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).
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.
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.