Growth is the key
THIS week I said the budget set the Northern Territory on a path to insolvency.
To hear that the Northern Territory will be saddled with a $4.5 billion net debt (in 2018-19) is unprecedented. This is not a budget, it’s a complete and utter blow out.
Even more so, $7.5 billion net debt by 2021-22 is frightening. Frightening for Territorians here now, for future generations lumped with the decades of debt to deal with. It’ll mean future generations miss out, are further disadvantaged and pay the price for reckless and foolhardy spending by Labor in budgets such as this. By 2021-22 Territorians will be paying an interest bill to the tune of $1.4 million a day.
The monopoly money mindset has to stop.
This year’s budget should have been responsible and results driven. The natural progression to the winding down phase of Ichthys LNG plant, the challenging economic climate and the steady decrease in NT population did not just occur overnight. A good government would be planning and acting accordingly.
Instead, the Territory economy has moved from good to bad, and bad to worse. This budget should have focused on the urgency of the challenge and actions required to dig us out of a deepening and widening debt hole.
At the heart of this is people. Put simply, we don’t have enough of them in the Territory. We can’t sustainably grow our population without an attractive environment for private sector investment. The young women that the govern- ment is targeting won’t be keen to move here without a job, a safe community in which to live and fair costs of living.
The NT should be the home of world class opportunity.
Instead, the proposed hybrid mining tax, a world’s first and world’s worst, puts more than $5 billion worth of investment into the Territory at stake. That could be the difference between an influx of new Territorians and an ongoing decrease in population. I’d prefer to keep taxes down to lift the economy, and opportunity, up.
Opportunity and assistance should also exist for local businesses, the ones who are already employing locals and have done it tough over the last two years. We can’t afford to see another vacant shop space or family leaving town because they couldn’t afford to keep the doors open. The payroll tax incentives announced this week should be helping them too.
The old adage “you’ve got to spend money to make money” rings true, but that is not the scapegoat for this bloated bottom line in red pen that this week’s budget delivered.
Smart spending, on infrastructure that creates jobs for Territorians, facilities that we need (not want) and betters our Territory should be the focus. A staged approach to the undergrounding of powerlines is a good example. As are roads and bridges that enable access for our primary industries sector, remote and regional communities (who can be cut off for months at a time) and tourists visiting.
Roads are enablers to education and health services and an employment opportunity for Territorians, but instead, the budget showed very limited new works spending.
Despite commentary to the contrary, the Opposition does not support the cutting of any frontline positions.
Not one nurse, teacher or police officer located anywhere in the Territory should feel the brunt of the budget cuts the Territory needs to have. This is a not negotiable. Frontline Territorians provide vital services, protection and support across all corners of the Territory. They should have access to the best training, equipment and facilities to do their jobs. They should want to stay in the Territory, to put down their roots and raise their families here.
Instead, I support a review of the seemingly increasing level of managerial positions in the public service that have increased well and truly beyond the population growth rates of the Territory.
As reported in The Australian this week, approximately half of the Territory’s average annual expenditure growth is made up of public sector staffing costs. And rather than blaming the federal government, Labor should instead be looking to work alongside the Coalition for the betterment of all Territorians. I do not support Territorians losing one cent of federal funding or any decrease to dollars received from GST distribution. One cent less of income is one cent too much but, despite the Treasurer’s misleading commentary in relation to socalled “sudden” and billion dollar cuts, the actual figure is $184.4 million since 2015-16.
The $259.6 million ‘top up’ received some weeks ago and announced in Alice Springs by the federal Treasurer has lessened the burden. Looking beyond cash splashes, I’d like to see opportunities explored like tax breaks and incentives for private sector investment and long term, sustainable plans to welcome new people to the Territory, which could, for example, include a freezing of HECS debts for graduates to start their careers in the Territory instead. These are the conversations Labor should be having with Canberra.
And looking to our north, engaging with our Asian neighbours is an opportunity we should be pursuing with great vigour.
Gary Higgins is the leader of the Territory Opposition.