The delivery of this year’s ACT Territory Budget this week included a modest surplus, and with this, the ACT Government has found itself with some room to move in relation to providing a greater level of community infrastructure and support for the first time in a number of years.
With a strong economy, low unemployment and a growing city, the Government should be investing in our people and our community. For many years, community advocates and service providers have been highlighting gaps in service delivery and support. With the first surplus in a number of years, this budget has seen the Government respond and fill some of these gaps.
This budget has seen some welcome injection of funds into the key areas of health and human services. The budget has included a significant investment to increase hospital and other health services and a significant increase in the area of mental health – including support for residential services, outreach services for young people and early intervention. The increased investment for people with disabilities is very welcome, particularly given some of the challenges in the implementation of the national disability insurance scheme. There is also some welcome funding to support innovative approaches such as funding commitments to support Canberra’s aspiration to become a restorative city and some new grants to support diversity in this city.
However, given the surplus has been delivered from revenue attached to land sales and rates in a community that is seeing a decrease in housing affordability, it is surprising and deeply disappointing that housing affordability seems to be the big loser in this budget.
Looking hard, there is some tinkering at the edges and a commitment for increased funding for specialist housing services including Beryl and Dorris Refuges is very welcome. It is important to remember however that this is, in fact, a reversal of a funding reduction that was instituted in previous years – something that was identified at the time as short-sighted given the increasing pressure on homelessness services. It is a testament to the tenacity and commitment of these services who have been struggling to respond to demand and increasing need. It is also good to see additional funding for the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre and Domestic Violence Crisis Service, who is also dealing with increasing need for counselling and support.
Once again however, despite a lot of talk about the Government’s commitment to deal with housing affordability and the hosting of a much-hyped ACT Housing and Homelessness Summit last year, we are yet to see real action. We are instead asked to wait longer with the promise of a new strategy later in the year. With this being the ‘BBQ stopper’ in this town and Anglicare’s annual rental affordability index finding NO properties that are affordable for single people on low incomes, the Government seems paralyzed when it comes to reversing this. While the Chief Minister’s budget speech laments the lack of federal action around payments and allowances such as Newstart, the Government has declined to use this budget to invest and do what they can to ensure that people subject to this poverty payment are able to access safe and affordable housing.
While welcoming the positive measures outlined in this budget, I think Government cannot continue to ignore the issue of housing affordability in this city and needs to act to ensure all our community members are able to access a safe and affordable home. What do you think?