Address – Northern Territory Chamber of Commerce

PRIME MINISTER: I’d like to recognise that we are here on the lands of the First Australians from this district – the Larrakia people – and we acknowledge their elders past and present.

It’s terrific to be here with so many friends.

To Chamber President Greg Ireland, VP Stuart Kenny and CEO Greg Bicknell, thank for the invitation to address the NT Chamber of Commerce today.

It’s great to be in Darwin, a tropical city with its own unique rhythm and feel.

I’m especially pleased to be doing a number of things today.

This morning I signed the Darwin City Deal with the Chief Minister and the Lord Mayor.

I know many of you have been waiting keenly for this day, especially Senator Nigel Scullion and Gary Higgins who have been champions of the cause.

This City Deal will unlock investment in Darwin, grow the population, and support greater business activity.

And very soon I will have the pleasure of welcoming the Japanese Prime Minister His Excellency Mr Shinzo Abe to Darwin, along with Mrs Abe.  

This will involve marking with Prime Minister Abe the fruition of the biggest ever investment by Japan in Australia – the Ichthys LNG project here in Darwin, the benefits of which will flow for many years to come.

Benefits that will further complement our economic plan for Australia where this week we again saw clear evidence that this economic plan is working.

We witnessed yet another strong employment number with 32,800 more jobs in the month of October, with full-time jobs in Australia increasing by 42,300.

Since our Government came to office just over 5 years ago, nearly 1.2 million jobs have been created.

At 5 per cent, the unemployment rate is the lowest since April 2012.

When we came to Government, the NT unemployment rate was 5.2 per cent – it’s now down to 4.6 per cent.

Nationally, we’re also seeing a recovery of business investment off the back of increased business confidence.

And pleasingly, we are seeing a pick-up in wages growth across the country.

But we are not complacent.  We recognise that not everyone is feeling the benefits of a strong economy, including here in the Territory.

That’s why we have a plan for an even stronger economy that delivers for all parts of Australia.

So as a country and as a society, we grow together – not grow apart.

That’s my goal for Darwin.  That’s my aspiration for the Territory.

That’s our Government’s plan for Australia.

Our economic plan has several inter-connected threads.

Let me highlight just some of them:

  • Lower tax for individuals and small and medium-sized business owners like many of you in this room
  • Lower electricity prices so energy customers get a better deal from the big electricity companies
  • The largest integrated infrastructure plan in Australia’s history – $75 billion of investment over 10 years
  • A broad-based industry strategy that recognises traditional strengths such as resources and agriculture, but also looks to develop areas of growth in services, the defence industry, medical industry and science and technology
  • A trade strategy that continues to break down barriers for Australian exports, especially here in the Asian region.  That’s a big part of what I have been doing this week and what I will continue to be doing as I head to APEC in PNG tomorrow.
  • A bold new agenda for small business growth, including major announcements this week by the Treasurer on small business finance and cutting red tape.
  • All the while within a framework of fiscal responsibility – a Government swinging the Budget back to balance so we live within our means and reduce our debt over time and deliver the essential services Australians rely on.

Let me say a bit more about small and family businesses.

We’re bringing forward small business tax cuts by five years.

Small and medium-sized businesses with a turnover less than $50 million – thousands of them here in the Territory – will pay a tax rate of just 25 per cent in 2021-22 rather than from 2026-27 as planned.

Similar timing changes will apply to the roll-out of the 16 per cent tax discount for unincorporated businesses.

3.3 million small and medium sized businesses across the nation, employing around 7 million Australians, will reap the benefits.

This includes the more than 19,000 businesses in the Territory who employ over 58,000 Territorians.

At the same time, we’ve extended the Government’s $20,000 instant asset write-off through to 30 June 2019.

Some 350,000 small businesses claimed the instant asset write-off in 2016-17.

It’s a great opportunity to reinvest in your business by replacing or upgrading an asset.

But we have much bigger plans to turn small businesses into bigger businesses beginning with small business finance.

In my time as Treasurer, I became very concerned about the ability of small business to secure access to competitive finance – relative to large businesses.

If small business can’t access finance at reasonable terms they can’t grow.

Our Government has listened, recognised this problem and now we have acted.

This week the Treasurer announced a $2 billion Securitisation Fund to help businesses better access the loans they need to grow.

The fund will help to provide an additional source of funding for smaller banks and non-bank lenders who, in turn, will be able to lend to small businesses at more competitive terms.

It will be administered by the Australian Office of Financial Management – providing a long overdue boost to liquidity and competition in the small business lending market.

The Government is also working with financial institutions (including APRA and the major banks) on establishing an Australian Business Growth Fund that would provide longer term equity funding to small businesses.

This would be modelled on similar funds that have been operating in the UK and Canada where this issue of access to small business finance has been highlighted as well.

We’re reducing red tape and the regulatory burden on small business.  All up, the Government has cut $6 billion in Commonwealth red tape, which is reducing the regulatory burden on small businesses.

We’ve streamlined GST reporting for small businesses by simplifying the BAS.  When fully implemented, this is estimated to save each small business, on average, $590 per year.

Today we have announced we’re going to reduce the reporting burden for small and medium businesses by doubling ASIC financial reporting thresholds that have become outdated.

