NT uses $1 billion to buy time amid virus

Chief Minister Michael Gunner says the NT is focused on keeping people and businesses healthy.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner says the NT is focused on keeping people and businesses healthy.

The Northern Territory will be getting an economic boost of about $1 billion to buy time to keep its citizens healthy and in jobs, and businesses alive until the coronavirus pandemic passes, Chief Minister Michael Gunner says.

The federal government's $130 billion JobKeeper Payment scheme was expected to deliver about $870 million to the pockets of Territory workers over the next six months, more than $33 million a week, according to NT government analysis.

There have been 19 coronavirus cases in the Territory, all involving travellers returning from overseas, and no deaths as yet.

A $50 million Small Business Survival Fund has received applications for grants from more than 260 local businesses and would start delivering its first payments this week, Mr Gunner says.

Reserve Bank of Australia governor Philip Lowe had given all of the nation's leaders a "mission statement: to get the cash flowing, keep workers and we're doing everything we can to get that done", Mr Gunner said.

"Right now all our strategies are essentially about buying time.

"How can I buy the time so less Territorians get sick, there is less pressure on our health system, and we have got more time to work out those answers around vaccines.

"The time that we're looking at is around six months. What can I do during that time to make sure businesses don't fall over, that people stay sane, that people stay at work."

The latest major casualty is Yulara resort near the closed Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park, where about 700 staff have been stood down.

Territory businesses would effectively be getting an 18-month "whack" of down time given the six-month wet season would officially end in less than a month and what is supposed to be the busy dry season starts.

"I have asked for planning and thought to go into the rebound and how do we come out the other side of this and do it in a way that helps business out," Mr Gunner said.

One plan to boost tourism when the pandemic is over is to get Territorians to travel in the NT.

"I think we've lost 100 per cent of our tourism market and that's just in a matter of weeks," Mr Gunner said.

"A lot of businesses are hurting, a lot of locals are doing it hard, but we're starting to see a bit of hope too. It's hard now, but the hard times won't last forever."

Some Territory businesses were surviving and thriving, he said, citing a an Alice Springs cafe that was delivering to teachers, a Darwin fashion designer who was making face masks, and a coffee cart that was serving Darwin hospital doctors and nurses.

Australian Associated Press