Shorten dodges question on NT Labor’s economic management while Gunner goes to ground
Chief Minister Michael Gunner has declined to be interviewed by the ABC over the NT’s financial crisis since the news broke. (ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)
Prime ministerial hopeful Bill Shorten has dodged questioning over Labor’s “severe mismanagement” of the Northern Territory economy, following revelations the region is in dire financial straits and seeking an emergency bailout from Canberra.
- The Northern Territory Government is in the middle of a budget crisis, with the region’s net debt expected to rise tenfold by 2029-30
- Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten says the region still has an “exciting future” through the industries of fracking, health, tourism and defence
- Chief Minister Michael Gunner declines to be interviewed over the matter after going on annual leave
It emerged yesterday that the Northern Territory Government, headed by NT Labor Chief Minister Michael Gunner, was in the throes of a budget crisis and needing to borrow to cover day-to-day operational costs, such as public servants’ wages.
The Territory’s net debt has escalated from $1.7 billion in 2016 — when Labor was elected — to around $3 billion this year, and was now expected to increase tenfold to $35.7 billion by 2029-30.
At a press conference today in Adelaide, Mr Shorten — who will be aiming to prove his party’s economic credentials in the face of an anticipated hostile election campaign from the incumbent Coalition Government — was asked whether the NT’s financial strife was proof the “Coalition is right and Labor can’t manage economies”.
Mr Shorten said the NT’s woes were brought on by being at “the receiving end of a downturn from the Inpex … development” but did not answer whether Labor was responsible for the situation, or say whether or not a future federal Labor government would consider pumping up annual Commonwealth funding delivered to the NT, or what kind of bailout measures it would consider to help the region’s ailing economy.
Fracking, defence touted for future
He said the NT had an “exciting future” fuelled by the industries of tourism, defence, fracking and Indigenous history.
“We’re committed to playing to our strengths in defence in the Northern Territory,” Mr Shorten said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says the NT has a bright future ahead, despite its current financial crisis. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)
“Michael Gunner is making significant and well-thought-out considered decisions about improving access to some gas reserves in the Northern Territory.
“There’s opportunities in the environment, healthcare, defence, infrastructure, resources and of course building on our amazing 64,000-year Indigenous Australian history, which makes the Northern Territory one of the luckiest places on the globe.”
No sign of Chief Minister
Treasurer Nicole Manison said yesterday she would be flying to Canberra for emergency meetings with Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenburg next week, where it was expected she would push for a bailout to bolster the waning economy — despite having already been handed a top-up payment of $259 million by then-treasurer Scott Morrison earlier this year.
Despite the crisis currently embroiling his first-term government, Mr Gunner has declined to be interviewed by the ABC since the report was handed down by Ms Manison yesterday afternoon.
Mr Gunner was also not attending the triennial Labor Party National Conference in Adelaide as he is on annual leave with Ms Manison taking his place.
Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister and NT senator Nigel Scullion has also weighed into the NT’s economic crisis, and said the Gunner Government was “taking the Territory down a path of economic ruin”.
“The debt continues to skyrocket, the economy is stagnating and it is clear that Territory Labor cannot responsibly manage the budget,” Mr Scullion posted on Facebook.
“Michael Gunner and Nicole Manison need to be held accountable for their severe mismanagement of the Northern Territory economy.”
NT Chamber of Commerce CEO Greg Bicknell told the ABC the Territory Government’s spending should be better monitored.
“Government should be looking at every dollar they’re spending and saying is this going to grow our population, is this going to sustain our population and making sure that’s the bottom line for it,” Mr Bicknell said.
“The Government have been spending pretty willy-nilly over both terms of government without an eye on the future, whereas people in their own businesses and their own budgets actually look to the future and plan towards it.”