More SMEs in the Northern Territory will have the opportunity to apply for government-funded concessional loans and equity finance, as part of a funding measure contained in the 2021-22 Northern Territory budget.
Chief Minister and Treasurer Michael Gunner revealed his government’s spending priorities on Tuesday, with this year’s budget to also include a number of measures to benefit the local tourism and hospitality sectors.
The government has allocated $120 million over two years to the Local Jobs Fund, which was established in 2019 and offers businesses concessional loans, equity co-investments and grants.
To date, the $69 million co-investment fund has given grants and concessional loans to six companies, however, Gunner said the new funding from this year’s budget will turn the fund into a “jobs jackpot”.
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The fund will expand the territory’s “growth base, add value to our economy, and add new skills to our workforce,” said the Chief Minister in his budget speech. The fund is “all about backing businesses that are having a go, businesses that want to invest here, make things here, and create jobs here”.
“If you’ve got a head full of ideas and a pocket full of money, we want you here,” Gunner said, addressing business owners.
“If you are prepared to roll up your sleeves and have a crack, we want you here.”
The new funding has been welcomed by CPA Australia, which noted it comes “at a time when small businesses are struggling to access finance”.
Overall, the budget projects a deficit of $1.4 billion for the coming financial year, and demonstrated an improvement of $934 million over the past two years.
While the NT government has committed to an $1.6 billion investment in infrastructure, CPA Australia’s general manager of external affairs Jane Rennie described the new spending in the budget as “modest” at a time when “expansionary fiscal policy” is needed.
“We think it’s too early to tighten the public purse strings,” she added.
Tourism in focus
The 2021-22 Northern Territory budget also includes significant spending to help support smaller operators in the territory’s tourism sector.
Gunner said while the territory’s tourism operators are starting to see interstate visitors return to the region and locals “discovering more of their own backyard”, the continued restrictions on international travel means “a massive slice of the tourism industry’s market is still cut off”.
The government’s ‘Territory Tourism Comeback Plan’ includes $10 million for tourism incentives for the low season, including a $5 million extension of the territory’s existing voucher program.
The government will also spend $12 million to extend its Visitor Experience Enhancement Program for four years, which will allow more tourism operators to upgrade their offerings.
To date, the program has provide $6 million in grants to more than 230 businesses, which have contributed an additional $15 million in private investment.
The government will also spend $4 million on new Roadhouse to Recovery grants that will provide funding for roadhouse and caravan park operators to undertake renovations.
Under the program, 32 businesses have already received grants and Gunner said the additional funding will “spark a new renovation boom, a tradie boom and a drive-tourism boom right across the territory”.
Festivals and other big events will receive $17 million in funding, and further support will be offered for the region’s parks and Aboriginal park rangers.