Budget Reply: Territorians Deserve Better

8 May 2019

Budget 2019 does nothing to restore business confidence, encourage private sector investment or rein in government spending - the three necessary ingredients needed to fix the worst performing economy in the nation.

Opposition Leader Gary Higgins delivered his Budget in Reply speech this morning, saying Budget 2019 does not get one single Territorian back to work, or bring back those who have left.

"This budget does not grow our population, or give us necessary economic or fiscal reform," Mr Higgins said.

"This is another budget of broken and empty promises. It is little wonder Territorians do not trust this Gunner Labor Government, who say one thing and do another.

"For many years, we have warned that their "unsustainable" budget was reckless and foolhardy and they decided to respond by attacking and blaming the former CLP government."

Mr Higgins said Budget 2019 puts Labor and its expensive social reform first and Territorians last.

"Budget 2019 is the worst budget in the Territory’s history. It has seen the Territory’s Net Debt jump by the biggest amount ever in the Territory’s history," he said.

"A $2 billion increase in Net Debt in just 12 months is simply incompetent and one that can’t be dismissed by saying it is an accounting standard change, which is simply untrue.

"This is even worse than I feared. A million dollars a day to pay the interest on the debt.

"Policy changes, or the government’s social reform experiments have worsened the Territory’s fiscal position by almost $600 million over 12 months."

Mr Higgins said the Gunner Labor Government still needed to show fiscal discipline and rein in the spending, stop the waste, free up business, support a diversified economy and support sustainable infrastructure.

"It’s time to get things done in the Territory," he said.

"The CLP is the only party with the plan and the track record to deliver a diversified economy.

"We will put making money above spending money at the heart of our government."

Among the initiatives outlined by Mr Higgins: a review of payroll tax; a review of alcohol reform measures; scrapping the floor price for alcohol, the MyFuel website, hybrid mining tax and vacant and derelict site property tax; cut nine Ministers to eight and Assistant Ministers and their travel; and abolish Team NT.

"These are just some of our ideas, we have more but in the meantime, if (the government wants) to snaffle our ideas they are quite welcome to. After all, the sooner there’s some REAL action to address budget repair, the better," he said.

"We will invest in a diversified portfolio of infrastructure related projects such as beef and mango roads that generate real wealth and unlock opportunity."



Some examples of Labor’s loose with the truth approach – Labor can’t be trusted



On coming to government, the CLP handed us a budget that was almost $900 million in deficit…

Source: Treasurer’s Budget Speech, 7/5/2019

This is Labor spin. As at 30 June 2016, the budget deficit was $78 million

Source: 2015-16 Treasurer’s Annual Financial Report

A cut of $500 million in annual GST revenue from the Federal Government

Source: Chief Minister media release, 15/4/2019

And we have had to deal with the Federal Government GST reductions of more than $500 million each and every year…

Source: Treasurer’s Budget Speech, 7/5/2019

There has been a net reduction of $102.4 million or about $25 million reduction per year NOT $500 million per year claimed by Labor

Source: Commonwealth Grants Commission update report

While there has been a reduction of GST payments of $263 million over the forward estimates, the Commonwealth has "topped up" the GST by $785 million over the forward estimates. In net terms, the Territory is over $500 million better off thanks to the Commonwealth's investment.

Source: NT Budget 2019 Papers

Mr Gunner maintained that his Government fulfilled its pre-election promise to cut 26 executive-level positions.

Source: ABC Online news story, 15/4/2019

Executive Contract Officers in Administration in the Northern Territory Public Service increased by 19 (479 in Jun 2017 to 498 in Jun 2018)

Source: OCPE State of the Service Report 2017-2018

Nicole Manison: "We are going to introduce more voluntary redundancy packages in the public sector.

"We're going to look at about 100 jobs this year and about another 50 into the forward estimates each year, bringing it up to a total of about 250 jobs there."

Source: ABC Online news story, 20/4/2018

Average December Quarter 2017: 21,008

Average December Quarter 2018: 21,477

Yearly change Dec 17 to Dec 18: +469

Source: OCPE Northern Territory Public Sector Staffing (Full Time Equivalent) – December Quarter 2018

This work will build on the budget repair measures undertaken by the Territory Labor Government since 2017, including $800 million in saving measures

Source: Treasurer media release, 12/12/2018

Total expenses from continuing operations: 2015/16: $5,971,443,000

2017/18: $6,322,101,000 - an increase of $478 million

Source: Treasurer’s Annual Financial Report 2016/17




– Part One –

There are no tough decisions in the Gunner Labor Government plan for budget repair. They are incompetent, lazy and lacking in leadership.

Here are three of the main points of the plan and why they are questionable.

Public Service cuts

In April 2018 the Treasurer claimed 250 jobs would be lost through voluntary redundancies.

In December 2018 there were 469 more public servants in the Northern Territory government than there were in December 2017. And further the government increased staff numbers by 903 from when they came to government in 2016 to December 2018. (Source: OCPE Northern Territory Public Sector Staffing (Full Time Equivalent) – December Quarter 2018)

CONCLUSION: Labor cannot be trusted on numbers and won’t make the tough decisions

Making CEOs responsible

Threatening CEOs with the sack for going over their budgets sounds tough.

