The ACT government will prioritise support for small business owners, contractors and "gig" economy workers in the first tranche of a multi-stage stimulus package to help the territory weather the coronavirus pandemic.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said smaller infrastructure projects would also be fast-tracked in a bid to keep the economy moving amid the rapidly escalating global emergency.
Mr Barr's cabinet met on Tuesday to start piecing together the territory government's coronavirus stimulus package, which was expected to be finalised and announced later this week.
It came as the government suffered another economic blow, with a new model for carving up GST revenue set to cost the ACT budget an extra $100 million next financial year.
Mr Barr said the stimulus package would target low to moderate income households and Canberra-based small to medium-sized businesses in industries hit hardest by the outbreak.
"The priority in the short term is do what we can to reduce cashflow pressures, particularly for contractors, sole traders and those in the 'gig' economy," he said.
Mr Barr said the measures would be rolled out in stages, noting that the economic consequences would be felt for "years".
The Canberra Times this week reported peak business groups were urging the ACT government to act quickly to support the local economy, amid fears that measures to slow the potential spread of COVID-19 could trigger a wave of closures and job losses.
The Canberra Business Chamber and Australian Hotels Association have called on the government to offer some form of tax relief to help reduce business overheads amid the inevitable economic downturn, while ClubsACT have said "all options should be on the table".
The government met with industry groups on Tuesday, and will hold another round of talks on Wednesday, before the package is finalised.
The Canberra Times understands Opposition leader Alistair Coe has also written to Mr Barr proposing a range of measures to support households and small businesses.
Others states have already started rolling out their own stimulus package, which come on top of the federal government's $17.6 billion program announced last week. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is already preparing a second round of stimulus.
The NSW government announced a $2.3 billion stimulus package on Tuesday, which included payroll tax exemptions for small businesses and extra funding for health services. The WA government will freeze household fees and charges as part of its $607 million plan, while the SA government's $350 million package is focused on stimulating activity in the construction sector.
Our stimulus efforts will reduce the impact and support the eventual recovery but the short term economic situation is grimChief Minister Andrew Barr
Mr Barr said the territory's rescue package would aim to soften the blow and hasten the local economy's recovery from the global crisis.
But he also conceded that no amount of territory or federal government spending could "fully offset the impacts".
"It is important to be frank at this time," Mr Barr said.
Compounding the economic hit from coronavirus, the ACT government will now have to deal with a major reduction in revenue from GST grants.
A long-awaited report from the Commonwealth Grants Commission, published on Monday, recommended a new formula for carving up GST grants which would see the ACT's share drop from 2.1 to 2.0 per cent.
Mr Barr said that would translate to a loss of about $100 million in 2020-2021, when compared with projections included in last month's mid-year budget review.
The ACT had already been hit with a $250 million reduction in GST revenue over the next four years.
Mr Barr said the changes should be put on hold for at least the next 12 months to allow states and territories time to adjust. He planned to raise the issue with the Commonwealth, adding that he anticipated other treasurers and premiers would do the same.
"Further reductions in GST revenue are almost certain as a result of the economic impacts of the unprecedented bushfire season and the evolving coronavirus pandemic," he said.
"Now is not the time for the Commonwealth to fundamentally change the GST distribution process and cut financial support to the majority of states and territories as we respond to the spread of coronavirus."
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