Elizabeth Lee delivers Budget Reply


Life in Canberra changed and it changed within hours.

When we first went into lockdown, the Canberra Liberals stood side-by-side with this government. Our first priority was and remains the safety of all Canberrans. We respect and support the health advice that is keeping our community safe.

And on behalf of the Canberra Liberals, I again acknowledge and thank everyone on the frontline; everyone who has and is working hard to keep Canberra safe.

We are now entering our 9th week of lockdown.

This lockdown and the incursion of Delta has exposed once again Labor and the Greens’ arrogant and complacent governance of our Territory over the last 20 years.

Despite the efforts of the community and our hardworking frontline workers, the lockdown and its economic fallout will leave lasting consequences on business; on families; and on vulnerable Canberrans.

Sadly, many businesses will never reopen; many children are falling behind, and many families are struggling under the poverty line.

The Treasurer on Wednesday attempted to sell his tenth Budget as a “turbo-charged” economic recovery.

Madam Speaker, after 20 years consecutive Labor Budgets, Canberrans will not be fooled.

This is a Band-Aid Budget.

The Treasurer is right that this budget is a critical one for the future of our Territory.

But, after 20 years in government

After 20 years of fiscal mismanagement

After 20 years of arrogance and complacency

And after 20 years of skyrocketing taxes and cost of living pressures, this government has run out of ideas; and the pandemic has brought to a head the glaring neglect by this government in health, education, housing and infrastructure.

Band-Aid 1: Health

Canberra deserve a world class health system, befitting of the nation’s capital.

As one of the smallest, yet highest taxing, and highest income earning jurisdictions in the nation, we have the tools to create a world-class health system.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has put a strain on our health system, as it has on every health system around the world.

But the most recent “cash splash” by this government to employ additional nurses is too little and too late.

Madam Speaker, this is not a new investment.

This is the government failing to deliver over half of their election commitment to hire more than 200 nurses in the middle of a global pandemic and a COVID-19 outbreak in the ACT. This government has made almost no additional investments in our frontline health staff. Without delivering infrastructure projects on time and on budget, nurses and doctors cannot do their critically important jobs in keeping Canberrans safe.

This government was unable to manage the health system even before the pandemic. Canberra has been plagued for years by the worst emergency department wait times in the nation, our junior doctors facing the nation’s highest rates of bullying and pay uncertainty, and an overall decline in investment in our health system over the past 10 years.

After 20 years and now with a pandemic on our hands, Canberrans have no confidence that this government will be able to deliver on its promises to improve our hospitals.

Madam Speaker, inadequate investment in our health system costs Canberra lives.

Band-Aid 2: Education

The Canberra Liberals have raised concerns about crumbling infrastructure and overcrowding in our schools for years.

This Budget does nothing to address the serious issue of hazardous materials in our schools.

This Budget does nothing to address the serious issue of overcrowding in our schools, especially in the Inner North.

Instead, the bulk of the school infrastructure budget is to be spent on expanding Margaret Hendry School – a school, Madam Speaker, that opened just 2 years ago.

This is a stunning admission of failure on the part of this government to properly plan for our growing school population.

Band-Aid 3: Housing and Community Services

The ACT Council of Social Service has raised their concerns that the pandemic has exacerbated the poverty; the inequality; the disadvantage that already exists under the watch of this government.

Earlier this week, I called for the full review of the Targeted Assistance Strategy to make sure that the right support is going to those who need it most.

The Canberra Liberals have fought for years for our public housing stock to be brought up to a liveable standard. Unbelievably this government voted against our call to bring our public housing stock to meet the minimum safety standards.

The pandemic – and the forced lockdowns of some of our most vulnerable Canberrans in houses that are just not fit for quarantine has forced this government to commit $80million to maintenance but we know this is once again, a band-aid fix; a catch-up to try and patch up the shocking neglect of public housing stock under this government’s watch.

Our Priorities

Madam Speaker, we must provide hope and certainty for our businesses who have faced a challenging 18-months – and many, who still face an uncertain future; businesses that cannot see what the next few weeks will look like for them, let alone next year.

The next twelve months will be an extremely crucial and no doubt a challenging time for our community.

The decisions that this government makes over the next twelve months will determine how we recover from the biggest health and economic challenge we have ever faced.

