Consider these scenarios: first looking at Alice Springs – lots …

Comment on Town gets a say in its economic future as $2b cut hits home by Alex Nelson.

Consider these scenarios: first looking at Alice Springs – lots of empty shops, a struggling tourism industry (nothwithstanding hopeful indications to the contrary), rampant crime and chronic youth justice problems, the loss of an urban electorate in favour of a new one in the Top End, and the town’s tallest building under construction.
At the Territory level – Darwin’s scene much the same as Alice Springs except it’s even worse in several respects: There’s a large capital works project under construction in Darwin, a new pipeline linked to the Amadeus to Darwin gas pipeline is on the verge of construction, Shane Stone is the president of the CLP, and the Chief Minister (the Member for Fannie Bay) has led his party to a remarkable election victory.
On the national scene: A slowing economy, a rising budget deficit, record levels of personal indebtedness, unemployment trending upwards, a crisis in housing affordability, energy distribution posing serious problems for the manufacturing industry, an unstable Federal Government returned to office with the smallest majority since 1961.
Sounds very familiar but I’m actually referring to the situation that existed in 1990.
There are a few twists compared to the current scene, for example the Federal Government was Labor under PM Bob Hawke (we’ve just passed the 27th anniversary of Labor’s wafer-thin election victory) and the NT Government was CLP led by CM Marshall Perron.
The biggest twist is that in the lead-up to the NT election campaign of October 1990 the CLP government had been wracked with controversy for several years and by early 1990 was set for electoral defeat for the first time.
Instead, in an astonishing turnaround, the CLP was comfortably returned to office with an increased majority (a situation that has never been properly analysed and also had profound consequences for national politics – but that’s another story).
However, what’s not different to now was the budgetary situation confronting the returned Perron Government with severe cutbacks of Federal funding for the NT.
Shortly after the NT elections of October 1990 the NT Government responded to the worsening economic situation by establishing an Expenditure Review Committee, headed by Treasurer Barry Coulter. The ERC’s decisions were released in April 1991, announcing widespread cutbacks in government expenditure and the slashing of 1,220 positions in the NT public service.
This coincided with the onset of a national economic recession, which as contemporary history now shows was the last occasion this has occurred in Australia.
It was also in April 1991 that Alice Springs’s tallest building, the four-storey Territory Motor Inn, was officially opened to great fanfare for the tourism industry.
Simultaneously, Magellan Petroleum announced that natural gas reserves in Central Australia “were more than adequate to supply another market on top of long-term requirements in the NT.
“Negotiations were continuing to pipe the Central Australian gas through the national grid to Adelaide and Sydney and to supply gas to MIM operations in Mount Isa.
“Plans are being completed to pipe gas from Katherine to Nabalco operations in Nhulunbuy”.
A few months later the owners of the Territory Motor Inn went into receivership and of course the gas pipeline developments never proceeded.
So what of the present? Well, NT Treasurer Nicole Manison will be announcing her first NT Budget in May, which undoubtedly will be heavily revised in light of the $2b cuts in GST revenue announced for the next four years.
Coincidentally (perhaps) the new NT Supreme Court building in Parsons Street, the tallest building in Alice Springs, is scheduled to officially open about the same time … and as for the new pipeline from Tennant Creek to Mt Isa – well, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Given the uncanny parallels between 1990-91 and current conditions, there should be no surprise if Australia soon enters into its next major economic recession for the first time in over a quarter of a century.
Incidentally, one of the biggest casualties of the “recession we had to have” in 1991 was PM Bob Hawke, who was replaced by former Treasurer Paul Keating late that year. Will history repeat with the current Federal Government?
Forewarned is forearmed.

Recent Comments by Alex Nelson

Human rights, centre stage
LongTermAlice (Posted December 14, 2018 at 9:27 am): My sentiments exactly. Congratulations to all award winners.


Former gallery advisor scathing about its planners
What’s the betting that old sign is going to do a rapid vanishing act?
Perhaps I should nominate it for heritage listing, pronto!


1 Territory too fixed on opposition to fracking: Lambley
@ John Bell (Posted December 3, 2018 at 2:49 pm): I don’t agree with you this time, John.
Here’s part of a comment I’ve made on another media website: “A lot of food for thought from this post. My earliest recollections of politics dates from the dying days of the McMahon Government which, ironically perhaps, was a time of great progress and optimism in the Northern Territory. It capped a time of extraordinary economic and population growth in the NT from the late 1960s onwards (when McMahon was the federal Treasurer), notwithstanding the contemporary mythology now of several decades standing (justifying NT Self-government) that this was the “bad old days” of Commonwealth control and mismanagement”.
@ Edan Baxter (Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:05 am): I have a quote for you, too: “As you say, the agreement made on 7 December 1907 between the Commonwealth and South Australia for the surrender of the Northern Territory to the Commonwealth is still in force” (Letter from NT Attorney-General, Daryl W. Manzie, 26 May, 1992). This still remains the case.
Incidentally, it was this letter from Daryl Manzie that first triggered my interest in Territory history; and what I realised after some time back then is that all is not well with the legal basis of self-government of the NT.
Hence my allusion to section 44 of the Australian Constitution and pointing out the Statute of Limitations does not apply to constitutional law in a recent comment: http://www.alicespringsnews.com.au/2018/11/20/code-of-conduct-allegations-vexatious-frivolous-councillor/#comment-1802265


Happy Birthday, Auntie, and good luck for the next 70.
The ABC ranks along with the CSIRO as the two great Commonwealth institutions of Australia, both of which have made immense contributions and are amongst our nation’s most important assets.
These two organisations set bench marks against which all else in their respective fields are compared.
It is good to know that at least one of these organisations continues to flourish in Alice Springs.


1 Territory too fixed on opposition to fracking: Lambley
@ John Bell (Posted December 2, 2018 at 11:13 pm): Entirely agree with you, John, except for your final sentence. It’s an old line that the NT’s “exceptional” circumstances of population and geography justify self-government.
After 40 years there is more than abundant evidence demonstrating that the criticisms you direct at the ACT apply equally well to the NT.


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