Most Canberrans, community groups and businesses came off winners in this year’s ACT Budget, as Chief Minister Andrew Barr loosened the purse strings and shared the fiscal love.
Winner: First-home buyers
The ACT Government is abolishing stamp duty for first-home buyers with a household income below $160,000.
At the same time they’re scrapping the First Home Owners Grant — something Chief Minister Andrew Barr flagged earlier this year.
Mr Barr said stamp duty was another hurdle for first-home buyers and the First Home Owners Grant was not effective.
He said the changes would help more Canberrans buy their first home, sooner.
Loser: Rate payers
Rates continue to increase, but there is some relief for unit owners, with the Government conceding the rate hikes flagged in last year’s budget were a little too harsh.
Rates for units were set to rise by 15 per cent next financial year but instead they will only increase by 10 per cent, with the Government saying unit owners needed a little more time to adjust to the new system.
House rates will jump by an average of 7 per cent.
A new primary school will be built in Molonglo to the tune of $47 million.
A combined 500 places will also become available in Canberra’s north by expanding Amaroo, Gold Creek and Neville Bonner schools.
Campbell Primary School is set to get a $18.8 million refurbishment and the Government have promised 66 more teachers or support staff across ACT public schools.
Canberra’s art and cultural sector will receive a share of the monetary pie in this Budget, with $1.2 million set aside to plan for a new theatre complex and the existing Canberra Theatre to receive a $1.5 million upgrade.
$1.9 million has been earmarked to establish a new festival focused on innovation, design, culture, coding and gaming.
An additional $5 million will be used to set up a Screen Industry Development Fund.
Canberra’s sporting venues will also receive a boost, with a new media centre at Manuka Oval and new turf and electronic scoreboard at Canberra Stadium.
Winner: Mental Health
More than $646 million overall will be spent on mental health services in the ACT over the next four years.
For young people, 15 more school psychologists will be employed and $2.2 million will be spent on a new outreach program for young Canberrans aged 12-18.
$22.8 million will go towards three new 24-hour supported accommodation facilities and a new Step Up, Step Down facility will be established in Canberra’s south to help people stay out of hospital.
The Government is also boosting the Mental Health Intensive Treatment Service for older Canberrans.
Winner: Municipal Services
Unlike other jurisdictions, the ACT’s Budget also includes funding for municipal services.
This year the Government has committed to “cleaner suburbs”, planting 1,330 trees and dedicating $21.7 million for new cycle paths, footpaths and share paths.
$10 million will also go towards increased mowing, weeding, graffiti removal, tree trimming and cleaning waterways.
Some drivers and road users will be happy with this budget, while others are set to be disappointed.
Drivers licence fees will climb by about $10, but only for so-called bad drivers, who have committed traffic offences in the past five years.
Overall registration is increasing an average of $18.34 to $384.64.
While the duplication of William Slim Drive in Belconnen is set to reduce commuter times, two additional licence plate recognition cameras will become operational to catch any unregistered drivers.
For drivers of electric cars, 50 new charging stations will also be set up across the city, but parking fees are going up 6 per cent or about $1 per ticket.
Winner: Justice and Emergency Services
The ACT’s justice and emergency services see a modest boost in the Budget.
Eighteen new firefighters will be trained and ACT Policing will receive an additional six specialist positions.
$5.6 million will also be spent to upgrade smart phone equipment for police and a new magistrate will be appointed to help with the workload of the ACT Magistrates Court.
The ACT Government will spend $112 million on “core hospital services” across the Canberra Hospital’s emergency department, intensive care unit and surgeries.
The major cash injection will fund a dozen doctors, 60 nurses and up to 80 beds over the coming years.
Upgrades will also be made to Calvary Public Hospital, including an expanded emergency department.
The Government is also growing the Hospital in the Home service, expecting to provide the service to 3,000 patients each year, about double the current number.
The Budget includes plans to increase elective surgeries by 4,000 over the next four years, but there are already more than 5,000 currently on the waiting list.
Older Canberrans are set to benefit from the 2018 ACT Budget, with a number of small concessions being established or expanded.
The Government is increasing the Utilities Concession by $50, taking the total payment to $654 per year.
Additionally, the income threshold on the General Rates Aged Deferral Scheme will be removed. That means Canberrans over 65, with at least 75 per cent equity in their home, can defer rate payments until after their home is sold.
$640,000 has also been set aside to establish a Senior Rights Service through the Legal Aid Commission.