Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 12 Hansard (Tuesday, 23 November 2021) . . Page.. 3530 ..
government’s complacency and neglectful approach to private sector investment and diversification—risk jobs and the economic futures of Canberra families. Mr Barr’s budget headline, a $5 billion infrastructure pipeline, is a great headline. If there is one thing this government does very well it is generating a headline, but struggling Canberra families and local businesses need more headlines that actually mean something; they need real action and real investment from their government to address the underlying challenges in our post-lockdown economic recovery.
We know that Canberrans are not getting an additional $5 billion investment, as Mr Barr has trumpeted. The budget delivers a four per cent increase on the existing infrastructure program as promised at the last budget. In the year we need an economic boost the most, the promised infrastructure spend this financial year is actually less than the previous budget. Hyperbole and announcements do not create jobs or grow our economy. This government makes bold and hyperbolic promises but, when it comes to delivering, its record on capital works expenditure speaks for itself.
Even with top-ups from rollovers from previous years, the amount of underspend each year on infrastructure projects is staggering. Since 2017-18, the government’s underspends ranged from just under 20 per cent to, often, over 30 per cent. Just last year, we saw an underspend of a whopping $250 million on infrastructure projects. How did the Chief Minister respond? He responded by shifting blame onto industry and local business—a tactic that he is well known for. How does the Chief Minister expect our building and construction industry to deliver on the infrastructure program when the government fails to invest in the skills and trades that are required to deliver these projects? Local businesses and households endeavouring to transition away from a carbon-based economy are being faced with delays and very high costs due to skills shortages in electricians and plumbers.
If we do not invest in skills and training now, not only will our ability to deliver on projects on time and on budget be jeopardised, but our local companies will be out-competed by larger interstate corporations. ABS employment data indicates that in May 2020 there were over 20,000 employees in the ACT building and constructing industry. In August of this year, there were just over 15,000. The ACT has lost the most construction jobs compared to pre-pandemic levels when compared with any other state or territory.
This budget commits our city to important projects for our community, including light rail, the Canberra Hospital expansion, investments in our school infrastructure, a new Canberra Theatre and Kingston arts precinct, as well as investments in our local shops, roads and suburbs. These are important investments for the future of our city, but without the tools and the workforce to deliver on these projects on time and on budget, we will continue to see delays, cost blowouts, and broken promises from this government.
Mr Barr tells us that pent-up demand from Canberrans will support a V-shaped economic recovery. While we on this side do not deny the effect of pent-up consumer demand, we must ensure that Canberra businesses can make up for the losses they sustained during the lockdown. In the last sitting week we all saw this government’s true colours when it comes to business; it ridiculed our positive initiative to support