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Additional major infrastructure spend ‘fiscally irresponsible’ says Barr

Local small business leaders have called on the ACT Government to finance numerous major infrastructure works, saying that without significant public investment, the ACT economy will “suffer a longer and deeper downturn than necessary”.

The Canberra Business Chamber’s (CBC) industry and community group members have co-signed a letter to ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr calling on the government to bring forward and “urgently commence” a series of long discussed big-ticket infrastructure projects.

The groups have asked the ACT Government to plan, design and construct an upgraded National Convention Centre, Canberra sports stadium and EPIC redevelopment to support the Territory’s construction, tourism and events industries.

CBC CEO Graham Catt said there has never been a better time for the ACT to invest in long-term big-ticket infrastructure projects.

“It not only provides construction related employment but can give the ACT economy the boost we need and, depending on the projects funded, can provide health, environmental, community and social benefits for generations to come,” he said.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the government’s major infrastructure spend remains focused on the expansion of the Canberra Hospital (SPIRE Project) in Woden, renewal and expansion of public housing, light rail stage 2A, new Canberra Theatre and precinct upgrades, and the new CIT Campus in Woden; projects where works have already commenced.

Mr Barr said it would be “fiscally irresponsible” to start committing significant additional capital investments without prior analysis.

“The process to design, procure, finance and construct major projects take years.  There is no prospect (or industry capacity) to deliver 10 years of infrastructure in the next six to 18 months,” he said.

“Projects currently slated for 2028 will not be built in 2020.  However, some mid-sized projects may be able to be accelerated by several months.

“We agree that Canberra’s recovery will rely on the job-creating infrastructure projects we have already started and delivering the infrastructure projects we have planned for the next few years,” Mr Barr said.

Master Builders Association of the ACT CEO Michael Hopkins said bringing forward major infrastructure projects that have already been endorsed by the ACT Government in 2019’s Infrastructure Plan can give an “immediate jobs boost for local engineers, architects, builders and subcontractors, and help support the recovery of our tourism and events sector, which has been decimated by the COVID-19 shutdowns.”

The Chief Minister said infrastructure projects “both big and small” will form part of the ACT’s economic recovery plan, so long as they’ve delivered in a “well-planned and cost-effective way”.

“Given the high level of uncertainty, the immediate focus for the next six to nine months is a strong pipeline of ‘screwdriver ready’ and ‘shovel ready’ projects. 

“We’ve announced a $25 million fund for new minor infrastructure projects to be fast-tracked and $3 million in public realm maintenance,” he said.

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