The ACT government will offer rate rebates to all Canberra homeowners and tax relief for small businesses as part of a $137 million package designed to deliver rapid-fire stimulus to an economy bracing for a major coronavirus-induced downturn.
Government fees and charges, including car registration and public transport ticket prices, will be also be frozen in the first stage of Chief Minister Andrew Barr's plan to steer the economy through the "once-in-a-century crisis".
Mr Barr will unveil the stimulus package on Friday, which he hopes will save jobs and deliver immediate relief to individuals and sectors most severely affected by measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.
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Speaking to The Canberra Times ahead of the announcement, Mr Barr said the economic and social challenge confronting the territory and the nation could not be overstated.
"This is this generation's equivalent of the Second World War, this is war-time stuff," Mr Barr said.
"This is a once-in-a century event and I hope none of us ever have to experience this again in our lifetime."
Mr Barr said the first stage of the package focused on delivering the quickest and simplest form support to those most in need.
He said a rebate would be paid to all residential ratepayers in the ACT. The rebate amount, which he didn't disclose, would be the same for all homeowners, meaning it would deliver a greater benefit for low-income earners.
Public and community housing tenants will receive extra help paying power bills, while non-government organisations such as Foodbank and Lifeline will receive help to meet heightened demand for their services.
The government expects more Canberrans will lose their jobs and fall into poverty, which will put an increased strain on the welfare system. The one saving grace is that the territory enters the global crisis with the nation's lowest unemployment rate.
The package includes $20 million to fast-track small-scale projects, including repair and maintenance work at schools.
An extra 10 staff have been seconded to the ACT Planning and Land Authority to speed up the assessment of applications for small projects. Arts grants will also be brought forward, offering much-needed financial support to an industry in the grip of a crisis.
Business groups and the opposition have been calling on the ACT government to include some form of tax relief in the package, amid growing fears increasingly restrictive "social distancing" measures will spark a wave of mass closures and job losses.
Mr Barr said measures targeting commercial rates and payroll tax were included in the package, although he wouldn't disclose exactly what they were or how much they would cost.
He stressed the measures would be directed towards the sectors which needed them most, namely tourism, hospitality and events.
As of Thursday, the ACT was only state or territory yet to announce an economic stimulus package to support their jurisdiction through the coronavirus pandemic.
Opposition leader Alistair Coe said the lack of action was creating more uncertainty for businesses.
"As both a state government and council, the ACT is in a very unique position to act," he said.
"Now is the time for Canberrans to support their local employers and the ACT government has a very important role in demonstrating leadership. Now more than ever, local employers and their employees need the government to act."
Mr Barr brushed off accusations the government had been slow to respond.
"We took the time to consult with dozens of industry groups and individuals over the last 24 hours," he said.
"This is the fastest delivered stimulus package ever, in light of how quickly this has escalated."
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