Below is a speech I gave to theACT Election Leaders Debate by ACTCOSS today
Four years ago, Canberrans voted for an inclusive and progressive Labor Government, focused on making their lives better.
Of course, a lot has changed since then. But Labor’s commitment to what matters most to Canberrans, hasn’t wavered.
We’ve suffered devastating bushfires, blanketing smoke, and are now in the midst of a global public health emergency and economic depression.
This is the greatest challenge the ACT has faced.
Canberra’s strength and community spirit through these times has been remarkable.
We have truly been stronger, together.
By working together, we have reduced the risk of the coronavirus spreading in our community; and now, we will work together to drive our recovery.
Through this health emergency and once-in-a-century economic shock, my focus has been protecting Canberrans’ health and protecting Canberrans’ jobs.
We know that the economic effect of the pandemic has disproportionately fallen on young people and the already-vulnerable; and we’ve tailored our response accordingly.
Over the weekend, the ANU released a report on the impacts of increased social security payments on poverty and housing stress during COVID-19.
The report shows that, with the increased direct financial assistance programs introduced during the pandemic – significantly more Canberrans are being lifted out of poverty and housing stress.
In our staged response packages over the last few months the ACT Government has provided $3 million in rent relief across all 11,700 social housing households, providing from two to 50 weeks of free rent, depending on rent levels.
We waived fees for Early Childhood Education and Care service providers, providing almost $5 million in mental health support, created a utilities hardship fund and a pandemic leave hardship fund, extended support to international students, increased the utilities concession by $200 for 30,000 households and extended access to this concession to asylum seekers.
We also provided support directly to carers and vulnerable children with additional cash payments. The Government has provided $131 million to support families and the community.
When combined with the ACT Government COVID-19 economic survival response and the economic recovery measures released in our $4.9 billion Jobs and Economic Recovery Plan, as well as our Community Recovery Roadmap, it demonstrates that both levels of government working together can make significant inroads into poverty.
However, we have to accept that financial pressure for some families in our community will start to rise when changes to the Commonwealth income payments are introduced in September.
That’s why our Jobs and Economic Plan has come at the right time.
We need to prioritise the creation and protection of jobs to ensure Canberra families don’t have to face significant financial hardship due to a lack of employment.
We recognise the role of the community sector as an employer, not just the important role it has as the deliverer of critical services to vulnerable Canberrans.
Thousands of people work in the community sector, including many from vulnerable and marginalised groups within our community.
Expenditure in community services provides a double benefit to our society, creating jobs and protecting those who need our support.
We want a motivated and well-resourced community sector to support people who are doing it tough in our community.
Now, more than ever, Canberrans needs a government with the right plan to protect jobs and keep people out of financial stress.
They need a Government that won’t cut vital services when Canberrans need them most.
A Government that will do more to help avoid people slipping through the cracks.
We can’t achieve that without the support of our community sector partners.
It was a very obvious decision for us to commit to provide the equivalent funding once the Commonwealth’s supplementary funding of community sector jobs ends.
Increased financial pressure during this time is certainly not helpful for you, and this Labor Government has always believed that everyone should be paid fairly.
It was also very obvious to the Government that we had to do more in the social and public housing space during this time.
Just because the ACT is leading the nation when it comes to the provision of public housing doesn’t mean that we can’t do more, and we will embark on a $1 billion program to build at least 260 new homes and the renewal of 1,000 properties across Canberra.
The pandemic isn’t over, and there is more work to do.
But ACT Labor has the right plan to invest in Canberrans and lead our city through the pandemic.