More than 2100 unemployed local residents have already applied for the first round of the ACT Government’s Jobs for Canberrans Fund, which is 14 times the number of workplaces available.
Last week, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr announced 150 new jobs for out of work Canberrans as part of the $20 million fund and said more positions would be made available as the fund is expanded.
“Some of the jobs are such that they can be part-time, or job shared, so it might be that more than 150 people can partake in that work,” said Chief Minister Barr.
“We are constantly looking for more [job opportunities] because we recognise that at the moment there are thousands of Canberrans who have lost their jobs.
“We will continue to do as much as we can to fill the gaps in the social safety net for people who do not get Commonwealth support, and we recognise it is critical to do so.”
One-third of Canberra businesses – around 10,000 – have already registered their interest in the federal government’s JobKeeper program, which subsidises workers’ wages by $1500 a fortnight. Nearly 750,000 businesses have registered Australia-wide.
“This is important because not only does it provide a wage subsidy and a lifeline for those businesses, but it also provides an ongoing income to tens of thousands of workers in Canberra,” said Chief Minister Barr.
He said he would be using special powers given to him by the Legislative Assembly – through the COVID-19 emergency response bill – to bring forward infrastructure projects to help out of work Canberrans who are not captured under federal government schemes.
The legislation gives the treasurer, in this case Chief Minister Barr, a greater range of discretionary power to bring projects forward under the caveat that he provides a report to the Assembly and special committee if and when he uses the powers.
“At this point I am getting nothing but strong encouragement from all political parties, industry associations and people who are unemployed to bring forward those projects and programs,” said Chief Minister Barr.
“We can also look at programs in the pipeline that were scheduled to commence in the next financial year that we can bring forward.”
Money allocated to other sectors would also be reallocated to projects that can get Canberran boots on the ground quicker, said Chief Minister Barr.
“We are looking at repurposing money from some areas that cannot go ahead because of the public health directions [such as] the tourism and events area where the money that we had set aside for events can be repurposed into other activities.”
Greater focus will be placed on local, small-scale projects that can be rolled out and delivered with minimal obstacles. The Australian states flagged they would look at protectionist policies to kick-start their economies during the National Cabinet meeting last Friday, 24 April.
“I asked those who have currently locked their borders when they would consider unlocking them, and they all indicated that unlocking their borders would be one of the last things they do,” Chief Minister Barr told reporters.
“They are all more likely to open up in their own state before they allow people to come in from outside.”
In line with this approach, the Chief Minister said he would look to remove restrictions on some industries that can help Canberrans get back to work with minimal health risks.
“Some of those measures will be focused on having a high economic impact and might see more jobs returned to the economy, but have a very low public health risk,” he said. “That is the balancing act we are seeking to strike.”
While jobs will be prioritised for local workers who are not eligible for any federal subsidies, Chief Minister Barr encouraged everyone – especially young people bearing the brunt of the impact – who needed financial support or a job to submit their application as new opportunities will continue to arise.
“If you are unsuccessful in the first round, it does not mean you will be unsuccessful in subsequent rounds,” he said.
“I want to send a very clear message to young people in Canberra: we understand you are bearing the brunt of the economic harm of COVID-19 and we will continue to look at ways to support you.
“We will have more to say on this and other employment opportunities in Canberra in the coming months, and we will talk more about this in the next few weeks.”