Chief Minister Michael Gunner has praised the Federal Budget’s focus on tax cuts and business subsidies, saying he’s reluctant to complain about public spending that critics — including Darwin’s federal Labor member — say is missing.
Tuesday’s Budget shows the Northern Territory’s share of the evaporating national GST pool, which is its biggest source of revenue, will drop to $2.69 billion this financial year.
But Mr Gunner, who is now Treasurer as well as Chief Minister, said the massive spends on business tax breaks and a new wage subsidy scheme for younger workers would save thousands of local jobs.
He said the Coalition’s plan showed he and Prime Minister Scott Morrison were “on the same page” in their approach to economic recovery.
“We both understand that to repair our budgets over time we have to grow our economy, and our economic recovery must be jobs led,” he said.
Housing and welfare groups and federal Labor member for Solomon Luke Gosling said the Budget lacked support for much-needed social housing and services.
But Mr Gunner said he found it “difficult to complain about this Budget”.
“You can be that kid at Christmas who says, ‘I want one more present’ — I don’t want to be that kid.
“There is a lot in here for the Territory and I just want to get on with the job.”
What’s in it for the NT?
The NT’s share of the GST will fall by around $360 million based on the pre-COVID-19 recommendation of the Commonwealth Grants Commission.
The blow is less severe than the $608 million reduction projected in the NT’s COVID-19 financial report in July, but Mr Gunner said it was still a hit.
“If there is bad news in the Budget, its the GST and we all knew that was coming,” Mr Gunner said.
“There’s no getting around the fact the coronavirus has slashed the GST pool … and given it’s the Territory’s revenue source we can’t avoid the hit.”
Mr Gunner talked up the previously announced expansion of the North Australia Infrastructure Facility and welcomed the $120 million spend on the Carpentaria Highway.
The criticism was left to Labor MP Mr Gosling, who said the GST cut would make the NT’s recovery harder and was dwarfed by the debt the Commonwealth was otherwise prepared to generate.
He said the Budget failed to invest in the services Territorians would need during and after the crisis.
“The crisis showed how important affordable and accessible childcare and early education is for working parents, women, children and our economy, but there is nothing new in this Budget for these families,” he said.
“A missed opportunity is no new grant funding for social housing, which is very much needed in the NT and would be great for jobs and the economy.”
Arts, tourism, public housing left out
Non-government organisations, including Anglicare NT, have called on the Federal Government to extend existing wage and unemployment subsidies beyond their expected cut-off dates.
The Northern Territory’s peak housing and homelessness body said the Budget missed a “golden opportunity” to create jobs, stimulate the construction sector and address homelessness.
Peter McMillan from NT Shelter said if Mr Gunner had found it difficult to complain about the Budget, he hoped the Chief Minister’s own — due later this year — would provide a plan to meet the deficit the Government puts at up to 12,000 homes
“All I can hope from those comments is he believes that his Government has got the issue of housing covered by his own budget over the next five years,” Mr McMillan said.
Danielle Wood, head of the Grattan Institute and president of the Economic Society of Australia, told ABC Radio Darwin a number of struggling sectors had missed out.
“To me, the real missing piece was anything for the sectors that have really taken the biggest hits — hospitality, tourism, the arts, those are the ones that have really felt coronavirus the hardest,” she said.
“And there’s nothing really directly there for those sectors.”
Health gets a boost
One surprise in the Budget was a $51 million funding boost over three years to support Royal Darwin Hospital.
Australian Medical Association NT branch president Dr Robert Parker said he’d been writing to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt for years, campaigning for extra investment.
Dr Parker estimates the Territory is missing out on $80 million a year in Commonwealth funding, but he welcomed the support for RDH.
“We probably wanted more but it’s better than nothing,” he said.
“It’s really good news.”
Dr Parker said the extra money would help ease RDH’s ongoing issues with overcrowding — allowing it to open more beds and hire more staff.
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