Centralia – a new state of affairs endorsed by former Nationals leader

The Northern Territory’s near bankruptcy and arguable failure in self-government has led some to question whether it could return to South Australian governance in a merger.

Australian Conservatives SA Senate candidate Rikki Lambert says the idea has merit but would have to be on SA’s terms.

Reports emerged in mid-December that the Northern Territory is running out of money, borrowing not only to pay daily expenses but even to pay interest on existing debt. The Conservative Party highlighted its campaign for financial solvency for the NT here.

The debacle lead to the Labor government rushing to Canberra to demand a ‘better deal on GST’ for the NT. This comes despite the NT getting a whopping $4.26 for every GST dollar raised, compared to SA’s $1.47 and WA a paltry 47c.

Former Labor MLA Ken Parish told the ABC in December that the fact there were twice as many senior executives in the NT Government than any other state or territory was “quite extraordinary” and believed that the past 40 years of self-government had proved that there was little difference between the long-term aspirations of both CLP and ALP governments.

“Neither [party] have managed that well either economically or politically, and that’s why we’ve hit the wall now,” he said.

The situation has led to former Country Liberal MLA and NT Attorney-General John Elferink to make the case for merging the SA and NT into a resources superpower called ‘Centralia’.

Former National Party federal leader and deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer expressed support for the idea in January, saying perhaps it could be called ‘Coonawarra’ instead.

SA and the NT have extensive history, South Australia establishing Palmerston as the Territory’s first town when governance of the Territory was handed over from New South Wales by Queen Victoria in 1863. South Australian governance ended 48 years later in 1911, which the National Archives of Australia notes followed “the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1901, (at which) South Australia lost control of customs and immigration in the Territory, and the State was incurring further financial losses. The high costs associated with the Territory’s administration and little financial return led South Australia to negotiate the surrender of the Territory to the Commonwealth. One of the reasons advanced in favour of a transfer to the Commonwealth was the contention that whichever administration had control over the Territory should have full legislative and financial responsibility for it.”

Conservative Party SA senate candidate at the next federal election, Rikki Lambert, said there was much to be absorbed and explored from the situation.

“The Northern Territory is essentially broke and should serve as a warning to all political parties and candidates of the dangers of promising the world to voters without a clear and transparent plan for voters on how you will pay for it,” Mr Lambert said, “The suggestion from a former NT Minister that the SA and NT governments should merge is a very interesting one. Its not really on the terms that would be attractive to SA – you have a jurisdiction that is effectively broke potentially joining SA which has only just come off of the dependence on state spending that we saw under Labor.”

“This is something SA Premier Steven Marshall should explore with the NT Government but only do so on SA’s terms – and most certainly not on the NT’s terms.”

In June, Conservative Party leader and SA senator Cory Bernardi moved a senate motion raising concerns about the Territory’s financial future and the need to open up its exploration and economic opportunities to stop being a drag on the national economy.

“The NT have been a special case on GST, as they have significant mineral resources yet they rely on welfare from other states,” Mr Lambert noted in December.