9 May 2018
Transcript - #2018078, 2018

Interview with Adam Steer, ABC Darwin

Subjects: Budget 2018

ADAM STEER:

Good morning, the big ticket items for the Northern Territory, $28 million for upgrades to the Central Arnhem and Buntine Highways. Isn't that a bit disingenuous given the bulk of the money is at least five years away?

TREASURER:

Well, the real measure that supports the Northern Territory frankly that's right here, right now is the $259 million that we've provided to the Territory as a top-up to their GST distribution. Now, that's going to be guaranteeing essential services in the Territory and Darwin, all over the Territory, right away. That was much needed, it was something that the Northern Territory Treasurer, Nicole Manison, and I had been working on and I announced that a few weeks ago and that's in this Budget and that's very important for Territorians and their services.

STEER:

A generous top-up just after the government opened up the Territory to fracking too. Is there a link there?

TREASURER:

No and that's what the Northern Territory – that's what Nicole said as well. So they made their own decision on that, as they should.

STEER:

Ok, let's move back to the roads. $210 million doesn't kick in until 2022 according to the Northern Territory Treasurer Nicole Manison. Is that correct?

TREASURER:

Well, the profile is set out there in the Budget. I mean, we work with the Territory on all of these major infrastructure projects and having these things that are shovel-ready and getting ready to go, as it's delivered through the Territory is something we work closely with them on.

STEER:

She says only $5 million allocated for 2019-20 for each of the Buntine Highway and the Central Arnhem road. That'll barely touch the surface.

TREASURER:

We work together with the Territory. I mean, they're the ones who spend the money and we put the profiles together with them. So when we're making the commitment, it's part of a national commitment of additional new projects of $25 billion around the country at which the Territory has been rightly included.

STEER:

Doesn't sound like it though. She says it's one of the most southern centric Budgets she's ever seen.

TREASURER:

We're making investments in roads and the Northern Territory. We're providing top-ups from the GST of $259 million. We announced $550 million over five years to support remote Indigenous housing in the Territory. You know, we're stepping up in the Northern Territory, I don't think there's any secret about that and I just don't think that it's something we should be playing politics over.

STEER:

John Tourish is from the East Arnhem Economic Development Committee. This is a little of what he had to say.

JOHN TOURISH:

East Arnhem Regional Economic Group always try to focus of doing the section of road from Nhulunbuy out to Gapuwiyak, which is a couple hundred kilometres, which really is that big busy section of road that services East Arnhem itself in the region rather than coming out from the Stuart Highway.

STEER:

The funding Scott Morrison that you announced overnight, we'll only get about 150km of a 700km road sealed. When can we expect the rest? It's likely to be between half a million and a billion dollars I would think?

TREASURER:

We'll just keep working with the Territory Government. I mean, we're not overstating or looking to over-claim what's being done here. There's a very serious commitment to these projects as well as a broader commitment to northern Australia roads of which Northern Territory will also feature in as well. You know, I mean, Budgets aren't Christmas presents. Budgets are responsible ways of delivering support for essential services all around the country and there can be no question that the Northern Territory has featured heavily in this Budget and most importantly right now for the essential services that are under a lot of pressure in the Territory and $259 million right now for the Territory. Right now. The cheque's on its way, it'll be there this financial year.

STEER:

Yeah, which I think is very generous. That's just a one-off payment though, isn't it?

TREASURER:

We're also looking to fix the GST and what happened with the GST distribution and the Northern Territory, I think, is an example of what's wrong with the system and why it needs to be fixed. It's just not Western Australia, remember they get 50 cents in the dollar and the Northern Territory it's over $4 for the dollar. Now Northern Territory has specific and quite challenging needs for a very remote part of the country with a very disproportioned population – a population that's actually falling and that's why we took action. So, you know we step up, Adam, and we have.

STEER:

The Northern Territory is contributing $230 million over five years to implement findings of the Royal Commission into youth detention. Why hasn't the Federal Government, who ordered the Commission, contributed anything to help fund the recommendations?

TREASURER:

This was a Royal Commission into issues that happened in the Northern Territory. They're responsible for fixing these problems. I mean, the Northern Territory is a sovereign government. They have responsibilities and these are their responsibilities and they are responding to those responsibilities I note. I think they've taken them very seriously and we welcome that. But that's their job, we'll do our job and they'll do their job and I'm sure that the $259 million that we've provided to them right now will further assist them to do their job.

STEER:

No money for Darwin in the cities deal either, Treasurer.

TREASURER:

We're still working on that deal.

STEER:

Tax cuts obviously the other big tickets for Territorians. How have you arrived at the decision to give a $530 tax break to middle Australia and only $200 for those under $37,000 a year?

TREASURER:

Well, under $37,000 people on average are paying about $1900 in tax. So $200 off $1900 paid in a year, is a 10 per cent cut on what they're paying currently in tax. Now, if you're earning between $37,000 and $87,000, you're paying about $10,100 or thereabouts – I think it's $10,500 in tax a year on average. So at that level there's a maximum of $530, so the more tax you pay, then obviously there's more opportunity to provide more of that back.

STEER:

I'm sure you've got a lot of the same questions this morning, Treasurer. "Ten dollars a week," says Ian from Lambells, "would make no difference to me, why don't you give it to people who need it, perhaps on Newstart or somewhere else?"

TREASURER:

Well, I'll tell you what $530 will pay for one quarterly electricity bill. It will pay for a car rego. It will pay for a new set of tyres for your car. It will pay for school uniforms and books. Every single one of these individual items. It's train tickets to work. It's doing all of this and for people to suggest $530 or it's over $1,000 for a couple, who are on middle incomes, they don't think that a lump sum additional tax refund is going to help some family in that area, I think they're a bit out of touch.

STEER:

Now the texts ask, "When will the Government increase unemployment benefits in real terms?"

TREASURER:

We're providing the best form of unemployment benefit you can deliver and that's a job. I mean, if you get a job – and more than 1,000 jobs have been created every single day according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics over the last year – we've the lowest level of welfare dependency of the working age population in over 25 years and getting people into work is what provides the long term change to their economic circumstances and that's our priority and to help do that we're going to allow people who get into work to keep more of what they earn. That's our clear priority in this Budget.

STEER:

Final question for you this morning, Treasurer, because I know you're very busy.

TREASURER:

Sure.

STEER:

You've announced $34 million for lifeline around the country…

TREASURER:

Yes.

STEER:

There's no mention of getting a call centre back in the Territory, is there any idea that that might happen?

TREASURER:

Well, that's a matter for Lifeline. We provide them the funding and we work closely with them to come up with this package and to ensure they had the support they needed to meet the increasing demands and so where and how they deploy that is really a matter for them.

STEER:

Treasurer, good to hear from you this morning. Appreciate your time.

TREASURER:

Thanks, Adam, good to be with you.

STEER:

Scott Morrison, Treasurer of Australia.