By ERWIN CHLANDA
CLP Senator Sam McMahon says the way to rein in the Territory’s massive debt may need to be a cut to funding because to just keep increasing it “is never going to make them responsible”.
Asked who would need to pick up the tab if the NT went bankrupt the Senator said: “Ultimately the responsibility lies with the Federal Government. I would certainly hope there are a lot of steps before that happens.”
And those steps, in her view, need to be the development of the Territory’s rich mineral, oil and gas resources.
This is in line with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s demand for development of the massive gas reserves in the NT’s Beetaloo basin.
And so it appears that Territory Labor, which in the 2016 election touted itself as the party opposed to fracking, now will need to rely on the controversial industry to get out of the fiscal fiasco it has created.
Senator McMahon says: “It’s a huge debt to the Territory. It seems to be spiralling out of control more and more every day.
“This government seems absolutely powerless to do anything about it.
“There is no current appetite from the Federal Government to step in and take over or indeed to pay off the debt.
“What we would very much like the NT Government to do is to step up and take responsibility for it and do something about it, about getting the economy back on track, so we can pull up the accumulating debt and start paying it off.”
NEWS: What if that is not happening?
McMAHON: It has to happen eventually. We can’t sustain this level of debt increasing. Some hard decisions have to be made by the NT Government. And if the NT Government isn’t making those decisions, if it isn’t behaving responsibly in a fiscal way, then the Federal Government should start cracking down on them, should start making some demands of them.
NEWS: What sort of demands?
McMAHON: What I would personally like to see is to get them to fast-track and expedite some projects in the mining, oil, gas and manufacturing fields. There is a lot of opportunity there. We don’t have any sort of industry in the Northern Territory at all. We rely fairly heavily on agriculture, and a bit on tourism, but that’s a fickle thing, not particularly reliable.
NEWS: What are the options then for the Feds if the resource opportunities are not exploited by the NT Government?
McMAHON: Cut funding. Just increasing funding to the NT Government is never going to make them responsible.
NEWS: The situation seems to be that a state, and the Territory isn’t even a state, can go broke. The Federal Government can’t because they print the money. But if the NT becomes bankrupt, on whose door will the lending banks be knocking?
McMAHON: That’s not something that we’ve ever seen happen. If the NT was to go bankrupt then, yes, ultimately the responsibility lies with the Federal Government. I would certainly hope there are a lot of steps before that happens.
Image from Falcon Oil & Gas which, according to its website, holds a 30% interest in three exploration permits covering the most prospective core area of the Beetaloo Sub-basin. Inset: Senator McMahon.