ACT budget for 'big business', failing Canberra's needy: Unions ACT
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ACT budget for 'big business', failing Canberra's needy: Unions ACT

The head of Unions ACT has slammed Chief Minister Andrew Barr's seventh budget as one for "big business" that fails Canberra's most needy, as politicians on both sides of the fence responded to the budget.

While some groups have largely welcomed most budget measures, despite the lack of big ticket items or a major injection to address housing affordability, Unions ACT secretary Alex White has labelled it a "disappointment" for working Canberrans.

ACT Opposition Leader Alistair Coe has pledged to cap rates and abolish payroll tax, if he wins government in 2020.

ACT Opposition Leader Alistair Coe has pledged to cap rates and abolish payroll tax, if he wins government in 2020.Credit:Fairfax Media

The peak union body's reaction came as Opposition leader Alistair Coe promised to abolish payroll tax, losing a revenue line worth about $522 million for territory coffers in 2018-19, and cap rates bills.

Unions ACT claimed the budget had delivered for "big business", with promises for a new sports stadium and tax changes to support property developers, but neglected the "urgent needs of working people and the disadvantaged.

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Among the union movement's key concerns were the lack of new funding to create an independent workplace safety authority or any more workplace safety inspectors, and a lack of resources put into "wage theft" and job security, particularly for ACT public servants.

Mr White said the budget had been a "disappointing missed opportunity that demonstrates misplaced priorities".

“The budget buys into the failed notion of trickle-down economics: delivering substantial tax and transfer benefits for big business, while public services and community supports continue to be stretched to their limit," he said.

The union body also hit out at the planned creation of a $5 million Chief Minister's Charitable Fund, as a "regressive vanity measure" that came at a time contractors had told unions the governemnt would not increase funding to pay for collective bargaining or decent wages.

While unions raised their concerns on Thursday, so too did Mr Coe and greens leader Shane Rattenbury, in their budget-in-reply speeches in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday.

Mr Coe hit out at the budget for again raising rates and taxes, and the territory's complicated planning laws and regulations, as well as the government's social policies including on indigenous affairs.

While he said he wanted Canberra to become the "business capital" of Australia, he voiced no specifics of how a Liberal government would try to address entrenched indigenous disadvantage.

"Canberra will be a place where people can take risks, build businesses and invest, rather than having to jump through government hoops," he said.

Mr Coe had also earlier pledged to cap rate rises if the Opposition gains government, in an effort to make the capital "a place where people can achieve their aspirations", though he has not detailed at what level rates would capped

But Mr Barr said cutting the $500 million-odd tax, which is paid only by businesses with a wage bill of $2 million or more, would hand a tax cut to "banks and big business" and potentially "plunge the territory into deficit" or force the sackings of "thousands" of government employees or significant cuts to hospitals or schools.

Mr Rattenbury reflected on the milestone of 10 years of minority government with Labor, saying the minor part had made progress towards making the ACT "the most green and progressive" jurisdiction in the country.

While he welcomed the latest budget, particularly on his portfolio of renewable energy, it was equivocal support, saying that the economic growth the city was experiencing was not being shared equally and the budget had not addressed growing housing affordability concerns.

He said increasing levels of homelessness was a "predictable problem" that went with Canberra's rising population but he had hope this would be addressed in the upcoming housing strategy.

Daniel Burdon is a reporter for The Canberra Times

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.