By ERWIN CHLANDA
“This is an election year budget, just when we needed fiscal responsibility,” says Rolf Gerritsen (pictured), Professorial Research Fellow at the Northern Institute.
“The family jewels – TIO, Darwin Port, and so on – have been sold but pitifully little has been saved.
“Most of the proceeds are in election sweeteners. The next government is going to face a deficit close to $1b, not $800m,” says Prof Gerritsen.
“Deficits are a problem for the NT in the way they are not for the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth – though neither party will tell you this – can reduce its deficit by simply allowing bracket creep to solve the problem, at least in off-election years.
“The Territory is locked into the GST disbursement being its main source of revenue, usually between 60% and 65%.
“That is a counter-cyclical tax. At a time when metropolitan Australians are not spending the GST receipts are flat and the deficit goes up, irrespective of additional recurrent expenditure.
“Additionally, the disbursement is affected by our decline in the relativities disadvantage measures because more people in the eastern metropolises are identifying as Indigenous.
“This factor also reduces our share of specific purpose grants addressing Indigenous disadvantage.
“We are in deep trouble and 2017 will be worse,” says Prof Gerritsen.
Meanwhile the NT Budget 2017-17 has committed an additional $10m for the Department of Children and Families to address the growing demand for Out of Home Care services in the Northern Territory,” says Minister for Children and Families, John Elferink (at right).
“It is a harsh reality that the number of Territory children on Protection Orders has grown by an average of 11% per year over the past five years and in 2015-16, the number of children on care and protection orders has reached over 1,000 for the very first time.
“It is the experience of trauma and neglect that sadly results in children finding themselves in the Child Protection Out of Home Care system.”
A whopping $768m has been allocated “to reduce crime, support police and emergency services, strengthen law and order, and protect vulnerable Territorians,” says Chief Minister and Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Adam Giles (pictured).
• $149m through a five-year agreement with St John Ambulance that will see St John deliver about 55 additional staff and equipment.
• $7m to support domestic violence prevention initiatives as part of the Domestic and Family Violence Reduction Strategy.
• $4m over two years to continue and expand the electronic monitoring program for offenders.
• $2m for upgrades at the Alice Springs Correctional Centre.
Mr Giles also says $500,000 has been allocated to examine the feasibility of the Northern Territory making fuel from onshore gas.
“We see potential from turning that gas into a synthetic diesel that’s cleaner and greener than diesel that’s currently burned in our cars and in our power stations out bush.
“If we can make our own fuel for those generators and cars in the Northern Territory we can get cleaner-burning fuel which helps our environment.”
Currently, the NT imports 630 million liters of diesel per year, which equates to 10,856 barrels per day.
“A gas-to-liquid processing facility could feasibly be located at Tennant Creek, in partnership with the gas pipeline and a processing facility, in Alice Springs or in Darwin at East Arm,” Mr Giles said.
Meanwhile Naomi Hogan (at right), of the Lock the Gate Alliance, says this Budget spends $6m on gas industry grants and accelerated assessment of the Territory’s shale gas.
“Have Territory residents been consulted on whether they want to prop up the uncommercial and polluting onshore shale gas industry? If the onshore gas fracking industry is so viable, why can’t they spend their own money on gas exploration and assessment?”
Jimmy Cocking (at left), director of the Arid Lands Environment Centre, says the government “has demonstrated it is operating in a gas-fired echo chamber with no new investment into climate action or protecting the environment in the budget delivered yesterday.
“It’s totally astounding that in 2016, when world leaders have agreed to try and limit global temperature rise to two degrees, there is no mention of climate in the NT budget, no investment into renewable energy and no further investment into ensuring the health of our environment.”
This Budget continues the trend of dramatic under-investment in public education, says the Australian Education Union, NT Branch.
“Overall spending on government education has actually fallen from $701 million in the 2013 financial year to $697 million in this budget.
“The government is projected to spend less on public schools in the coming year than it did four years ago.
“Far from championing public education, the Giles Government has dramatically cut the education workforce, with more than 500 staff slashed since the government came to power in 2012.”
By contrast, Neilia Ginnane (pictured at left), of the Housing Industry Association, the voice of the residential building industry, welcomed stamp duty discounts and the home improvement scheme.
Robyn Lambley (pictured at right), Independent Member for Araluen, says what’s missing from the Budget is a new bridge across the river giving all weather access from the Golf Course estate to the CBD; a complete upgrading of the Todd Mall and CBD “which has been promised for over 10 years;” a rail overpass at the Larapinta / Stuart Highway intersection; and an upgrading of the old Flynn Drive Community Health Centre.
But she said: “I do applaud the government for allocating funds to the establishment of a Smart Grid trial to reduce energy consumption for households and businesses.”
By ERWIN CHLANDA