Canberra Matters columnist PAUL COSTIGAN reports the an ACT integrity commission is almost a reality.
CHIEF Minister and treasurer Andrew Barr has announced the 2016-17 ACT Budget would include classroom and facilities upgrades for schools across the territory, expansion of four Gungahlin schools and starting work for a new school in the Molonglo Valley.In health, he told the Legislative Assembly, the government would renew health services with new walk in centres at Gungahlin, Weston Creek and the inner north, the significant new Surgical Procedures, Interventional Radiology and Emergency Centre, (SPIRE) in Woden, a future northside hospital, and upgrading cancer and aged-care facilities at the Canberra Hospital.
In transport, the government would expand the light rail network, with new investment to design the route for stage 2 to Woden.
“We are investing right across the Territory to revitalise our town centres and clean up our suburbs. This includes delivering the next stage of the West Basin boardwalk, expanding the Belconnen Arts Centre precinct, as we promised before the election, and investing more to clean up graffiti, reduce litter and keep our ovals green,” he said.
The Chief Minister said economic growth for 2016-17 was expected to hit 3.25 per cent – one percentage point higher than projected a year ago, which was a “much stronger” result than has been seen across the national economy, where growth is expected to be a sluggish 1.75 per cent.
“The territory’s unemployment rate is the second lowest in the country at 3.6 per cent, and has now been below four per cent for over 12 months,” he said.
“That’s because in the last year our economy added over 3200 new jobs, while our participation rate remains among the highest in the country.
“Importantly, unemployment has fallen, even as Canberra’s population has grown significantly: an extra 5778 people now call Canberra home compared with a year ago.
“By 2020‑21, our population is expected to be growing by over 6000 people a year, and our total population will reach over 428,000. That’s why it is so important we invest now in the extra infrastructure this city will need.”
He said a strong balance sheet went hand-in-hand with a strong economy, which was why this Budget continued the path back to balance from the depths of the combined Commonwealth and Mr Fluffy effect.
“It’s been a long climb – a deficit of $479 million in 2014‑15 has shrunk to just $73.9 million in 2016‑17, a further improvement on the $119 million projected deficit at the 2016‑17 Budget Review,” he said.
“As we have been forecasting since the 2015‑16 Budget, the Territory is on track to return to balance in 2018‑19. Stronger surpluses in the years beyond allow us to make further investments in this city.
“I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: the ACT Government does not believe in delivering surpluses for their own sake. Instead, we are strengthening the Territory’s finances so that we can meet the community’s needs today while investing more for tomorrow.
“That’s our fiscal plan: making the right investments to renew our city, while sticking to a clear path back to balance. That’s how the Government will deliver a stronger budget.”
Mr Barr said that adding about another eight suburbs’ worth of people to Canberra over the next four years meant the government had a lot of work to do.
In education, he said the government was funding 25 scholarships a year to help territory teachers gain post-graduate qualifications in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM), as well as those who wanted to gain qualifications in another language.
“At the same time, our funding of 66 school assistants across Canberra is taking the pressure off our teachers, freeing them up to spend more time on lesson planning, and directly addressing the individual learning needs of our students,” he said.
“Through capital investments and grants driven by school needs, we will extend existing classrooms, build new ones, refurbish toilets and change rooms, install heating or air‑conditioning, and improve school grounds. We recognise that, with the average territory school being 42 years old, we need to keep investing in improving our learning spaces so our kids get the most out of their time at school.
“But a good learning environment is about more than classrooms and facilities. Students can’t learn effectively if they are struggling with their mental health or bullying. We will ensure that Canberra schools are Safe Schools by continuing to fund this important program after the Commonwealth gutted it.
“We will also hire an additional five school psychologists to better support student wellbeing and provide early intervention mental health services for young Canberrans.
The Chief Minister promised new health investment across community, primary and specialist care.
“The new SPIRE Centre will bring more and better tertiary health services to the Canberra Hospital. SPIRE will boost the number of operating theatres from 13 to 20, providing more capacity and allowing for concurrent management of emergency and elective surgeries, avoiding delays and rescheduling,” he said.
“This Budget also starts delivering on our commitment to expand the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children. The expansion will include a new child and adolescent mental health unit, an adolescent gynaecology service, a new paediatric high-dependency unit, and paediatric intensive care beds. The first phase of funding includes feasibility and planning work to inform construction commencement in 2018‑19.
