Local businesses, schoolkids, tradies and international students must be prioritised as part of the ACT’s post-COVID-19 pandemic recovery, according to the Canberra Liberals.
ACT Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee delivered her ACT Budget reply on Friday, 8 October, and used her speech to criticise elements of the Territory’s second COVID-19 pandemic budget.
She described the ACT Budget as a “band-aid budget” and said Canberrans would not be fooled.
Ms Lee said the pandemic simply served to expose “the glaring neglect by this government in health, education, housing and infrastructure”.
“This lockdown and the incursion of Delta [variant of COVID-19] has exposed once again Labor and the Greens’ arrogant and complacent governance of our Territory during the past 20 years,” she said.
According to Ms Lee, a key element of the Territory’s economic recovery will be bringing international and interstate students back to study in the ACT.
She called on the ACT Government to work with the Federal Government, universities and the wider tertiary education sector on a plan to get international students back to Canberra.
Previously, Ms Lee used her ACT Budget reply to highlight the Territory’s potential to be at the forefront of research in climate action and renewables, cybersecurity and defence.
In her reply, she said that still holds true, but that universities have been dealt “a significant blow with border closures”.
“Not only do our international students support our university and tertiary and vocational education sectors, they also bring a richness of their culture, language and voice, making our city more vibrant and more dynamic,” said Ms Lee.
During her speech, she was also critical of what she perceived to be a lack of support for local business from the ACT Government.
She criticised the COVID-19 lockdown, which has seen many small businesses forced to close and unable to trade for an extended period of time, saying “the default answer to whether businesses can operate should be ‘yes’ unless it is clearly contrary to clear health advice.”
Ms Lee also said other key elements of the ACT’s economic recovery include getting children back into the classroom and further investing in jobs and skills for tradespeople.
“We must appropriately invest in training so Canberra has the skills and talent to deliver ambitious infrastructure projects,” she said.
Ms Lee called on the ACT Government to work with industry and the Federal Government to ensure ample investment in trade skills, saying if this does not happen “we will not see a sustainable, beautiful city that we want to leave for our children”.
Regarding children, Ms Lee called for investment in Canberra’s ageing school infrastructure, which, in turn, would create more construction jobs.
“Our teachers and our students who have dealt with the challenges of COVID-19 so well deserve a government that prioritises their safety and education to give every child the best future possible,” she told the Assembly.
The plea came as the ACT Government announced a further $5.7 million in additional funding for schools to support the COVID-19-safe return to school throughout term four.
The recent ACT Budget also included what the government described as the largest ever infrastructure program in the ACT.
A total of $950 million will be invested in the Canberra Institute of Technology and education infrastructure during the next five years, including an expansion of Margaret Hendry School and a new high school in Taylor.
Upgrades and new learning centres are also planned at several public schools around the ACT.