COMMENT: The Treasurer’s too hard basket

COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Tomorrow the new government will release its mini budget. Will the statement by Treasurer Robyn Lambley include the answer to the big question: why does governing the Territory, per head of population, cost five and a half times as much as the national average?

Let’s look at Joe Blow in Adelaide and Fred Nurk in Alice Springs. When Joe gets $1 from Canberra Fred gets $5.50 (both via their respective governments). Both Joe and Fred spend around a quarter of their money on health care. In Joe’s case that is 25c and in Fred’s it is $1.38.

Is Fred five and a half times as sick? Are governments in the rest of Australia five and a half times more efficient? These questions have been asked pretty well since the inception of self government in 1976, during the 26 year reign of Ms Lambley’s party and 11 years of Labor. Both parties are fudging the answers. As soon as they get into power they’re singing from the same song sheet. Will they give up some of that money? No way!

“It costs a motza to build a school in Yuendumu,” says the Government. This line of explanation has been stubbornly adhered to over the decades although some 80% of us live in centres strung along the Stuart Highway, including half in the greater Darwin area. “The money Canberra gives us to fix problems in the bush is spent on a wave pool in Darwin,” says the Opposition. What we need are detailed numbers. What we get is spin.

Despite the flood of money from Canberra, Labor has racked up a debt that has risen to $3.5b in 2012-13.

We’re all used to things being more expensive up here, what with freight and so on. We’ve learned to live with groceries some 15% dearer than in state capitals. But 550% more expensive? That, dear Treasurer, needs a no holds barred analysis and full public disclosure. Is the new government, which is claiming to be open and transparent, committed to such a process? We asked Ms Lambley but got no answer.

Before losing government Labor formulated a budget for 2012-13 of $5.5b (60% from the GST; 20% locally raised; 20% grants from the Feds). Is there not enough slack in that ocean of money to pamper Territorians just a little?

The Government’s biggest headache is the Power and Water Corporation. More than anyone in Australia we are dependent on power and water. Julia Gillard has just announced she wants them to cost less nation-wide. Yet what we in then NT are now getting is a user pays style response which will further discourage people from moving here and locals from staying. Not a great start.

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