Around 2,200 companies will no longer be required to comply with financial reporting and audit requirements. This is estimated to reduce regulatory costs by $81.3 million annually.

Complementing plans for business, our City Deal will unlock investment in Darwin, grow the population, and support greater business activity.

Darwin will get a new Education and Civic Precinct in Cavenagh Street.

Its centrepiece will be a new city campus for Charles Darwin University, attracting more students here – 1,100 more.

Those students are going to flow into the centre of the city to study, live and work.

And there’ll be hundreds of university staff in that consumer mix too.

International students spend around $500 a week on living expenses, while hosting visits from their friends and family too. That’s going to be a new source of strength to the local economy.

Analysis by Deloitte Access Economics has found that the new city campus could increase economic output in the Darwin region by more than $250 million over the next fifteen years.

The City Deal will revitalise the look and feel of Darwin.

More green space.  More landscaping.

It will attract new visitors, residents, students and businesses, improving the experience for all and help ensure more stay for the long-term.

It provides business the confidence it needs for the future.

With an agreed 10-year plan, between all levels of government, to grow and transform Darwin, we’re sending a strong signal to today’s business community and tomorrow’s investors.

There’s much more to the City Deal and I encourage you to examine the detail.

Now of course, the NT is bigger and broader than Darwin.

My Government is taking steps to adapt the successful City Deals model for regional development.

Just last weekend, I wrote to the Chief Minister to formally invite him to partner in a Regional Deal for the Barkly Region.

Discussions were well underway in the lead-up to that invitation – the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion, had met with the Barkly Regional Council and leaders of the Barkly Aboriginal community.

We have begun a formal process. That’s an important step.

Ultimately, the community will determine the specifics of this deal.

Of course, our City Deals build on a larger pipeline of infrastructure investment in the Territory.

Since 2013-14, the Government has committed $1.5 billion to fund infrastructure projects in the Territory.

I mentioned briefly at the outset as part of the Government’s economic plan our defence industry strategy.

The NT is vitally important to the Australian Defence Force and the Government is continuing to invest strongly in capability, personnel and facilities in the Territory.

More than 5,000 serve in our defence forces in and around Darwin.

Under the umbrella of the Defence White Paper, we are investing $200 billion investment in defence capability and around $8 billion in Defence infrastructure projects over the next decade.

Under our Local Industry Capability Plan we’ll be working to ensure local Territory businesses and tradies get their share of work on important defence projects.

I know many of the Chamber’s members are in tourism.

Of course, Kakadu is one of the icons of Australian tourism.

I want Kakadu tourism to keep delivering for the Territory.

I want to see people from all around the world continuing to enjoy the beautiful gorge and waterfalls of our largest national park.

Our Government is working with the Territory Government on how best to manage and continue investing in Kakadu so we continue to tap into its amazing tourism potential.

We’re also working with the Territory Government and Traditional Owners to ensure the future of Jabiru is settled as soon as possible, to provide some certainty there.

Jabiru is already a major service centre for Kakadu and the surrounding region, and although the mine is closing, there’s certainly a lot of potential for a future built on tourism.

Our Government’s commitment to the Territory can be seen too in the changes we have made to GST distribution.

We know the mining boom created real volatility in the GST distribution.

So we’ve legislated a fairer and more sustainable GST deal for everyone. It’s now law.

I promised that back in July as Treasurer and it’s now delivered.

In addition to the already paid extra $260 million, under our new legislated changes, the NT is forecast to be $258 million better off over the next eight years.

That includes $69 million in top-up payments over the first three years.

We’re also changing the formula to address this issue in the longer term.

It’ll be the biggest change to the GST since it was introduced and this is why we took our time to get it right.

Our GST plan is about ensuring your fair share, so that the services you rely on – schools, hospitals and law enforcement, as well as infrastructure and other important projects – are delivered.

This is crucial to the ongoing strength of the Northern Territory and its economy.

In April 2018, the Commonwealth announced it would invest $550 million over five years in housing for NT remote communities.

The NT Government has agreed to match this funding as part of a new National Partnership Agreement.

Our negotiations are focussing on addressing overcrowding, providing transparency about how money is spent, a decision-making role for land councils and ensuring works are delivered by local Indigenous Territorians and businesses.

We expect to finalise the agreement before the end of the year.

And all of this is being done without increasing your taxes.

On what you earn, on your investment, on your business, your retirement savings, housing – 16,000 Territorians negatively gear rental property.

So Ladies and Gentlemen, I come back to where I started.

All of these investments in the future can only be made if you have a plan for a strong economy.

I strongly believe that the next election will be fought over those defining issues of who can manage the economy best and who can keep Australians safe and protect our sovereignty.

We do recognise that not everyone is feeling the benefits of a strong economy, including here in the Territory.

The nature of the Territories economy means you are often called on to buckle down through periods of uncertainty.

It can be a grind, especially if you are running a small business.

We get that.  That’s why everything we do as a government is geared towards strengthening our economy and ensuring all Australians can share in the benefits of a strong economy.

I want to thank the NT Chamber of Commerce for the invitation today and for everything you do to advocate on behalf of a resilient and forward-looking business sector in the Territory.

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