues, saying that 10 years of tax reform would more than triple rates revenue from $209 million in 2011-12 to $697 million in 2021-22.
The virtual election announcement, in effect, blunts the major point of attack from the Opposition, which has been relentless in its pursuit of the government’s tax reform agenda.
The Chief Minister will also tell the Chamber that the government will move to support the vital universities sector in the ACT. The government will put Canberra forward to be a pilot city for the return of both international flights and international students.
The government has been supporting Canberra Airport’s push to reopen the aviation industry and will also want to see the ANU’s and the University of Canberra’s overseas student cohort return, along with their contribution to the ACT’s economy.
”Canberra is a knowledge city, and rebuilding our higher education sector will be a crucial tool in our pathway out of the pandemic,” he will say.
Mr Barr will also flag a Community Recovery Plan to be announced later this week with Minister for Community Services and Facilities Suzanne Orr.
”Our plan won’t leave Canberrans behind, and it won’t let people slip through the cracks,” Mr Barr will say.
”This Plan will outline how the Government will work from our community services sector to ensure the right support is made available across the city to those who need it most.”
The rates announcement follows a freeze on other government fees and charges for the 2020-21 financial year.
A budget will not be handed down until after the election due to COVID-19 but that has not stopped the government rolling out a procession of measures to support the ACT economy.
This has meant a sharp fall in the ACT’s bottom line and more debt but ”right now, economic and support and growth is the priority, not chasing budget surpluses”, the government says.
Mr Barr will provide a detailed statement on the budget outlook for the Territory in late August, setting out its up-to-date fiscal position, and next steps in the long-term economic and fiscal recovery pathway for Canberra.
Mr Barr will tell the Chamber that the pandemic is not over and that government will continue to support the economy and business, pressing on with major infrastructure projects and partnerships such as those with UNSW Canberra, which plans to establish a new campus in Reid.
”There will be no greater priority for the ACT Government in the months and years ahead – if granted the opportunity by Canberrans in October – than the delivery of our recovery plan,” he will say.