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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 5 Hansard (6 May) . . Page.. 1579 ..

MR QUINLAN (continuing):

Despite the generally positive outlook for the ACT, there remain areas of concern in the future of Commonwealth, state and territory financial relations. The states and territories have consistently pushed the Commonwealth to keep its commitment to maintain specific purpose payments in real terms, which I might add was part of the intergovernmental agreement that supported the GST. The territory will continue to press the Commonwealth.

Further, the federal Treasurer has shown reluctance in accepting the Commonwealth Grants Commission's recommendation of $15 million to the ACT for special fiscal needs. The Prime Minister has indicated the federal government is considering the issue right now and we expect to see the money in Peter Costello's budget when it is handed down on 13 May.

Bushfire recovery

On 18 January 2003 the ACT experienced a fire disaster, unprecedented in its history, and of a scale ranking it as one of Australia's worst single day natural disasters.

The government's strategy has been to respond quickly and comprehensively with a range of measures supporting those affected, and promoting the clean-up and recovery effort.

The 2002-03 budget supports programs totalling $29.7 million.

Mr Speaker, this budget continues to support the bushfire recovery process. An additional $22.8 million has been allocated across four years, bringing the total to be spent on bushfire recovery initiatives to $52.5 million. There is no doubt that this represents a significant financial effort that has taken priority in the budget.

A fire reconstruction levy will be introduced in 2003-04 to partly offset the costs of the recovery program. The levy is based on the average unimproved value of each rateable property in the territory. The levy will be implemented for only two years, and will raise a net $5 million each year.

Mr Speaker, if circumstances permit, the government will look to remove the fire reconstruction levy in 2004-05 so that it remains in place for one year instead of two.

ACT Housing properties will be excluded from the levy, as will eligible pensioners.

Mr Speaker, the cost of the disaster will also be somewhat offset by the Commonwealth government under the natural disaster recovery arrangements, or the NDRA. An estimate of this reimbursement of $17 million is included in the budget for planning purposes.

The government intends to maintain the momentum through bushfire recovery initiatives with the aim to achieve much more than a simple return to the pre-bushfire situation. Canberra will be more secure, revitalised, and able to capture and build on the community spirit that has come to the fore in the wake of the bushfires.

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