The Northern Territory Attorney-General has upped the stakes in the battle over the sale of insurer TIO, saying that if it remained in government hands it would “threaten the very fabric of self-government”.
A cabinet meeting on Sunday night is likely to determine the fate of Australia’s last government-owned insurer, with the government pushing for a sale in the face of widespread public opposition.
Attorney-General John Elferink told reporters he was concerned what the impact would be of a sale of the Territory Insurance Office (TIO), which currently enjoys about a 40 per cent market share due to its policy of equalisation, offering uniform protection for people living in cyclone and flood-prone areas.
“We’re not considering this because we’re doing it for the fun of it,” Mr Elferink said.
He pointed to Norfolk Island, which he said was on the verge of losing self-government due to financial woes, and said he wanted to spare the NT the same fate.
“The taxpayer underwrites any shortfall in the reinsurance arrangements of TIO,” he said.
“If we go cap in hand to Canberra after a disaster like Cyclone Tracy and say, ‘we can’t pay our bills anymore’, then Canberra’s response may well be, ‘at some point in the future why would you have self government?’
“At the moment the contingent liability TIO poses to the NT government in the face of a disaster is highly problematic and threatens, in my opinion, the very fabric of self-government.”
On Friday Deputy Chief Minister Peter Chandler said the government was negotiating with a potential buyer for a three-year guarantee that premiums wouldn’t rise and jobs wouldn’t go after a sale.
When asked whether this was intended to defer premium rises until after the 2016 NT election, Mr Elferink said he could not give any guarantees regarding future premium prices.
“I have to protect the financial position of the NT into the future,” he said.
Opposition Leader Delia Lawrie said the Country Liberals government was motivated by greed to sell TIO in “a quick cash grab for pork barrelling to the next election”.
“The CLP have no mandate for the sale they will rush through on Tuesday in parliament … Territorians will not forget this fundamental betrayal,” she said in a statement.