Page 2085 - Week 07 - Thursday, 4 June 2015

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There is no doubt that we have been operating within a very tight budgetary situation over the past couple of years. The federal government cuts have come in many forms: the reduction in GST revenues of $137 million in the coming financial year; cuts to health funding, which the health minister has outlined in detail, which impact on the states and territories and which will see a substantial decrease in future years by almost $50 million in 2018-19, meaning that the ACT needs to find a way to address that shortcoming; and cuts to public service jobs that have had an impact on our economy.

Beyond the financial impacts, we have seen some frankly ridiculous policies coming from the federal government, which has created an environment of fear and uncertainty for many community service organisations. These cuts to the community and environment sectors impact on housing and homelessness policy and advocacy peak bodies, environment groups and peak bodies and community legal centres. They have had a terrible impact on people who provide services to some of the most vulnerable in our community.

The ups and downs, the retractions and bandaid patch-up jobs and the blatant dismantling of independent advocacy groups have all contributed to low morale and unnecessary stress. The Prime Minister told us that “good government” was set to begin. Whilst initially that was a relief, my sense is that we are still waiting for that moment.

Unfortunately, one of the significant impacts on this budget, and a few more to come, is the direct result of Mr Fluffy. The ACT government has done the responsible thing by dealing head on with the problem and creating an asbestos eradication scheme. Now we are going it alone, despite the commonwealth promise to pay two-thirds of the cost, without real financial support from the commonwealth government, unless you count loaning us $1 billion so that we can clean up the legacy.

As a result of these factors, this budget is, in many ways, a modest budget, despite its priorities being clear. Of course, there will be some disappointment that particular initiatives were not funded. There are always many more initiatives that could be funded, and it is always difficult to see worthy initiatives and good ideas not make it across the line. But there has to be a balance, and I believe strongly in keeping our eye on the bottom line.

In the face of that, the ACT has taken the difficult and sometimes politically challenging task of shifting the taxation base away from inefficient and inequitable stamp duty and insurance taxes and towards a broader based land tax approach. I support the reduction in the first home owners grant—a peculiar, non-means-tested subsidy that has been accurately critiqued as resulting in increased house prices for all purchasers. While on the face of it the grant is a boon to new entrants into the housing market, the reality is that it simply drives up the cost of housing not just for those new entrants but for everyone.

We cannot ignore the impacts on low income residents of taxes and charges, and the Greens fully support providing relief to low income earners where it is appropriate.

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