Initial economic survival package to support Territory Economy

Released 20/03/2020

The spread of COVID-19 is having a profound impact on the way of life in the Territory and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

The ACT Government has announced an economic survival package as the first phase in our plan to protect as many jobs as possible and support Canberra households and businesses.

The economic impacts of the virus will be felt for years. It will require a phased response both before, during and after the anticipated peak in COVID-19 cases across Australia.

In the first phase of our response, the ACT Government will implement a range of measures to reduce cashflow pressures in the short term for low income households and local small and medium businesses in the industry sectors that are most impacted.

Our priority in this first phase of economic support is to help our community through this incredibly difficult immediate period.

We must save as many local jobs as possible as our economy adjusts to the difficult decisions being made at the National level to flatten the transmission curve and support our healthcare system.

We will announce further packages as we transition through the different phases of this crisis.

The ACT’s stage one economic survival package, injecting $137 million into our local economy, includes rebates of $150 on residential rates to help ease cashflow pressures for Canberra households, as well as a freeze on a number of ACT Government fees and charges, including the fire and emergency services levy, public transport, vehicle registration and parking fees.

The Government will provide all appropriate resources to support ACT public health services to continue providing essential health services to the community and to respond to the additional demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes funding for respiratory assessment clinics, an increase in inpatient beds and ICU capacity across the Territory, maintenance of COVID-19 testing capacity and the purchase of additional medical equipment and supplies.

The health funding will also involve working with Winnunga Nimmityjah to enable the service to provide a respiratory assessment service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Canberrans.

The package includes a number of measures to support small to medium businesses as they adjust to social distancing requirements and an expected downturn in our local economy. A rebate on the fixed charge for 2019-20 on commercial rates for properties with an AUV below $2 million will be provided, which particularly targets businesses who own their own premises.

For those businesses who lease premises, we have targeted other more direct assistance measures. For example, there will be a six month waiver on payroll tax for hospitality, creative arts and entertainment industries, the waiving of fees for food business registration and liquor licencing fees (excluding off-license) and outdoor dining fees and a $750 rebate for small business owners to help with power bills.

We will also provide access to interest free deferrals of payroll tax commencing 1 July 2020 for all businesses up to a payroll threshold of $10 million to significantly ease the cashflow pressures for medium sized businesses. Small businesses are already exempt from payroll tax thanks to the highest tax free threshold ($2m) in Australia.  This initiative is anticipated to free up to an additional $100 million of businesses’ money when they need it most.

A business liaison team will assist local businesses with these measures.

We will provide an additional payment of $1.5 million, as well as freeing up the existing $1.8 million in the Clubs Diversification Fund, to support our clubs to keep staff employed on the clubs award rate. Immediate consultation will start directly with community clubs to investigate further ways the Government can help them keep as many Canberrans employed as possible as they re-adjust to social distancing requirements.

The Government has focused on how we can deliver targeted support for low-income households who are likely to be most impacted from any economic downturn. As a starting point, the ACT Government will provide rental support of $250 for all public housing tenants in the coming months, as well as a one-off rebate for residential utility concession holders of $200 to help with power bills. More work will be required in the coming months alongside any stimulus offered by the Commonwealth Government on income support.

Keeping Canberrans employed through infrastructure projects is another component of the ACT’s economic survival package, with $20 million to be immediately spent on infrastructure projects and maintenance on local schools, roads, and public transport.

The Government will provide more funding for the removal of dead trees, planting of new trees and maintenance of surrounding areas to redeploy existing government contractors impacted by event cancellations.

Additionally, there will be a new $500,000 round of grants funding for the arts sector.

Additional funding of $7 million for our non-government organisation partners to meet increased service demand for emergency relief will also be rolled out as part of our Community Support package.

We are re-prioritising funding to provide Lifeline ACT with an additional $100,000 to bolster services following a recent spike in calls , supporting the mental health of Canberrans who may be struggling.

ACT Government agencies have been instructed to prioritise the processing of development applications.  Ten more staff have been added into the DA assessment team in addition to the ACT Government’s investment in new front line staff to process applications in the 2019-20 Budget. We now have the lowest number of active DAs since December 2016, and we want this trend to continue.

The ACT Government will also look to provide support by expediting the payment of bills to further provide cashflow support for small to medium businesses. The Government has committed to our own casual workforce through continued employment and appropriate access to COVID-19 leave where required.

This is a once in a century economic shock, and no level of Federal or ACT Government stimulus will be able to fully offset the impacts of this global crisis. National and Territory income will fall. Our stimulus efforts over the next 12-18 months will reduce the impact and support the eventual recovery, but the short term economic situation is grim.

The ACT Budget later this year and the 2020-21 Budget review will be further opportunities for the ACT Government to provide further phases of economic support. Additional measures will continue to be announced as the Government engages with various sectors over the coming weeks.

- Statement ends -

Section: Andrew Barr, MLA | Media Releases

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