Federal Budget: Stand on your own two feet, NT!

p2036Kay-EadeBy ERWIN CHLANDA

 

The Federal Budget is a wake-up call for the Territory to stand on its own two feet, says Kay Eade (pictured), CEO the Chamber of Commerce in Alice Springs.

 

As Canberra is reducing its subsidising of welfare in the NT, “we will need to raise more money locally, and exploiting gas reserves appears to be an obvious opportunity,” she says.

 

“With the GST diminishing we need to become more self sustaining. Do we want to be a welfare state forever?”

 

Ms Eade says the funding in the Budget for developing onshore gas is an opportunity that the Territory may need to take advantage of.

 

The new “astronomical” fees to be charged employers of immigrant workers or temporary visa holders will hit hard regional towns such as Alice Springs which rely heavily on staff from overseas.

 

The local hospital – the town’s biggest employer – is an example.

 

She says it is regrettable that there is nothing in the Budget to encourage Australians who are  unemployed to move outside the big cities.

 

“Without immigrants or people on temporary visas the nation’s regional towns will not be able to grow.”

 

Good news in the Budget is the tax relief on investments up to $20,000 for companies turning over less than $1m.

 

On the other hand, “slugging” the big banks may result in higher costs of borrowing which will affect investment and growth, says Ms Eade.

 

There is good news for local government: The Federal Assistance Grants, which had been frozen since 2014, will now again be linked to the Cost Price Index (CPI).

 

p22102-Damien-RyanAlice Springs Mayor Damien Ryan (at right), who is also president of the Local Government Association of the NT (LGANT), says this is a major plus for local government across the nation.

 

Last year Alice Springs received $730,000 under the grants which are untied and are used for community services at the discretion of the respective council.

 

Mayor Ryan says the NT is getting $20.4m for funding of local roads. The share for Central Australia will be determined by the NT Grants Commission.

 

p2142-Jimmy-CockingArid Lands Environment Centre CEO Jimmy Cocking (at left) says “there is very little for Central Australia” in the Budget.

 

He says it’s good to see money for a solar thermal plant in Port Augusta but there is no similar expenditure for Alice Springs.

 

Spending for a second gas pipeline from The Centre, this one from Alice Springs to South Australia, “is not welcome from a perspective of the environment,” he says.

 

Equally, the $6.3b fuel tax credit, which will blow out to $27.1b by 2020, should be stopped to rein in emissions.

 

However, a $15m allocation for Indigenous protected areas could be put to good use.

 

The Budget has revealed it will be left up to the Territory Government to do the heavy lifting to get our economy back on track, says Chief Minister Michael Gunner.

 

It is “a test of whether or not Canberra is serious about Developing the North and Closing the Gap – it failed that test.

 

“There’s little in the budget except a small national increase in health and education funding.”

 

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights organisation ANTaR says the Federal government has failed to prioritise the health and wellbeing of the nation’s First Peoples.

 

“In February of this year the Prime Minister reported that only one of the six targets that have been set for closing the gap is on track, and those targets don’t go near representing all of the social and economic issues that need addressing,” says ANTaR director Andrew Meehan.

 

“The government is failing to adequately address the disadvantage experienced by the nation’s First Peoples, failing to inject any sense of urgency in turning around these issues, and failing to adequately listen to, and work with First Peoples,” he said.

 

Mr Meehan noted that the Prime Minister had recognised the need for the government to lift their game in saying that “… at a national level, progress needs to accelerate”, but he questioned that there’s any real commitment to do that in a significant way.

 

“That government needs listen to and work with First Peoples to accelerate progress is unquestionable, but nowhere is the urgency to do that evident in this Budget.”

 

“If the government can afford to build a dozen multi-billion dollar submarines, or give tax cuts to corporations, it can afford to address the wellbeing of just 3% of the population, and the First Peoples of the land,” says Mr Meehan.

 

He calls for restoration of previous funding levels to the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, funding the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing and education organisations, sufficient funding for the Implementation Plan for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023, funding of “a long-term National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social and Cultural Determinants of Health Strategy,” of a national Inquiry into institutional racism in the health system, more money for for Aboriginal Family Violence Protection Legal Services, and address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the child protection system.

 

Tourism Central Australia CEO Stephen Schwer is travelling. We have asked for a comment.

 

 

 

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3 Comments (starting with the most recent)

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  1. Careful with that $, Eugene
    Posted May 14, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    It’s all very well for people to bleat that the NT “has to stand on its own two feet”, but the NT simply doesn’t have anywhere remotely close to the private investment capital or the amount of reliable government revenue income needed to do so.
    The relatively piddling amounts of gas royalties (predicted to be only $20 million per year at the most generous estimate, in a decade or two after a decision to begin widespread fracking), and a small growth in income from payroll tax that would start to accrue from an expansion of fracking, wouldn’t pay for much infrastructure.
    Nor would fracking royalties begin to clock in in time to do what’s needed now.
    Another alternative would be to divert funds away from NTG investment in education, health, shelter and other desperately needed community services, thus descending further into Indigenous disadvantage and further widening the gap, with consequent higher Aboriginal death and disease rates, lower life expectancy, lower education attainments and worse poverty.
    The logical consequences of this would also be higher crime and prison costs, the need for even more investment in police, courts and prisons, and a descent further into hell for the NT’s future.
    We need to remember that the NT would not have more than a small fraction of its present tourism infrastructure if it wasn’t for previous government investment in building Alice Springs, Yulara, Uluru, Kakadu, Darwin and the Stuart, Barkly, Victoria River and Lasseter Highways and roads like the Mereenie Loop.
    There would be no Convention Centres, Casinos, Double Trees, RFDS or Desert Park without the government investment, loans, subsidies and guarantees for these projects.
    There is unlikely to be any top rate tourist lodges built in the West and East Macdonnells, or other major new tourist attractions, without similar government support, as there is no sign of the big private money (come on down, Sitzler brothers!) investing in such projects of their own volition.
    Therefore Gunner is correct: Like Porky Everingham in the past, we have to look to the Feds and the Commonwealth Grants Commission to underwrite our infrastructure expansion at a much higher level, if the Territory is going to have any chance of growing the local economy.

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  2. Backpackers and Tourism
    Posted May 11, 2017 at 8:40 am

    Backpackers will fill job vacancies, if visa rules allow. Tourism is the growth / income answer. Airbnb will sell NT tours if airfares were reasonable and constant.

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  3. Mark Wilson
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    So Arid Lands Environment Centre Jimmy Cocking says “there is very little for Central Australia” in the Budget. Have we come to expect, and demand, special treatment every year?
    Does Cocking realise that every year the NT receives $5.66 in GST receipts for every dollar of GST raised here?
    By comparison WA receives under 38c for each dollar of GST revenue. VIC is next worse off receiving 88c for each dollar with NSW just below parity (2014/15).
    So the NT and indeed Central Australia could be very much the poorer every year should the Commonwealth Grants Commission reassess the GST carve-up.
    So perhaps we and the NTG should just be grateful while it lasts.
    Perhaps this year it’s Port Augusta’s turn! Given that SA has led the way with a renewable future and found their power grid in some crisis, I would expect environmentalists to be very happy given that Port Augusta has closed its thermal power station.
    You cannot be a winner every year. But then again, we almost certainly are so.

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