NT public service faces uncertain future as Government attempts to reduce $4.5 billion debt
The Northern Territory Government’s deep financial woes have left the public service in limbo, with the Treasurer conceding jobs considered “no longer relevant” could be cut in an attempt to bring the budget under control.
- The Northern Territory’s net debt will reach $4.5 billion this financial year
- Treasurer Nicole Manison says a plan to reduce spending will be devised by March
- Chief Minister Michael Gunner has not spoken publicly about the budget woes
Nicole Manison repeatedly dodged questions on ABC Radio Darwin this morning about potential cuts, saying the Government would focus on efficiency and achieving “sensible savings”.
“We only make changes where we think that programs are not working or jobs are no longer relevant,” she said.
“What we will do is when we think there’s sensible savings that can be achieved we will make them in those areas.”
The NT Government revealed on Friday a spiralling net debt, rising from $1.7 billion when Labor first came to power to an expected $4.5 billion at the end of this financial year, and an expected $35.7 billion by 2029-30.
The Government is currently borrowing to cover day-to-day operational costs, but Ms Manison said she would not be asking the Federal Government for a bailout.
“Let me be very clear: this is not asking for bailouts or saying that we’re in crisis or dire straits,” she said.
“This is briefing them on the work that the NT Government is doing and part of that work will be looking at how we make savings in the Northern Territory because it’s important we carry our weight and we do heavy lifting.
“But I will also be talking to them about how I think we can restructure funding that comes into the Northern Territory to get better bang for the buck.”
Ms Manison will meet with Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen tomorrow before heading to Melbourne to talk with Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
“The Treasurer looks forward to meeting with the NT Treasurer later this week to discuss how the NT Government will bring their budget under control,” a spokesperson for Mr Frydenberg said in a statement.
Ms Manison cited the recent restructuring of the GST as a key reason behind the Territory’s current fiscal problem — a claim rejected by the Federal Government.
“Importantly, under the legislated reforms to the GST introduced by the Commonwealth Government, over the next eight years the NT is expected to receive an additional $258 million in GST payments as compared with the share they would have otherwise received,” the spokesperson said.
‘Shocking indictment’ of budget management
Chief Minister Michael Gunner is yet to speak publicly on the Territory’s budget woes, as he is holidaying in New Zealand, but the NT Government currently has no concrete plan about how it intends to repair its budget.
“That’s the work we’re doing now and we’ll have it finalised in March,” Ms Manison said.
“We’re asking bigger broader questions about how we operate the public sector as a whole.”
Ms Manison said her Government would consider ways to “deliver servicers more efficiently” and was questioned by ABC presenter Georgia Hitch about the likely impact on public sector jobs.
Georgia Hitch: Does that mean public service cuts?
Nicole Manison: That means like we do every budget, but also looking at more across the public services — how can we constrain Government expenditure growth responsibly?
Georgia Hitch: So is that a yes to public service cuts?
Nicole Manison: Can I finish? So we are not going to be taking the CLP [Country Liberal Party] approach of just slashing and burning, sacking public servants, putting the power prices up through the roof, the cost of living through the roof.
Ms Manison said the Government would be re-evaluating infrastructure projects, but would continue to pay families up to $15,000 to move to the Territory under its Boundless Possible population strategy.
Deputy Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro said the debt blowout was a “shocking indictment” on the Government’s ability “to manage the books”.
She said the Opposition will refer the Government’s interim budget repair report to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.
“We are absolutely horrified at the information that’s come out in the government’s report,” she said.
“Those number are absolutely incomprehensible and what they do is they burden our children, their children’s, their children’s children with generations of debt that they cannot pay back.”
Ms Manison hit back, saying her Government was committed to ensuring “a fantastic future for the Northern Territory”.