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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 04 Hansard (Tuesday, 20 April 2021) . . Page.. 822 ..

what would normally have been budget day in June last year, updated about eight weeks later by the August 2020 economic and fiscal update and then further updated by the Under Treasurer with the release of the 2020 pre-election budget update in September 2020. With the publication of the August 2020 update the ACT was the first government in Australia to present budget forecasts that covered the full four-year forward estimate period since the declaration of the public health emergencies across the nation.

Across Australian jurisdictions, COVID-19 response packages have given rise to significant outlays in public finances and coupled with significant revenue writedowns every government budget—not just here in Australia, but indeed globally—has been placed under significant pressure. Our 2020-21 budget indicates that for the current fiscal year the headline net operating balance deficit is expected to be in the order of $600 million and net debt is expected to be around $4.7 billion.

These changes in our fiscal position demonstrate the costs associated with addressing the impacts of COVID-19. Their magnitudes reflect that the pandemic is the most significant economic and fiscal shock we have faced in the territory’s self-governing history; arguably, perhaps only World War II would be comparable in the nation’s history. Following each significant shock we have faced—from the global financial crisis, commonwealth reductions to GST and health funding, the asbestos eradication scheme costs and now COVID-19—the territory’s budget has returned to broad balance with the introduction of stabilising initiatives designed to buffer our local economy and protect jobs.

As we indicated in the 2020-21 budget outlook, our return to balance will take some time and will be a function of evolving pandemic conditions and the strength of our economic recovery. However, from the vantage point of today, with no community transmission within Australia and a strong domestic rebound, we expect our current positive trajectory to continue. But I put a note here that at any moment this can change, and it has more than once during the course of the pandemic. As a broad statement of fiscal policy, the recovery of our fiscal position will be gradual and consistent with the pace of our economic recovery. This is to ensure that high quality essential services can continue to be provided to Canberra residents.

Whilst we have not emerged from the pandemic unscathed, our outlook is now somewhat brighter. Acknowledging the national supply issues, we are doing everything we can to support the rollout of vaccinations to the ACT community, with funding provided in the budget to facilitate this and, of course, to facilitate other essential public health actions. It is a little over three weeks since the last recorded active case in the territory moved from active to recovered.

More broadly, the 2020-21 ACT budget marks the first of five budgets in this Tenth Legislative Assembly. It is a budget that demonstrates the government’s commitment to action its key priorities for this parliamentary term which, as I am sure members are aware, have been outlined in great detail in the parliamentary and governing agreement and include a range of areas to improve the wellbeing of Canberrans and our environment, with a particular focus on addressing climate change.

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