Greens look at budgets differently, here’s our take on ACT Budget 2018-19

The Greens look at budgets differently. We don’t ask what the impact is on ourselves personally. We ask what the impact is on sustainability and for fairness. What sort of place we’re leaving for future generations and what impact we’re having on vulnerable community members.

We’re proud to report that the 2018-19 ACT Budget strongly delivers on fairness and sustainability. It supports key Greens-Labor Parliamentary Agreement items related to sustainable transport, youth and mental health, and our local environment and climate change.

This budget is also the tenth since the ACT Greens negotiated a solid and constructive power sharing arrangement with Labor to get better outcomes for Canberrans. Although the Greens are currently few in number—only 2 MLAs among 25 Members—this budget shows that we are continuing to punch above our weight.

Here’s a wrap of budget highlights—and a few lowlights—which were reflected in our formal reply speech yesterday. You can access the full speech here.

Light rail and active travel

Transport is a key part of the Greens agenda for a more sustainable city.

The budget funds further planning and design work for light rail stage 2, from Civic to Woden, and a range of overdue improvements around Woden to revitalise the area.

This demonstrates how light rail is not just a transport project, but will also facilitate a more sustainable city structure and improved active transport connections, reducing reliance on cars.  

A decade ago, the Greens were the only politicians talking about active transport - now a major focus of this Government. We welcome over $21 million in additional expenditure in active travel upgrades, including in Woden, Tuggeranong and Belconnen Town Centres, as well as investment in making suburbs more age-friendly. This is substantial progress on the additional $30 million active travel commitment in the Parliamentary Agreement.

The budget also funds improvements to light rail stage 1, with a stop at Mitchell to support businesses and workers, and help enliven the area.

  • $13.35M for Light Rail stage 1 operational funding and Stage 2 further planning and design work
  • $21M in additional expenditure in active travel upgrades, including in Woden, Tuggeranong and Belconnen Town Centres
  • $1.1M for continued funding for flexible public transport
  • 40 new buses by end 2018

Improving health and access to health care

The Greens have long called for investment in our healthcare system to keep people healthy, instead of just treating them when they are sick.

With Shane as a Greens Minister for Mental Health, we’re especially proud to see investment in mental health services grow to $157 million.

The budget will deliver new supported accommodation options for people with complex mental health needs, as well as a boost to community-based targeted services that support teenagers, older Canberrans and those transitioning out of the justice system.

  • $22.8M to provide accommodation to support people with mental health issues to recover and live in the community
  • $7.3M to deliver 15 more school psychologists
  • $2.1M to provide mental health outreach for young Canberrans
  • $1.3M to provide more counsellors at headspace
  • $34.5M to expand the Hospital in the Home program
  • $11.3M to construct a new health clinic for Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service
  • $2M to continue Canberra’s fourth Walk in Centre in the Weston Creek region

Protecting the environment and acting on climate change

The Greens are determined to take action on climate change. We are also determined to protect the most vulnerable in our community. We believe that these two policy imperatives go hand in hand, and one shouldn't come at the expense of the other.

With Shane as Greens Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability, we are especially pleased to see investment to extend the successful Energy Efficient Improvement Scheme into ACT public housing. Over three years this program will support energy efficiency upgrades in 2,200 public housing dwellings—helping reduce climate emissions as well as heating and cooling bills by about $500 annually for some of Canberra’s more vulnerable residents.

While we know that electrifying vehicles isn’t enough—tackling transport emissions also means changing transport habits—the installation of 50 new electric vehicle charging stations at ACT Government sites will support the transition to more sustainable transport.

  • $6M to deliver energy efficient upgrades to public housing properties to help tenants to reduce their power bills and cut greenhouse gas emissions
  • $6M to extend the ACT Government’s ACTsmart programs
  • $456K to install 50 new electric vehicle charging stations at ACT Government sites

Improving housing affordability and social housing

Housing-related measures in this year’s budget provide cause for both optimism and concern.

Our current housing rules are producing housing that is unaffordable and environmentally unsustainable, so the Greens are pleased to see funding for the Housing Choices review of planning rules and towards demonstration housing precincts. These precincts are a result of a motion by Caroline last year, and will showcase affordable, high-quality and environmentally-sustainable housing.

We are also pleased to see strengthening of specialist homelessness and housing support services, including innovation funding to increase the supply of affordable rental housing.

For people at the other end of the housing spectrum, we are very supportive of the stamp duty exemptions for first home buyers, in conjunction with removing the First Home Owners Grant.

However, the Greens believe that the Government needs to do more to close the growing inequity gap and address the shortage of affordable housing.

There is hope. We look forward to seeing the Housing Strategy capturing many great ideas from last year’s Housing Summit being released later this year and hope to see its recommendations adequately funded.  

  • $6.5M for 36 more crisis accommodation places, particularly for families seeking shelter.
  • $4.5M for new housing for older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Canberrans
  • $775K for the Housing Choices review of planning rules and towards demonstration housing precincts
  • $500K of Housing Innovation Fund money towards affordable rental properties for families escaping domestic violence and for specialist disability accommodation

Costs and concessions for vulnerable people

The ACT Government’s system of concessions and rates deferments are also very important for fairness. The Greens, along with most economists and business groups, have supported the ACT’s tax reform program due to its economic benefits.

We have heard strong voices from unit owners concerned about unfair tax reform, so are pleased the General Rates Aged Deferral Scheme is being expanded to cover many more ratepayers. It was previously only available for older ratepayers whose home was one of the 20% most expensive by land value, but now all people over 65 living in units they own will qualify. For the Deferral expansion to be considered successful, the take-up will need to rise substantially from its current very low level.

On other concessions, free off-peak public transport for concession card holders is a Parliamentary Agreement item, and we are pleased to see a 12 month extension of this trial which has been well received by low-income Canberrans.  

The Greens will continue to closely monitor the fairness of tax reform and concessions.

What we want to see in next year’s budget

The Greens are very supportive of this year’s budget. But we do urge the Government to make further serious investments in housing initiatives to address affordability and sustainability, as well as in more action to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, both while assessing the impacts of these policies on our most vulnerable people.

Stay up to date on our work in the Assembly and with the community to make Canberra a more fair and sustainable place by following Shane and Caroline on social media.