“Of course, the primary goal is to keep Canberrans healthy through better preventative, primary and community care. That’s why we are also boosting access to bulk billing GPs in Canberra’s south, funding two new mobile dental vans, increasing the capacity of Hospital in the Home, and providing more free vaccinations and health checks in schools.”
In public transport he said: “The construction of Canberra’s light rail network is the most significant infrastructure and transport project this city has ever embarked upon. With construction of Stage 1 from Gungahlin to the city now well on track for completion in late 2018, we are moving ahead with Stage 2 to Woden as we promised we would.
“This Budget delivers the funding needed to carry out detailed scoping and route planning on the city to Woden corridor. Almost 210,000 Canberrans will live, work or study within one kilometre of this corridor by 2041. Planning for this growth now is critical for reducing congestion and giving southside commuters a quick, practical and low polluting alternative to their cars.
“Light rail is at the heart of this Government’s plans to build a better city, but these plans include much more.
“Our roads package upgrades, builds and plans for eight important roads, including Stage 2 of the Gundaroo Drive duplication, the Canberra Brickworks access road, Molonglo East-West arterial roads, and the Federal Highway and Old Well Station Road intersection.
“The creation of the City Renewal Authority gives our community the opportunity to reshape central Canberra and the lake precinct for the better, including through the completion of Stage 2 of the West Basin Boardwalk and more infrastructure to open up this land, the activation of Haig Park, and more links between our CBD business precincts.
“And the upgrades we committed to for local centres in Tuggeranong, Kambah and Gungahlin make sure better shopping and community facilities are available close to home wherever you are across Canberra.”
He said there would be an increase in the frequency of mowing and weeding around major arterial roads and throughout our suburbs.
“Better sportsground irrigation will ensure these facilities support our active population, and we’re stepping up graffiti cleaning and the removal of unused assets like old toilet blocks and signage,” he said.
“For the first time, the ACT will have a container deposit scheme to reduce litter and encourage more Canberrans to do their bit on recycling. We are also designing a kerbside bulky waste collection for all Canberra households which aims to reduce illegal dumping and stop furniture and whitegoods being left in front yards or on verges. And we are continuing the roll out of green bins to more suburbs following the current pilot program in Weston Creek and Kambah. To date, over 7000 households have chosen to get a green bin. We will continue rolling out green bins to all suburbs by 2020.
“The government is committed to achieving zero net emissions by 2050. As the risks of climate change become increasingly clear, it’s important our community works together to reduce our carbon production, and ensure Canberra becomes a more sustainable city as we grow.
“That’s why this Budget will deliver a new Zero Emissions Grants Program to support community initiatives that contribute to achieving the ACT’s zero net emissions target. We will also deliver more resources to implement the ACT Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, and continue our popular Actsmart programs that help Canberrans make their homes and offices more environmentally sustainable.”
Mr Barr said the Labor government was working to make Canberra Australia’s most inclusive city.
“To the gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and intersex kids at school discovering who they are, to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our community, to refugees finding a haven from trouble overseas, to families and individuals living in our public housing throughout Canberra, and to those people looking for a way back from the justice system, we say: you are part of our community. You belong here,” he said.
“We are delivering new resources to identify at-risk Canberra kids and protect them from violent or unsafe home environments. Too many of Canberra’s children and young people are struggling just to stay safe.
“This builds on our commitment to keep families safe and the major investment in tackling family violence outlined in last year’s Budget. We are also strengthening that work with the delivery of Canberra’s first Family Safety Hub, providing wrap-around services that can reach more Canberrans experiencing family violence.
“We are providing more resources for government and community sector organisations to better support and include people with disability. We recognise that the inclusion of people with a disability in the Canberra community goes well beyond specialised disability support.
“We are also delivering more culturally-specific initiatives to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Canberrans, including a new health centre in the inner south to be delivered in partnership with the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service; continued support for the Growing Healthy Families Program, which provides health, early childhood development and parenting services; and seed funding to support new and emerging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander controlled organisations, boosting this community’s representation and public voice.
“And we are supporting new migrants and asylum seekers with more help to find a job, as well as expanded English language programs. It’s not enough just to welcome new arrivals, we also need to make sure they can thrive socially and economically once they’re here.
“I am proud we are delivering the Office of LGBTIQ Affairs. Gay, lesbian and intersex Canberrans continue to face discrimination and challenges unique to this community, and this Government is determined to tackle these wherever we can. I know the vast majority of Canberrans support our efforts.”