By ERWIN CHLANDA
A $2b cut over four years in the Territory’s Federal receipts from the GST, announced by Chief Minister Michael Gunner this afternoon during the economic summit he convened in Alice Springs, added a sense of urgency to the meeting attended by 90.
They had split up into five groups earlier in the day to come up with a roadmap for the future, without producing much that is new, but acknowledging that the Gunner Government is prepared to listen.
However, while the group dealing with renewable energy made it clear that all that is certain in that field is its uncertainty, Mr Gunner said he wanted his steering group to tell him in two months’ time how his 50% renewables target can be achieved by 2030.
Neil McLeod (at left), of the Chamber of Commerce, said it is encouraging that the government is seeking information from the local people, and “there has been a lot of consultation in the background, as well as an online method of putting your views forward”.
Mr Gunner told media “we need a vibrant Todd Street Mall” – a prominent issue in the 2012 town council election.
“We are having lively conversations at the moment … about practical, achievable things to make the mall a better place to visit,” Mr Gunner said today, adding that a public consultation process is needed.
The key to the growth of Alice Springs is investment and jobs, he also said.
Jamie de Brenni, Deputy Mayor and one of the town’s most prominent CLP supporters, has been appointed as the chairman of the newly formed Regional Economic Development Council’s southern branch.
“It’s a start,” he said. “At least we have a platform to work from and continue and elaborate on.”
What will he be aiming for?
“I’m pushing for anything Alice Springs, you know that,” he said to the Alice Springs News Online. “And it’s up to the community. Every person has a say.”
Jimmy Cocking, CEO of the Arid Lands Environment Centre, says the government is “bringing us all together, working in partnership with the business sector.
“The town is saying to the government that it wants to be involved … rather than pointing fingers and blaming previous governments. People feel really optimistic about it.”
Tourism and creative efforts need to be linked, said Scott Lovett, summing up the discussions of one of the five “breakout sessions”.
He said events are major draw cards and tourism needs to be expanded into the shoulder seasons.
Business needs to build support around government services.
The SA concept of industry advocates is worth looking at.
Mr Lovett said we are an “active destination” – mountain biking and the triathlon are examples.
We need to leverage the facilities and organisers of sporting clubs, with the AFL and cricket as targets.
Other drivers are niche products such as food, science and education, with the Alcoota fossil beds as an example.
Consideration should be given to promoting the development of the Stuart Highway “spine” requiring mobil phone coverage and better rest stops.
David Batic says our main goals for “increased visitation, stay and spend” can be pursued using our natural landscape as the main drawcard, followed by cultural experience.
Further private sector investment would be looking for a stable market and confidence. There needs to be a destination management plan.
Greater participation of Indigenous people in the workforce would enhance the cultural experience.
Are we ready for the Chinese market? The Indian? These are some of the questions.
Consultant Martin Glass said the mineral and energy discussion group wants red tape to be reduced, and the process examined how social licence can be obtained, putting an end to several regulators doing much the same job.
That’s why some companies choose to go overseas where approval can be obtained “in half the time, at half the price and twice as much money can be made,” he said.
The resource industry needs to enhance the wealth of the NT and all Territorians, irrespective of their race. Royalties should flow back into the community.
Mr Glass said putting limits on FIFO would be too hard to manage although a policy should be developed.
Existing skills can be honed to suit the mining industry. Although this process takes time, the competent staff needs to be available the moment a project starts, with down-time costing “a million dollars a day”.
FIFO would need to make up for any skill deficit.
It’s better to have a project with FIFO than not to have a project, said Mr Glass. In any case, mining companies locally buy fuel and other needs.
Suzie Hillock from Westpac, Geoff Sloan from National Seniors and Steve Margetic from Sitzler Brothers spoke about social issues, ranging over “livability,” alcohol abuse, the digital economy, internet education and Aboriginal employment by large companies.
Mr Sloan said with a growing number of aged people in the community, “meeting other people’s needs” can turn into a viable business.
The dry climate in The Centre can also be an asset.
Mr Margetic said the digital economy can link together the CDU, Batchelor College and the CRC with other teaching or research institutions elsewhere in Australia and the world over.
Lyndon Frearson, reporting on the renewable energy discussion group, advocated an overarching policy dealing with how we can produce electricity.
Results from many years of development and research have not been documented cohesively and we are repeating the mistakes of the past.
Asked how Mr Gunner’s 50% policy can be achieved, Mr Frearson pointed out the enormous difficulties in forecasting developments.
He said solar costs have dropped an astonishing 95% in 10 years.
The cost of a large solar power station in Queensland dropped 15% in six months.
“Existing business models are changing,” he said. “All we know is things are changing.”
Luke Bowen, former director of the Cattlemen’s Association and now the general manager of the Northern Australia Development Office, said inadequate data are a problem in the agribusiness as well, and so are red tape and onerous regulations.
This makes it had to identify the need for products although a system of pre-approvals could help.
Sections of the industry complement each-other, such as live export and growers of hay feed to stock on the ships.
The future need for staff is another open question: The advent of robots and mechanisation may make unreliable the predictions for the need of human employment pegged to the volume of production.
Co-ordination is increasingly required across state and national borders, for example, as production and transport stretches all the way from South Australia to the NT to China.
UPDATE 2:30pm March 25.
Opposition Leader Gary Higgins says last year he had secured a commitment from the Federal Treasurer not to amend the GST relativities.
“The $2b GST cut is a huge blow to our economy,” he says.
“GST revenues underpin the Territory Budget and a cut of this size has enormous implications.”
By ERWIN CHLANDA