A four-year $4 billion infrastructure spending blitz is the centrepiece of the Barr government's plan to rebuild the ACT from the once-in-a-century economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr published a road map for Canberra's coronavirus economic recovery on Thursday morning, before releasing a budget update which laid bare the financial carnage of the pandemic.
The ACT was forecast to fall more than $900 million into the red this financial year, with debt predicted to climb to beyond $4.7 billion.
Mr Barr's near $5 billion recovery plan has already attracted criticism from peak bodies, with the ACT Council of Social Services saying it was "dismayed" at the lack of funding allocated for community organisations.
The Master Builders Association of the ACT said the planned stimulus wasn't enough to support the sector, which has lost more than 1000 jobs during the crisis. The lobby group also expressed doubts over the Barr government's capacity to spend the promised amount, saying it had repeatedly failed to do so in recent years.
Declaring the initial pandemic response a success, Mr Barr on Thursday said the next wave of economic support needed to be bigger and bolder as the government looked to reach its employment target of 250,000 by 2025.
The ACT lost about 10,500 jobs during the coronavirus shutdown in April and May. About 5600 jobs had been since been recovered amid a slow reopening of Canberra's economy.
The government wants to support the industries worst affected by the crisis, such as hospitality, retail and construction, while helping to drive employment in the high-tech sectors.
With just over 50 days until the ACT election, the 31-page plan doubles as an election pitch, setting out what Canberra's economic recovery would look like under a returned Labor government.
The document details the next phase of Labor's tax reform program, which will see commercial and residential rates rise at an average of 3.75 per cent each year. It also signals an intention to cut red tape for businesses and streamline aspects of the planning system.
The $4.9 billion plan leans heavily on infrastructure spending, with $4 billion to be invested in health, transport, schools, tertiary education and housing projects in the next four years.
However, the plan doesn't include any major new projects, with the lion's share of the spending allocated to items which have been on the Barr government's infrastructure agenda for a number of years.
A total of $1 billion has been allocated to transport projects, including $335 million toward the design and construction of light rail's second stage. The Canberra Hospital upgrade is part of a $900 million investment in health, while $400 million will be spent upgrading existing schools or building new campuses.
Up to $300 million has been budgeted to build Woden's new CIT and transport interchange, while $200 million would be spent on social, community and sporting infrastructure - although there was no specific reference to money for a long-awaited new sports stadium.
It was unclear if the projects would be delivered within the four years, or just that work would start and money would be invested in that period.
Mr Barr foreshadowed the "very ambitious" stimulus package late last week after Reserve Bank governor Phillip Lowe urged the states and territories to spend a combined $40 billion in the next two years to support Australia's economic bounce back.
The ACT was last week singled out by Prime Minister Scott Morrison for spending just 1.3 per cent of economic output throughout its pandemic response - the lowest rate in the nation.
The near $5 billion program to be unveiled on Thursday would lift the ACT's rate of spending to about 3 per cent of gross state product.
Master Builders Association of the ACT chief executive Michael Hopkins said it was wary of the government's announcements, pointing to figures which showed it had spent an average of 23 per cent less than it had promised in each of the past four financial years.
"Regardless of the level of infrastructure spending promised each year, the ACT Government has historically been unable to deliver more than $600 million of infrastructure spending," he said.
Mr Hopkins called for a detailed list of which projects would be put out to tender in the next three, six and 12 months to provide some certainty for local contractors.
The remaining $900 million component of the stimulus program includes $200 million to support the ACT's health system, $130 million in economic development grants and $105 million for business tax relief.
It also includes $23 million to community programs, which represents less than 0.5 per cent of the total package.
ACT Council of Social Services chief executive Emma Campbell lashed the government for the "minuscule" contribution to a sector which has been so heavily relied upon during the health and economic crisis.
"The community services sector has done incredible work during the pandemic and economic crisis, responding to an increase in new clients accessing services and increased need from existing clients," Ms Campbell said.
"And yet the ACT government has today responded to the tireless work of the sector with a miniscule share of the overall funding for this plan.
"How can the chief minister ask our community to 'display resilience and agility' when he is not providing adequate funding to the sector that supports Canberrans through services in housing and homelessness, mental health, ageing and aged care, food assistance, social connection, education and childcare, disability, drug and alcohol services, and support for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people?"
Opposition leader Alistair Coe said the recovery plan was a package of "re-announcements dressed up as a vision".
"Some things like the Canberra Hospital upgrade that have been on the cards for a decade and still won't be delivered for years to come, if at all, under ACT Labor," Mr Coe said.
As the Chief Minister signaled earlier this week, the government will target job-creation in predominantly high-tech industries, including cyber security, defence and space. Renewable energy and creative industries have also been identified as critical to supporting Canberra's economic recovery.
But while the plan details the various government programs and initiatives currently supporting these sectors, it does not outline specific new measures for creating jobs.