The head of the Darwin Major Business Group says he doesn’t share the Gunner Government’s optimism that the Territory’s economy will “bounce back” quickly and has called for a proper economic recovery plan to be developed with local business leaders.
Ian Kew told the NT Independent that the Gunner Government needs to provide a real seat at the table for business experts to make decisions and not just “consult” over how to manage the economic realities post-coronavirus pandemic.
He suggested an economic recovery commission be struck to provide practical advice to the Gunner Government to get through the bleak economic future, which he estimated would take two years.
“We applaud the government on how they have responded to the health crisis – Michael Gunner has shown leadership which is good and they have listened to national cabinet and for the first time, they’re listening to the experts,” he said.
“We think with economic recovery, the government needs to listen to people who understand investment, creating jobs and growing the economy.
“It’s absolutely critical. The economy has been severely damaged and it will take a cooperative effort to do the best we can. We aren’t going to bounce back like nothing happened.”
Last week, Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the NT’s economy would “bounce back” quicker than other states in Australia, but offered no firm plan or data to back up his statement.
His comments came as federal figures estimated 21,400 jobs in the NT could be lost by the end of next month and after numerous economic reports showed the economy in heavy decline before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re gonna get back to a new normal quicker than the rest and so we’ll see a much quicker rebound out of this,” he said last Tuesday.
“Which does get those workers back into jobs, hopefully, as we move forward.”
Grave concerns for economy if government continues to not listen: Kew
But Mr Kew said he held grave concerns about the government continuing to not listen to the business community when it gets around to developing an economic recovery plan.
“We will struggle more than other jurisdictions because the NT Government is in a far worse place than the rest of the country. The capacity to invest is nowhere near the other states,” he said.
“We won’t bounce back quicker, we will have to work harder. We were already in a poor position. Let’s work hard together to get things done.”
Mr Gunner’s office has said it will not focus on developing an economic recovery plan until after the coronavirus pandemic is over.
But Opposition and crossbench politicians said that would be too late.
“This response sadly typifies just how poorly the Gunner Government prioritises the economy,” said CLP leader Lia Finocchiaro.
“(This) attitude shows why we have suffered for more than three and a half years and why there is no plan for the future. To the Gunner Government, the economy is just an after-thought.
“The proposal (of the economic recovery commission) put forward has merit, but it also demonstrates clearly that business has lost confidence in the Gunner Government to fix the Territory economy.”
NT economy was already the worst performing in the nation before pandemic
Territory Alliance leader Terry Mills said he supported getting business leaders involved in deciding economic recovery efforts – and that the Commonwealth needed to be at the table as well.
“There can be no daylight between what business knows must occur and the critically important decisions that will need to be made to support economic recovery,” he said.
“Importantly though we believe it is crucial for the Commonwealth to be included due to the significant infrastructure investment required.”
Independent Member for Stuart Scott McConnell said the Territory’s economy was already the worst performing in the nation before the pandemic and that a real recovery will mean everyone in the NT working together.
“I don’t think people are envious of the Northern Territory (as Mr Gunner claimed),” Mr McConnell said. “We still have a budget in absolute chaos, there was a deficit problem that hasn’t been fixed.
“We have a government that is massively overspending on a budget that wasn’t balanced and more spending put on it now.
“Our economy is already propped up by the rest of Australia – that’s the only thing they’re envious of.”
Mr McConnell also called for a recovery plan that would help all of the NT get out of its continual economic depression cycle.
“I don’t want the NT in the recovery phase to revert to what we had before,” he said. “We had successive governments overly focused on the urban areas. We need to recognise we need sustainable economic recovery from all corners of the Territory.
“We need that leadership from the business community, including Indigenous business interests. We must work collaboratively with everyone including the land councils.”
Mr Gunner said at a press conference that the “business community” always had a “seat at the table and they’re gonna keep a seat at the table”.
Mr Gunner’s office did not respond to questions from the NT Independent, including why an economic recovery plan has not yet been released.