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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 9 Hansard (27 August) . . Page.. 2642 ..

MRS CARNELL (continuing):

The Government will ensure that our budget takes into account the pressures being placed on the ACT. It is more important than ever to create an environment that will promote private sector investment and new job opportunities. I intend to give much greater priority to ensuring that the resources we have are used to support service delivery. This includes giving priority to a more strategic approach to the use of our assets to ensure greater effectiveness. I note already, however, that business leaders have made a positive response with statements of confidence in the future of the ACT economy. I can only reinforce that confidence. Certainly, the immediate outlook is very difficult; but the Government is confident of the underlying strength in the local economy.

Mr Speaker, as I forecast after the recent Premiers Conference, the ACT is taking a firm stand with regard to the Commonwealth paying its way in Canberra. The Federal budget reinforces the need for the Commonwealth to recognise that, as part of this city, it should meet its real obligations in relation to paying for services and complying with the regulations of the city. To that end, I have written to the Prime Minister reinforcing the ACT Government's view that the Reserve Bank should be required to pay financial institutions duty on the same basis as other financial institutions. I have also drawn to the Prime Minister's attention other specific issues, such as parking and registration of Commonwealth vehicles and pay parking in Commonwealth areas. The revenue forgone by the ACT for registration alone is estimated to be in the order of $1m a year. To expedite these matters, I have requested that the Prime Minister establish an ACT-Commonwealth task force to develop a strategic approach to these taxation and funding arrangements.

Mr Speaker, in line with the outcome of the Premiers Conference, the Federal budget cuts around $25m from grants to the ACT. It goes without saying that absorbing a cut of that magnitude will be extremely difficult. Out of that $25m cut, just over $10m will come from housing grants. In view of the current excess supply of private housing in the ACT and likely changes to the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement that will mean a shift towards rental assistance, we will be able to absorb this cut in housing grants and still maintain a supply of public housing at well above national average levels. The same could not be said if we were to absorb that magnitude of cut in health or education programs, or, Mr Speaker, in any other program at all. I can reassure members that a substantial public housing construction program will still be included in the ACT budget. It will involve construction of between 180 and 200 new dwellings, at a cost of more than $28m.

Mr Speaker, the budget provides the broad parameters for a reduction of some 10,500 Australian public servants nationally between June 1996 and June 1997. Further reductions in staffing levels of the Australian Public Service are likely in 1997-98, but have not been detailed by the Commonwealth in the budget papers. Any assessment of the full impact of these cuts on the ACT economy is made difficult because there is no clear breakdown between cuts in central office functions in Canberra and reductions in other cities or regional areas. Mr Speaker, I will continue to pursue the Commonwealth for more detail. However, I reaffirm my concern that, while the ACT has not been singled out for cuts, public sector cutbacks will still have a far greater impact on Canberra than on any other city in Australia, as I am sure everybody here agrees.

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