16 May 2024

Federal Budget: Labor having a boast about Canberra's budget wins is expected, and that's OK

| Chris Johnson
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four politicians standing in a courtyard at Parliament House

Andrew Leigh, Alicia Payne, David Smith and Katy Gallagher looking very pleased with themselves for what the budget delivered for Canberra. Photo: Region.

It can be taken as a given that with every federal budget, the government delivering it will insist it is doing a better job than its predecessor from across the political aisle.

With this budget, however, it is quite clear that when it comes to looking after Canberra, Labor is definitely outshining the Coalition.

Under the government of Scott Morrison, we heard ad nauseam about “the Canberra bubble” and “some public servant in Canberra” while federal investment in the capital was scant.

It has been an easy (lazy) thing for federal politicians of a certain mindset to talk disparagingly of the nation’s capital and to largely ignore it when discussing expenditure.

It is even more tempting for the Liberals to “punish” Canberra for traditionally giving them little federal representation in the ACT (none currently).

When there is a Liberal senator in the Federal Parliament, it still doesn’t seem to change that thinking. Exactly what did Zed deliver for Canberra when he was there?

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The Coalition’s last federal budget gave the ACT a fraction of its share of infrastructure spending.

Tuesday night’s document detailed some decent money for worthy initiatives, including for infrastructure, institutions and the Australian Public Service.

Andrew Barr didn’t get his convention centre money, and the ACT Opposition, along with independent senator David Pocock, insists there really isn’t all that much in the budget for Canberra.

But compared to what the Coalition has given Canberra over successive budgets, this one is strides ahead.

So, while it could be expected that the ACT’s four federally elected Labor politicians (two of them in the ministry and one of those a senior member of Cabinet) would line up the morning after the budget speech to pat themselves on the back – it’s also kind of justified.

During the media conference, Assistant Minister and Member for Fenner Andrew Leigh noted: “This is a budget that delivers for all Australians, but a budget that really looks after Canberra. And one of the reasons for that is you’ve got the extraordinary Katy Gallagher, former ACT chief minister and Minister for Finance, sitting around the Expenditure Review Committee table, the Cabinet table, making decisions that don’t leave Canberra out … This budget does right by the people of Canberra.”

Member of Canberra Alicia Payne also made a decent point: “Canberra does have a dual role. We are the nation’s capital. We are a city that belongs to all Australians, but we are also a community that has the same challenges and opportunities as other communities.

“I’m very proud that this is a budget that recognises both of those aspects of our city and invests in both of them.”

Member for Bean David Smith added: “I think it’s quite a stark difference between what the story was like before the 2022 election, and you’ve got a team that’s committed to ensuring that Canberrans get their fair share.”

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The Finance Minister herself, who never dodges an opportunity to have a sharp dig at the Coalition, painted a picture of stark contrasts.

“There’s a lot of investment in Canberra. We’ve gone for many years under the former government not being recognised, either for our role as the nation’s capital or as a city on our own,” Senator Gallagher said.

“And this budget deals with that … there’s investment in jobs, in supporting households with cost-of-living and our role as the nation’s capital through infrastructure investments, so it’s a very positive budget for Canberra.

“In terms of Canberra, you know, I think most of us – all of us here, the four of us – know, when we sat on the Opposition benches, Canberra didn’t get a fair go. It was ridiculed. It was demeaned by the government. The Canberra bubble and all that.

“It was ignored as a city in its own right, and it was ignored as the nation’s capital. And we’re making that right. We started in the first two budgets … Our focus on rebuilding the public service is incredibly important to the nation’s capital. It’s our big employer.”

So yeah, this press conference in the Senate courtyard was an exercise in political opportunism—not the least because Labor wants to keep the Coalition out of the ACT’s pool of federal MPs (and also do its best to win that Senate seat from Pocock).

But after too many disappointments come federal budget time, this budget has a noticeably more positive focus for Canberra.

So it’s probably OK to let Labor have a little boast the morning after.

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