By ERWIN CHLANDA
Chief Minister Michael Gunner mounted the podium at the Alice Springs “economic summit” at 2pm on Friday last week and started his speech with the shock-horror announcement that the Feds will be cutting their contribution to the NT by $2b over four years.
He’d just had a call, he told the small crowd, from NT Treasurer Nicole Manison, in Canberra, and she told him the bad news.
In fact I heard the story doing the rounds in the lobby of the Convention Centre that morning, a few hours before.
And Mr Gunner could have worked out the likelihood of the cut a lot earlier, while he was in Opposition for four years until August 12 last year, and any time since.
Relative population figures are the main factors in deciding which state gets how much.
“ABS population statistics 10 years ago and five years ago clearly defined the trends which were applied in its statutory process by the Grants Commission,” he says.
“The interstate outflow of people from the NT and population increases in other states, partly through immigration, led to a foreseeable result.”
In a double whammy, less GST has been collected because it is a “pro-cyclical tax”: in times of a struggling economy people spend less – thus less GST is collected – something else that was no secret.
Prof Gerritsen says whilst the NT can’t do much to increase the national GST it can spend what it gets more judicially: That could include reducing money spent on the public service and diverting funds to infrastructure, which would slow down the exodus of people involved in the construction industry.
“The government could also ban or discourage FIFO so that people working here also live here,” says Prof Gerritsen.
“We need a root and branch review of the NT Government.”
Treasurer Nicole Manison (pictured) did not respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile Mr Gunner said yesterday he met with Federal Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Senator Matt Canavan “to secure the Federal Government’s ongoing commitment to the Northern Territory”.
Mr Gunner says he was confident Minister Canavan would advocate that any projects approved under that the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) would not result in a loss of GST revenue.
“I will deliver what I promised Territorians, and that is to restore trust by creating jobs and implementing our election commitments,” making it clear that the NT can look forward to a lot more debt: “I will not risk the Territory being crippled by cutting investment. That’s why I am imploring Canberra to reaffirm their commitment to Developing the North and Closing the Gap on Indigenous Disadvantage.
“I am also pleased that Minister Canavan has indicated he will work with me to host a Northern Development Ministers’ meeting in Darwin sometime mid-year.”
IMAGE: Professor Rolf Gerritsen in an award-winning portrait by Al Strangeways.