You would have to be dull to believe that offering inducements to entice other Australians to move to the Territory is a good idea. Not only is it poor social and economic policy it is just dumb politics because it offends the people who already live here; our fellow Territorians.
This idea is evidence of a growing disengagement from economic reality. The factors contributing to population decline are manifold. Belief that a government subsidy can solve that problem is dangerously misguided.
It is my firm belief that the best path to population growth is less government intervention and a greater enabling of private enterprise.
If small business is really the engine room of the economy then that engine room needs to be understood and central to any population growth initiative.
When the private sector wants to employ more people the growth will be organic, authentic and sustainable because supply always follows demand.
The Chief Minister astonishingly reverses this principle by aiming first to build population [supply] with a government subsidy then hope the jobs will materialise [demand] once the people get here!
Bill Clinton was right when he said; ‘It is the economy stupid!’
The $1.5 million spent to promote a new image of the NT may change some people’s perceptions of the Northern Territory but at the end of the day people will move to the NT for an actual job not a feeling or a subsidy.
Improving law and order would be the best incentive that could be offered right now.
On the national level this plan risks further damaging our reputation within the commonwealth because it is the other States and Territories that contribute to the national GST pool from which the NT draws almost 70% of its total revenue.
The NT takes way more from that national pool then we put in. That is because that payment comes with the expectation that a reasonable level of service would be delivered to Australians already living in the Territory.
To use that revenue to induce people here from other States with their GST contributions looks like a rort.
Requests for the NT to be respected by the Commonwealth or even considered as contenders for full Statehood are eroded when we fail to act with the maturity befitting a State. Spending without caution, casually increasing debt to dangerous levels and then acting like tricky, ungrateful, mendicants is not a good look.
So what could be done instead?
Get back to basics. Upon election the NT Government correctly set before itself the goal of rebuilding trust in government but that is done by governing well not by social engineering.
If cash payments to entice people north is the answer it makes one wonder what was the question government asked?
Calls to me from local business people show they were not asked for the solution.
One thing is becoming very clear. This is a government that trusts government more and people less. I will believe otherwise when problem drinkers or young lawbreakers become the real focus of policy instead of the broader population.
Labor always defaults to broad based, expensive and unfruitful societal measures to deal with social problems. Now we see the same with the population strategy.
If you ask business to help identify the measures to enable greater flexibility, capacity and desire to grow they will point to a number of issues with stamp duties and payroll tax high on the list. Crime and anti-social behaviour will always feature on the list and that is something government must deal with.
The other real work of government is to work constructively with the Commonwealth Government to solve the problem of population decline.
Perhaps with a persuasive argument and sound economic and social policy the Federal Government that could be moved to provide real taxation incentives to attract investment in the North. This must always include a practical and sensible engagement of Traditional Owners.
Perhaps the development of the north could be boosted by using the largely unused Northern Development Fund to provide meaningful rewards [like a Payroll Tax offset] for private sector investment in manufacturing in the north.
Government needs to listen and act on the concerns of northern agriculture and other people starved industries to grow by taking a new approach to targeted work visas specific to the needs of the north.
The intake of suitably qualified migrants seeking a new life in Australia should be directed to and required to stay in the north.
In the meantime the Northern Territory Government should focus on its core business; quality schools, improved health outcomes and reduced crime and anti-social behaviour.
Government paying people with our money to come here and then expecting locals to employ them when they get here as business daily battles property crime increases is not the path to rebuilding trust in government.