23 May 2018

SUBJECT/S: Senate Estimates, Cities Deal & NAIF

ADAM STEER; PRESENTER ABC BREAKFAST: The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Fund, better known as NAIF has long held been as the golden egg to develop the North, one of the keys to boosting Darwins flagging economy But is it more of a poison chalice? This week it has been suggested that the fund be used to move Charles Darwin University into Darwins CBD. Malarndirri McCarthy is Northern Territory Labor Senator. The fund is a loan only, what happens if that gets used for major projects like moving the uni into the CBD?

SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY, SENATOR FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: Look the information that came to Senate Estimates Committee that NAIF was going to be a possible funding opportunity for the Cities Deal in my view, was completely outrageous. Each Cities Deal with Launceston with Townsville and other Cities Deals has not been through a loan such as a NAIF fund. Now if the CDU proposal to relocate to the city has to depend on NAIF I think it is outrageous that the people of the Northern Territory have once again been backflipped on and been made to jump through hoops that are so unfair.

STEER: Who will go into more debt if we are using the NAIF fund, will it be the uni or the Northern Territory Government into more debt?

MCCARTHY: Well that is a very good question Adam and these are the things that we do not know, and that is why it was quite disingenuous of the Federal Government to now suggest that for this project a Cities Deal for Darwin has to now go through NIAF. It is unfair to labour anyone under enormous amounts of debt, whether it is CDU or whether its the Northern Territory Government whether its the Darwin City Council in order for this Cities Deal to proceed is totally unfair.

STEER: Isnt this what the Federal Government Cities Deal is supposed to be for? In other of the Cities Deals, they have used it for exactly that moving universities into the city.

MCCARTHY: Thats correct. And they have done it on a grant basis, so there isnt the debt attached to a NAIF loan. And this is a clear breach in my view, of trust in terms of the fiscal arrangements but it is also a smokescreen, yet again, that this is what the Federal Government says they are doing for the people of the Northern Territory when in actual fact it is doing us over.

STEER: You had a scuffle with Senator Scullion this week over the Cities Deal, let's have a listen to what happened.


MCCARTHY: Minister there will be a commitment for Darwin Cities Deal?

SCULLION: Well, of course, there is a commitment. In fact, if you were standing with the remainder of people

MCCARTHY: In terms of the actual amount of dollars?

SCULLION: That is as I just said Senator and every reasonable person who bothers to listen to these processes would understand

MCCARTHY: Well it has been going on since May 2017 Minister

SCULLION: That there is a City Deal happening in Darwin and that deal is between three levels of Government. As you would know, I think it was in March this year that the first significant ground happened, I understand, in fact I was with Minister Fletcher and Ministers from the Northern Territory Government and the Mayor, and they also I understand had a number of discussion around the city deal and Darwin and that was just last week. So quite clearly, any reasonable person or observer would say yes there is something happening. But quite clearly...

MCCARTHY: A lot of discussion is happening, yes.

SCULLION: All parties so the Northern Territory Government.

MCCARTHY: But no financial commitment?

SCULLION: Well no, that is right That is why we want to know

MCCARTHY: That is why we want to know what is happening?

SCULLION: Excuse me, Minister let me finish and you can have a crack.

MCCARTHY: I am the Senator, youre the Minister.

MCCARTHY: I think he got a bit confused there Adam.

STEER: Does that response give you any confidence that the money is coming? We have seen no money for the Cities Deal in the current Federal Budget, are you hopeful that we will see some in the next years Budget?

MCCARTHY: Well I will always be hopeful in terms of pushing things through and asking questions Adam. But the reality is that we are getting done over in the Northern Territory. We are being told and fed these stories of fiscal certainty when its way into the future, into the never never, its five years off. And then we are told that Cities Deal is a possibility, it is not going to be the same as Launceston for example or Townsville where they dont have to go into debt with the NAIF fund. I think these examples are completely unfair and again we just get done over.

STEER: You have also asked questions this week about the much-hyped millions for the Central Arnhem and Buntine Highways, what did you find out?

MCCARTHY: Well again there is no certainty in terms of their commitment for those roads. Lets remember the amount that they suggested is only for 100 kilometres. On the Central Arnhem Road is more than 600kms, if you are going to seal that road, and we know that it is a million dollars for every kilometre to seal, so $180 million will only take us 180kms if that. It is quite unfair that Federal Government and certainly the Minister Nigel Scullion, the voice piece for the Treasurers Budget, you know insisting to the Northern Territory that all of this is going to happen. Its like shell be right mate, shell be right just wait another five years and wait for another three more elections and you mob will be right.

STEER: It seems like the Federal Government want the Northern Territory to read the headlines but not read the fine print?

MCCARTHY: Absolutely, what do they think we are stupid? Were not stupid. The people of the Northern Territory know when they are being done over and that is exactly whats going on here.

STEER: Malarndirri McCarthy good to talk to you this morning.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Adam.