Stamp duty will be abolished for most first-home buyers as the ACT Government pursues its ambition to end the scheme altogether.
In exchange, the 2018 Budget also brings an end to First Home Owner Grant payments, which Chief Minister Andrew Barr argued had an inflationary effect on house prices.
“It will open up first-home buyers to a range of suburbs that they previously weren’t able to buy in with government assistance,” he said.
“It will put some downward pressure on the demand side … and importantly, it achieves another step closer to our ultimate goal which is the abolition of stamp duty in the Territory.”
The new scheme waives stamp duty for any first-home buyers with a household income below $160,000 — regardless of whether they are buying a new or established home.
The Government also conceded its plan to increase the share of rates paid by unit owners was too sharp, and has extended the transition period for the new scheme from two years to three years.
“It was certainly a cause for concern for some unit holders,” Mr Barr said.
“We’ve heard what the community has said in relation to that change, so yes, we’ve sought to have another year of transition.”
Unit owners faced a 15 per cent rate increase this year — a combination of the Government’s land tax scheme replacing stamp duty and the new method of assessing unit rates.
Instead it will rise 10 per cent, compared to 7 per cent for houses, though the early payment discount will end for all ratepayers.
Back in surplus for the first time since 2011
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the Government had listened to complaints from the community. (ABC News: Mark Moore)
But it is a budget that brings little new pain to Canberrans, besides scrapping first-homeowner grants — the main new revenue initiatives are a small increase in fines and a rise in driver’s licence fees.
It is the first budget to deliver a surplus since 2011, and the Government has loosened its belt in light of an optimistic outlook.
But it is a thin surplus, as Government spending grows alongside it — about 3.8 per cent over the forward estimates, revised up from last year.
“At our level of government we have determined to go for a balanced budget,” Mr Barr said.
“A surplus for surplus’ sake is not really a good economic outcome or a good community outcome.”
Among that spend is funding to expand four Gungahlin schools, establish a new school in Molonglo, upgrades to The Canberra Hospital and expanded mental health services, and $1.2 million to a new theatre complex — signs of a growing Canberra.
There are small boons for more niche interests too, including a new tech-oriented festival, vocational training for theatre students and a rugby league “centre of excellence”.
And the politicians have given themselves a small gift: money for double-glazed windows at the Legislative Assembly.
Budget doesn’t stop rising rates, taxes and fees: Opposition
Opposition Leader Alistair Coe said it was another budget that would drive up the cost of living in Canberra.
He said cutting stamp duty or a home owner’s grant were only “treating the symptoms” of rising rates, taxes and charges, and would do nothing to fix the growing housing affordability crisis.
“The truth is we have a land affordability crisis,” he said.
“And this is a government that is gouging Canberrans by drip-feeding the release of land and in doing so driving up the price so much that unfortunately many Canberrans simply can’t afford to live in the city they grew up in.”