We are a strong, resilient community and I believe we can get our economy back on track with the right priorities and leadership.

We must back our local businesses to boost confidence, innovation, skills and jobs through and beyond the pandemic

Unfortunately, there are Canberra businesses that will not survive this year’s lockdown.

When we lose these businesses, we don’t just lose a business.

We lose the spirit of entrepreneurship, vision, and everything that represents the blood, sweat and tears that goes into establishing every local business.

We lose the heart and soul that goes into starting and growing every local business.

And our businesses need support now.

And we need a plan to back our businesses to support them through and beyond the lockdown.

The Canberra Liberals have been listening to our local businesses.

And I call on this ACT Labor-Greens government to back our businesses through this challenging time:

  • show trust by giving all businesses the opportunity to create covid-safe plans which will allow them greater freedoms to re-commence their operations safely.
    The default answer to whether businesses can operate should be ‘yes’ unless it is clearly contrary to clear health advice. It should not be what we have now; a default ‘no’ unless the Chief Minister feels like saying yes.
    We need consistency with how our covid-safe restrictions are applied across different sectors and we must have transparency as to why and how these restrictions are informed by the health advice
  • taper ACT government business support to ensure that we do not leave behind local businesses whilst restrictions are still in place and they are not able to trade in a meaningful way.
    In the Chief Minister’s own words, we are out of lockdown on the 15th of October, and yet, we know many restrictions will remain, which will have a huge impact on many, many businesses.
    It is the Chief Minister who has mandated continuing restrictions despite saying that lockdown is lifting. He has a responsibility to ensure that Canberra businesses – our businesses – are not forgotten and left behind
  • reduce red tape for business – this should be a constant priority for government, but in the immediate recovery period, reduce red tape and inefficiencies on what businesses need to do to access the support they are eligible for and in accessing the rebates and delays to payments that have been announced.
    Laws, regulations, procedures and protocols should exist for safety and probity; if there is a form to fill out for the sake of filling out of a form or if it is a duplicate then get rid of it.
    Let’s give time and freedom back to our businesses so they can get back to doing what they do best
  • create a local skills and jobs strategy with industry to outline the key targets for skills and jobs growth across the ACT economy.
    We know that when state and international borders open in the coming months, there will be significant skills shortages across our economy, especially in the hospitality and retail sectors – sectors hit the hardest by lockdowns and restrictions.
    With a local jobs and skills strategy we can address skills and workforce demands and shortages in key growth industries including in tourism, defence, clean energy, cyber security and in the trades as we emerge out of lockdown.
    Canberra, as the nation’s capital, is and should be the home of the Australian public service. This does not mean that we cannot also diversify our jobs market to attract innovation, technology, skills and jobs that will make our city where anyone can achieve anything.
    That future must start with a local skills and jobs strategy which should set out a clear plan to take us there.
  • review the tax agenda to remove barriers to innovation, investment and entrepreneurialism.
    The impact of taxes on growth, innovation and creativity in business should be reviewed to give our businesses the confidence and support businesses need to take risks and strengthen our economic recovery.

Madam Speaker, the Canberra Liberals are ambitious for our businesses; we value our businesses; we trust our businesses, and we respect our businesses.

To all our local businesses that feel forgotten; that feel abandoned; that feel unvalued – know that we have your back and we always will.

Let’s get our children safely back to the classroom with world class facilities to deliver a world class education

Let’s get our children safely back to the classroom.

We must invest in school infrastructure to make sure that we are providing our children with world class learning facilities where they can receive world class education.

Many parents raised significant concerns about hazardous materials in our schools before this outbreak and since lockdown, their concerns have intensified; they are concerned that when children do return to the classroom, they will be in schools that do not have appropriate ventilation; schools that are not fit for purpose in this new covid world.

Fast track these long-awaited upgrades to our ageing schools to create safer learning environments and stimulate our building and construction industry.

Prioritise this critical infrastructure funding to create covid-safe, world class learning environments to deliver a world class education.

Our teachers; our students who have dealt with the challenges of covid so well, deserve a government that prioritises their safety and education to bring out the best in every child.

We must equip our tradies with the tools they need to deliver on a strong infrastructure plan by boosting skills and training

Our building and construction industry – literally – build our city.

