Letter from Scott Morrison raises questions about why the NT received a financial windfall
The then federal treasurer Scott Morrison said the NT Government’s decision to approve fracking was unrelated to the GST funding. (ABC News: Steven Schubert)
A Freedom of Information request has raised more questions about whether the Federal Government’s decision to give the Northern Territory $260 million extra in GST was linked to removing its fracking moratorium.
- A letter was sent from the Federal Treasurer to the NT Government offering it a GST top up
- It refers to the NT Government’s decision to allow fracking
- Governments deny the GST deal was linked to it allowing fracking
The Australia Institute, an environmental think tank, has obtained a partially censored copy of the Federal Government’s GST top-up offer letter to the Gunner Government, which refers to its decision to allow fracking to resume.
The $260 million GST top up and $550 million for Northern Territory remote Indigenous housing were announced by then federal treasurer Scott Morrison at a press conference in Alice Springs on April 23.
Both Mr Morrison and NT Treasurer Nicole Manison denied the funding was linked to the Territory Government’s decision to lift the fracking moratorium, announced on April 17.
“Those two issues were not related, the Northern Territory’s made their decision based on their own assessment,” Mr Morrison told reporters on April 23.
“A hundred per cent, the decision around the lifting of the moratorium was based on that inquiry and also what we thought was in the best interests of the Northern Territory and zero per cent on the GST,” Ms Manison said.
The Australia Institute’s Tom Swann is calling on the two governments to allow all the documents to be released. (Supplied: Australia Institute)
But Mr Morrison’s April 19 letter offering the $260 million GST top up to the Northern Territory, obtained from the Federal Treasury Department under Freedom of Information laws by the Australia Institute, referred to the decision to lift the moratorium.
“I also note the Northern Territory has announced that it will accept the recommendations of the final report of the scientific inquiry into hydraulic fracturing the Northern Territory,” Mr Morrison said in the letter.
Australia Institute researcher Tom Swann said there were now “a number of reasons to be suspicious” about the link.
“One is that the letter in which Scott Morrison offers the money refers to the fracking decision. The other is the timing, the sheer speed at which this was all rushed through,” Mr Swann said.
‘Damage to government relations’
The Federal Treasury said it had censored the rest of the letter after consulting the Prime Minister’s Department and Northern Territory Government.
It said releasing the letter in full “would damage relations with the Northern Territory Government”.
“It would reveal a Cabinet decision or Cabinet deliberations that have not been officially disclosed,” the Treasury Department added.
It also refused to release 11 other documents referring to both federal funding offers to the Northern Territory and fracking.
“PMC were consulted on these documents,” the Federal Treasury Department said.
“The Treasury consulted with the Northern Territory Government in relation to the original decisions. The Northern Territory Government objected to the release of the consultation documents.”
Mr Swann said the Northern Territory Government and Mr Morrison could “clear this up” by releasing the rest of the documents.
“People need to know that money is being spent using proper process and is not being used as part of a campaign to get jurisdictions to overturn popular policies like the Northern Territory’s fracking moratorium,” Mr Swann said.
Both Governments maintain there was no link between the funding and allowing fracking. (ABC News: Steven Schubert)
NT Government rejects link
Before the GST top up was announced, the Federal Government was overt in putting pressure on the NT Government to lift its fracking moratorium, and stop denying its Treasury gas revenue.
When Ms Manison went to the state treasurers’ meeting with Mr Morrison in Melbourne on April 5, the Territory was facing a GST cut of at least $136 million as a result of the new interstate carve-up.
At their Melbourne press conference on April 5, Mr Morrison made clear that the Territory moratorium was a key part of his discussions with Ms Manison.
“They have some significant decisions to make in relation to resources and gas in the Northern Territory as well as other revenue issues and we’ll continue to have very positive and good faith discussions with the Northern Territory,” Mr Morrison said.
The Northern Territory Government has now again rejected that there was any link between lifting the moratorium and the Commonwealth funding.
“Any suggestion that the Government based its decision to lift the moratorium on fracking on anything other than the recommendations of the independent inquiry is categorically incorrect,” Ms Manison said.
“It was this Government’s continued fight — in the face of criticism from the CLP — that saw the $260 million top up from the Commonwealth.”
Mr Morrison’s spokesman said his office had decided not to respond.
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