Article – The NT must cash in on its good fortune

13 May 2014
Neda Vanovac
The Australian

THE Northern Territory is Australia’s land of plenty and its good fortune can not be taken for granted or squandered, says Treasurer Dave Tollner.

His second budget, worth $6 billion, is short on dramatic cuts, instead making many small nips across government in an attempt to reduce the $723 million deficit to $39 million – or perhaps even bring the budget back to surplus – by 2017-18.
The government is keen to position the Territory as the driver of development in northern Australia, pointing to its large gas reserves and capacity to meet the growing global demand for food.
The Territory economy is outpacing the national economy’s growth due to private investment in the INPEX Ichthys LNG project, mine expansions and oilfield developments, and economic growth is expected to reach six per cent next year.
But this budget doesn’t offer indigenous people much, said Palmer United Party member Alison Anderson.
Most money for the bush is rolled up in national partnership agreements, rather than being funded by the NT, she said.
“They talk about economic development but there’s no inclusiveness of indigenous economic development in their plan for the future of the north”, she told AAP.
“It sends the message that they don’t care about the bush,” she said.
But Mr Tollner rejected this: “If we are ever going to realise the dream of a developed north Australia, we cannot just focus on (urban) areas.”
The Territory is fundamentally driven by products from the bush such as tourism, mining, agriculture, and gas exploration, he said, and money was being funnelled into roads and infrastructure, and into regional and remote schools.
“We need to diversify the economy; we’re trying to get rid of the boom and bust cycle,” he said.
But the high cost of living is still an obstacle, said Opposition Leader Delia Lawrie.
“There’s too much pain on Territorians right now,” she said.
With taxation revenue expected to increase by $83 million to $568.6 million next year, Ms Lawrie said the current administration “is the highest-taxing government in the Territory’s history”.
Mr Tollner said his budget was a “miracle” for being able to save with so many small efficiency measures, and no jobs or services were cut, save through natural attrition.
Education spending grew from $845 million to $871 million in “the most family-friendly budget ever handed down in the NT”, he said.
Infrastructure spending was down $11 million to $1.14 billion, with $224 for housing and $378 million for roads and national highways.
Health received the biggest slice – $1.35 billion – with $22.8 million to upgrade the overstretched Royal Darwin Hospital, and $28 million to expand the mandatory rehabilitation program for problem drinkers.
The $723 million fiscal deficit is almost double what was forecast last year owing to the late completion of the $521 million Darwin prison.
The delayed project is also partially behind the rise in net debt to $4.1 billion, up from $3.4 billion in last year’s estimate.
It is expected to reach $4.16 billion by 2017-18, which is lower than expected.
Courtesy of The Australian