Chief Minister Andrew Barr has blamed the federal government for the number of Canberrans living in poverty, as he called for planned cuts to the JobSeeker payment to be abandoned.
Support for Canberra's most underprivileged was at the forefront of political debate on Monday after Liberal leader Alistair Coe announced plans to set up a taskforce to examine poverty in the nation's capital if elected in October.
Mr Coe said the taskforce would inquire into the cause and scale of the problem, amid fears the coronavirus pandemic had seen the number of Canberrans living below the poverty line swell beyond the almost 30,000 reported last year.
The Opposition Leader cited the capital's high housing and rental prices, coupled with cost of living, as the main causes of the problem, as he accused the long-serving Labor government of betraying Canberra's poor.
The proposed commission has the support of the ACT Council of Social Service, which said the capital's high average wages masked a "persistent poverty experienced by many Canberrans".
Mr Coe didn't outline strategies to tackle poverty beyond establishing the commission, but indicated the Liberals would make further policy announcements ahead of October's ACT election.
Mr Barr, who has been in cabinet since 2006 and leads a party which has governed in the ACT for almost 20 years, refused to accept blame.
He said Canberrans had been pushed into poverty because the federal government's old Newstart payment - which was set at $40 per day - was "insufficient".
Newstart was rebranded as JobSeeker and boosted through a $550 fortnightly supplement as the coronvirus pandemic took hold in Australia in late March. The supplement will be reduced to $250 a fortnight from September 25 until the end of the year.
Mr Barr has joined a chorus of advocates calling for the planned JobSeeker cut to be abandoned, pointing to new ANU research which found the payment boost had prevented more than 2.2 million falling into poverty during the pandemic.
The planned cut is scheduled for debate in federal Parliament later this week.
"We don't need a taskforce," Mr Barr said of Mr Coe's proposal.
"We need action. We know exactly what the actions are, and that is to raise people's income."
The Labor leader said the ACT government still had a significant role to play in addressing poverty, principally through creating jobs and building public housing. Mr Barr's recently announced $4.9 billion economic recovery plan includes investment in both of those areas.
"There is nothing more effective to get people out of poverty than a secure job, nothing more effective than that," Mr Barr said.
Mr Barr also rolled out a new line of attack against the Liberals' proposed residential rate freeze, describing it as a "tax cut to the richest Canberrans".
His argument was that homeowners who pay the highest residential rates would the save the most money, in absolute terms, if bills were frozen. The loss of revenue would leave less money to spend on support for the poorest Canberrans, he said.
In response, a Liberals spokeswoman said only Mr Coe's team would reduce financial pressure on Canberra families.
"Labor's track record on increasing taxes and driving struggling Canberra families into financial stress is clear for everyone to see," she said.
"Labor has indiscriminately gouged hardworking, everyday Canberrans with ever increasing taxes but has very little to show for it."