NT budget spares public service jobs, indigenous recruitment steams ahead

By Stephen Easton

May 26, 2016

The Northern Territory public service is on track to meet its target of 16% indigenous employment by 2020, according to this week’s budget papers, which allocated $900,000 to the effort.

The lofty aim of the NT Public Sector Indigenous Employment and Career Development Strategy is to give its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants “an opportunity to drive government policy to improve economic outcomes” for the territory’s significant indigenous population, the budget overview explains.

Since beginning last year, the program has met its interim goal to end 2015 with people of indigenous background filling 9.3% of public sector jobs.

On overall public sector employment, Treasurer David Tollner and Chief Minister Adam Giles have disappointed the strict fiscal disciplinarians at The Australian by choosing not to cut back the government workforce this time around.

While Giles’ predecessor Terry Mills came to power in 2012 promising to let the NT public service shrink through natural attrition, and managed to shed over 500 jobs including 50 from his own department, Giles apparently sees more value in keeping bureaucrats around. The overall NT public sector has increased since Giles seized power in a leadership ballot by about 800 full-time equivalents and the Department of the Chief Minister is bigger than ever.

New agencies to be established include the territory’s own Chief Scientist “to provide high level advice on matters relating to science and innovation” and a new Remote Housing Development Authority, which were allocated $1 million each in start-up costs. According to Tollner:

“This Authority will give local people more say on the provision of housing and essential services in their communities. It will empower communities to focus on better local engagement, management and delivery strategies.”

NT’s well respected e-health system gets an upgrade, too, with $185.9 million over five years going to the Core Clinical Systems Renewal Program. Billed as “the largest ICT reform in the Territory’s history”, the project promises to “revolutionise” healthcare in various ways including the introduction of real-time e-health records.

“What this means is that the Northern Territory will be the only place in the country where, for example, a patient from a remote area could visit a private general practitioner (GP) in Darwin and have instant access to their medical records. This will provide more comprehensive information for the GP, which will result in better outcomes for the patient,” said Tollner, who will bow out of politics ahead of the next election in August.

This week’s budget papers pushed back an expected return to surplus two years until 2019-20, leaving the NT government with a $794 million deficit at the end of the coming financial year. Blaming “a reduced GST share totalling $750 million and lower estimates of stamp duty and mining royalties” for the revised plans, Tollner said it would be irresponsible to try to balance the books any sooner.

A promise to create a new integrity body of some kind to fight corruption and misconduct in the NT public sector has not been fulfilled in the budget, with Tollner telling journalists the details of exactly what form it would take are yet to be hammered out.

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