With every dollar spent generating a $3 economic return, a robust and thriving building and construction sector is crucial to our economic recovery. Infrastructure investment not only provides critical jobs and economic stimulus, but it also lays the foundation for a more liveable, vibrant, and productive city.

The Chief Minister has trumpeted a once in a generation infrastructure spend.

Madam Speaker, we know that this government is first class when it comes to spin over substance.

When it comes to delivering, its legacy of underspending, broken promises, and delays speaks for itself.

Hyperbole and re-announcements do not ‘turbo-charge’ our economy, Madam Speaker.

Glossy brochures and videos do not create more jobs or deliver support for businesses crying out for help now.

A $5 billion dollar infrastructure spend over 5 years at first blush sounds great on paper.

But there are three points that the Treasurer has conveniently left out in making this announcement.

When you start digging into the numbers, Madam Speaker, this figure has been misrepresented by adding in a 5th year to make it sound bigger and flashier.

Last year’s Budget promised an infrastructure spend of $4.3 billion over four years. This year’s Budget promises an infrastructure spend of $4.48 billion over four years.

The reality is that this is a 4% increase in real terms on the infrastructure spend that was announced last year.

Is a 4% increase in infrastructure funding what the Treasurer calls a “full throttle” economic recovery through an infrastructure boost?

Creating the illusion of action is not a substitute for real action.

Madam Speaker, we must do more to support this industry.

  • we must appropriately invest in training.
    The ACT government provides the lowest training subsidies for construction and trades in the nation. And despite the federal government’s expanded support for apprentices through its Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements program announced just last month, this ACT government has woefully fallen behind in showing our tradies and apprentices that they are valued and worthy of investment.
    This neglect has been intensified by the lockdown restrictions that has seen tradies not able to receive hands-on training. A double blow to an industry that has been let down by this ACT government for too long.
  • we must work strategically with industry and the Commonwealth government to boost local jobs: ensure that every project – small, medium, large, has real opportunities for Canberrans. The major infrastructure investment in our hospital is critical and it is beyond time for excuses and delays.
  • we must have a plan to end infrastructure underspend and failures to deliver.
    Instead of blaming industry for not being able to deliver on projects, we must work with industry to build for the future, not make excuses for why something hasn’t or cannot be done.
    The first step towards future proofing infrastructure underspend of course, is to provide a significant boost to skills and training.

If we don’t invest in skills now, we will not see a sustainable, beautiful city that we want to leave for our children.

Let’s maximise our potential as the knowledge capital and create a plan to safely bringing back our international and interstate students

Canberra is the knowledge capital of Australia and we can be the knowledge capital of the world.

We boast some of the most amazing minds in Australia and our research capacity is second to none.

In my previous Budget Reply, I spoke about our city’s potential to be at the forefront of research in climate action and renewables, cyber security and defence and this still holds. Our universities have suffered significant blows with border closures and we must have a plan to safely bring back international and interstate students.

International education is the ACT’s first billion-dollar export industry. International students have been a huge part of the heart of Canberra for a long time.

Whilst their citizenship on paper belongs to a different country, for many of our international students, their hearts belong to us.

Not only do our international students support our university and tertiary and vocational education sectors, they also bring a richness of their culture, language and voice – making our city more vibrant, more dynamic.

They also play a huge role with core skills in hospitality, retail, IT and the service industry which make an enormous contribution to our economy.

We know that once domestic borders start to open up, all Australian cities and institutions will be competing to attract bright young minds from around the country.

We must be ready and competitive when this time comes.


Madam Speaker, the next 12 months will be an incredibly challenging and important time for our city as we map our way out of this pandemic.

Canberrans have already shown the depth of our courage and community in the way we have responded to the extraordinary events over the past 2 years; from bushfires to smoke to hail to a global pandemic.

The Canberra we want to see in 12 months’ time is one that will be stronger, more resilient and one that has great hope for a brighter tomorrow.

And the Canberra of tomorrow that I see for my daughter and her generation is one where we have shown incredible heart to pull through the toughest of times;

where the decisions made by the leaders of today create opportunities for the Canberrans of tomorrow;

where we are the city befitting of the national capital and the envy of every other city in the world.

And Madam Speaker, laying of the foundation to create the Canberra of tomorrow must start today.