Lunch with the Chief Minister

Half way into its four year term, the ACT Government has set an ambitious agenda with unprecedented investment in infrastructure projects that will change the shape of Canberra. But how will the ACT Government fund these visionary projects in a constrained economy?

Speaking to a packed room of Property Council members at Hyatt Hotel Canberra this month, ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher acknowledged the importance of major projects to boost confidence and employment in the Capital.

“Equally important, however, are the long term dividends of infrastructure and urban renewal which shape the city’s future and preserve one of our greatest advantages – Canberra’s unparalleled liveability,” she said.

Despite some challenging times ahead, the Chief Minister remains optimistic about Canberra’s future.  She pointed to the latest labour force figures, which reveal that Canberra has the lowest unemployment rate of 3.7 per cent – 2.2 per cent lower than the national average.  We also have the second highest participation rate of 70.9 per cent.

While we are seeing some impacts from the Commonwealth Government’s cutbacks, with population growth subdued and employment growth flattening out, there are other signs which give the ACT Government strong cause for optimism: a strong investment outlook in residential construction; a modest 4.6 per cent increase in housing values year-on-year; and steady residential building approvals.

The number of projects in design or delivery stage is unparalleled.  The ACT Government has committed to $2.5 billion in infrastructure investment, which will bring new large-scale projects online as construction concludes on major projects which have driven activity in the past few years – primarily the Canberra Airport, Cotter Dam and Majura Parkway projects.

The $42 million upgrade to Constitution Avenue between Vernon Circle and Anzac Parade, for instance, will provide major public transport, infrastructure and landscape improvements. 

The $21.3 million allocated in the budget for Capital Metro will complete design and planning stages and place the ACT Government in an “investment-ready position” by the end of the year.

And what the Chief Minister calls “one the largest and most prestigious urban renewal projects in Australia” – the City to the Lake – is in planning phase, with the construction of a new waterway expected to be in delivery mode by 2016.

The Chief Minister told the audience that the ACT Government is “confident in its choice to invest strategically and shape the future” and is prepared to borrow money to finance “high quality, productive infrastructure projects which generate jobs and deliver positive outcomes for the city and the people who live here.”

The Property Council applauds the ACT Government’s fresh vision for Canberra’s future – and welcomes the appointment of many talented people to drive these transformative projects.  Industry is ready to champion this vision - but we need to see costings, budgets and funding models to see what is truly possible.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia