22 March 2020

Stimulus will need more in the budget and a post-election mini-budget as well, says Barr

| Ian Bushnell
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Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr outlining the government’s stimulus package to be released this week. Photo: Michelle Kroll, Region Media.

An ACT coronavirus economic stimulus package this week will be augmented by more measures in the June budget, followed by a mini-budget after the October election, no matter who wins government.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr is in the process of framing the stimulus package which will be aimed at providing relief for affected businesses, keeping people in jobs and bringing forward small-scale, or what he called ”screwdriver ready”, government infrastructure projects.

Mr Barr could not put a figure on the package but said the money would not be wasted on frivolous projects and would seek to preserve jobs and ”actually get something meaningful done”.

The package, with input from business groups and the Opposition, would direct significant but targeted relief at sectors that had been almost wiped out by the crisis – hospitality, tourism, and entertainment – with the Government providing fee, regulatory and tax relief.

For example, the Government will assist businesses such as cafes and restaurants that may need to adjust their indoor and outdoor seating to adhere to the new rules around indoor crowd limits and social distances.

“We want to work with them in a sensible risk-reduction process,” he said.

With 90 per cent of small businesses already exempted from payroll tax, medium-sized business can expect relief in that area.

Individuals will also be able to take advantage of existing payment plans and deferrals if they are struggling to pay their government charges.

But Mr Barr said having an income or job is what will keep people out of difficulty so the Government needed to support business, as well as supporting its own workforce, particularly part-time and casual staff.

He pointed to support for contractors and those employed in the gig economy as well.

“The government will be looking at our own programs as well,” Mr Barr said.

He said the small-scale projects included existing repair and maintenance contracts that didn’t require extensive government procurement processes that took months to run.

“It’s about the smaller end this week. The Budget will give us time to look at medium-term projects that could get to the market in the second half of 2020 and first half of 2021,” Mr Barr said.

“What I am working towards is that an incoming government, whether it’s my government or the Opposition, would then have the opportunity at the beginning of a new parliamentary term after the Territory election to then have a mini-budget to assess the situation at the time.

“There are at least three stages to our economic response with flexibility to move in between those stages if we need to make early announcements and to respond to anything that the Commonwealth puts on the table that might need either matched funding from us or regulatory approval from us, or where we agree between the levels of government that the Commonwealth will focus on one particular area and we will focus our efforts on another.”

Mr Barr reiterated that the ACT’s coronavirus response was part of national strategy from a unified National Cabinet, and that all measures announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison would be implemented in the Territory.

He stressed there was no easy fix and that the process would take a minimum of six months to play out.

“The ACT was in lockstep with the rest of Australia,” he said.

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HiddenDragon9:35 pm 18 Mar 20

“But Mr Barr said having an income or job is what will keep people out of difficulty so the Government needed to support business, as well as supporting its own workforce, particularly part-time and casual staff.”

In truth, most of that support will need to come from the Commonwealth, because the ACT Budget has quite limited capacity to do much – beyond its own workforce – in this area.

With Canberra such an expensive place to live (particularly rents) the priority for the ACT Government should be doing whatever it can to avoid increasing rates of homelessness, and to do somewhat more for those who are homeless.

Hidden Draggon, do you ever stop complaining and nitpicking everything the ACT Govt does? They have just announced $137 million stimulus package, rebates on residential rates to help ease cashflow pressures for Canberra households, a freeze on a number of government fees and charges. This is an ACT Govt initiative, not the Federal Govt and is the first phase aimed at protecting jobs and supporting Canberra households and businesses. You just don’t know how good you have it in the ACT. Kudos to Andrew Barr and his Govt

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