NT departments way over budget, but not as much as expected

By Shannon Jenkins

Monday October 21, 2019

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The Northern Territory’s Health Department has blown its budget for the eighth time in the past nine years.

It’s one of 17 departments to go millions of dollars over their allocated budgets last financial year, according to Treasurer Nicole Manison’s latest annual financial report

The NT’s forecast deficit for 2018/19 had actually improved by $388 million between May’s budget and the end of June, but this was due to changes outside of the government’s control, like higher than expected GST revenue, and royalty revenue.

Manison’s report — which was tabled on Wednesday — revealed the Department of Local Government, Housing and Community Development went the most over its budget, spending $150 million more than its $506 million allocation. This was likely caused by the government bringing in an extra $100 million in public housing stimulus.

Although $1.2 billion had been allocated to the Department of Health, it spent an extra $58 million, due to $60 million worth of “interim budget pressure support”.

The Department of the Attorney-General and Justice was $26 million over its budget, while the Chief Minister’s department spent $9 million more than its $76.3 million limit.

The Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics spent $123 million more than its allocation, but the Tourism Department was only $3 million over its budget.

NT Police, Fire and Emergency Services was $29 million over its $430 million budget, mostly due to revisions made with NT Remote Aboriginal Investment funding.

The government also spent $167 million on unbudgeted policy changes between May and June, on upgrades to sporting facilities, public schools and community infrastructure, and infrastructure projects including the Remote Indigenous Housing Investment Package, urban public housing, and roads projects.

Manison has defended the spend.

“We are listening to industry and we are looking at ways we can stimulate economic activity and economic growth, and that’s why we see infrastructure as a good investment,” she said.

In December last year, John Langoulant was brought in by the government to review its finances, after it was predicted the NT’s net debt could rise to $35 billion over the next decade. The former West Australian under-treasurer released his Budget Repair Report in April, with 76 recommendations, but reminded the government there is “no silver bullet”. 

“On the expenditure side, the Territory government requires comprehensive cultural change to improve the integrity of the budget process, and hold ministers and chief executives accountable for the financial performance of their respective portfolios and agencies,” he wrote. “These changes to longstanding practices, which have been evident for more than a decade, are fundamental to placing the Territory on a path to fiscal sustainability.”

The NT government accepted 68 of the recommendations in full,

Since the release of the latest financial report, Chief Minister Michael Gunner has said he will start holding those who overspend to account.

“This report is for the last financial year, 2018-19, and predates the final Langoulant report, which was delivered towards in April,” he said.

“Looking forward, we will be holding CEOs and departments to account, as per the recommendations of the Langoulant review.”

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