The questions are – will Ministers get the sack if their departments go over budget? Where has been the leadership and the responsibility of the Cabinet in the last two and a half years? What penalties will apply for Ministerial decisions which result in reckless spending?

CONCLUSION: Labor cannot be trusted to be responsible and won’t make the tough decisions

Selling/leasing the Land Titles Office (LTO)

Labor came to government promising not to sell off government assets.

Not only is this decision a complete backflip on that promise, it could lead to an increase in the cost of development in the Northern Territory.

Whoever buys or leases the LTO will want to make money and therefore it is inevitable that the fees for services such as land title searches will increase.

CONCLUSION: Labor cannot be trusted to support business and won’t make the tough decisions



– Part Two –

There are no tough decisions in the Gunner Labor Government plan for budget repair. They have again proven to be incompetent, lazy and lacking in leadership.

Here are some points in it you may have missed.

Cuts to grants

The Government intends to implement an "efficiency dividend" over grants. That means the grants for NGOs, sporting groups, charity groups will be cut. This "efficiency dividend" is at one to three percent and kicks in from 1 July this year.

Those who need the funding the most will suffer because of the Gunner Labor Government’s incompetence.

CONCLUSION: Labor cannot be trusted and Territorians suffer because of their incompetence

Taxing our lifestyle

The Gunner Labor Government is planning to implement entry fees on Territory parks and museums. They are also raising fireworks licence fees and increasing the fees for personalised number plates.

CONCLUSION: Labor cannot be trusted and Territorians are paying for their incompetence

Folding the Mitchell Street Mile into the Arafura Games

The CLP instigated annual Mitchell Street Mile has developed into a premier national athletics event attracting world class runners. It was also developed to be a tourism shoulder season event – something for locals and visitors to enjoy just before the Wet Season kicked in, in the Top End.

Moving it into the amateur biannual Arafura Games in May makes no sense. The savings would not be worth removing an effective annual event attraction from the tourism shoulder season.

CONCLUSION: Labor cannot be trusted and Territorians suffer because of their incompetence

Another financial impost on taxi, ride-sharing and bus drivers

The Government has announced it will "increase H endorsement to $100".

H endorsement on a driver licence means the holder is licensed to drive commercial passenger vehicles "to convey passenger for hire or reward". Currently the endorsement itself doesn’t cost anything (there are ancillary charges for police checks and a $20 test fee).

CONCLUSION: Labor is bad for business



Let’s be honest. It’s not as if we’ve always agreed with the promises Labor has made. Some of them have been pretty ordinary. But how can they be trusted when they’ve broken their own commitments to Territorians, no matter how bad those commitments were? Here are just a handful.

Bring the Budget to a surplus position by 2019-20

The earliest now claimed by Labor is a surplus in 10 years

Keep Territorians safe

Businesses and homes continually broken into – lawlessness in our communities has grown

Grow the population

The population has declined by 0.18 per cent over the past year, the biggest decline in 15 years

Create 14,000 new jobs each year

There are almost 8000 less Territorians employed

Build a new Don Dale and a new Alice Spring Youth Justice Centre

Money was spent, plans were made and Labor back flipped on both

Won’t sell government assets

The Land Titles Office has been earmarked for sale or lease

Build a National Indigenous Art Gallery in Alice Springs

After almost three years and a spend of more than a million dollars – still no art gallery

Publish an annual list of interstate procurement to support the ‘Buy Local’ scheme

It hasn’t happened – no list anywhere, ever

Build a museum at Myilly Point

$800,000 wasted and the project abandoned

And the classic from the Treasurer – "the government will build a bridge to a better future" and the government was "determined to demonstrate ongoing fiscal discipline to improve the budget bottom line"




The Gunner Labor Government has never acknowledged there is an economic crisis in the Northern Territory. The Treasurer is saying "the Government’s plans are working and the economy is starting to turn" (media release, 6/5/19)

The true situation is best seen through the lens of independent opinions.

From CommSec – State of the States, for the first quarter of 2019

  • The Territory has gone from 1st in the nation under the CLP (Jan 2015) to last under Labor
  • Key forward looking indicators like equipment investment, housing finance, home starts, auto sales and retail trade growth are all negative
  • Every single measurement is in the red. To record a negative figure for each one of the eight key metrics is alarming and demonstrates the seriousness of the situation in the Territory
  • Home prices down a further 6.1% for the March quarter

From Sensis – Business Index March 2019 - A survey of confidence and behaviour of Australian small and medium businesses (released May 2019)

  • Confidence fell consolidating the NT position of least confident state or territory
  • Confidence decreased seven points to +20 which is 14 points below the national average and equal lowest in the nation
  • Last quarter, lower balances were recorded for each key performance indicator with sales, employment and profitability becoming more negative and wages moving into negative territory

From CoreLogic

  • Darwin dwelling values are -27.5% or -$145,980 lower than their peak
  • In regional NT the falls have been much more moderate at -7.9% or -$31,761

From the Department of Trade, Business and Innovation

  • Private business investment down 15.9 percent (YoY June 2018)
  • NT population down 0.2 percent
  • Retail trade growth down since Labor came to government

From NT Treasury

  • Northern Territory bankruptcies are up 67 percent in the last year