The Northern Territory Government’s budget cuts to the public sector wage bill have been criticised while its $28 million boost to local government and rural infrastructure has been praised.
In a bid to return its budget to surplus, the NT Government will introduce a voluntary redundancy program across non-frontline roles, which the public sector union estimates could result in 250 job losses.
The government will also reduce wage increases in the public service from 2.5 per cent to 2 per cent for future enterprise agreements as of October, while also placing a freeze on new jobs, according to its budget handed down on Tuesday.
But the NT Community & Public Sector Union (CPSU) says that more job losses should be expected given the budget’s cut to departmental budgets as part of its efficiency dividend.
The union’s NT regional secretary Kay Densley criticised the cuts as “short-sighted”, saying they will hurt communities and service delivery.
“The Gunner Government is continuing to apply a so-called efficiency dividend on Territory agencies. There’s nothing efficient about arbitrary cuts, ramped up to 3 per cent of departmental budgets this year. This policy over many years is eroding the quality and capability of the NT public service, hurting the services they provide and removing much-needed employment opportunities.”
A spokesperson for NT Treasurer Nicole Manison told Government News that the job freeze would see new positions in the public service being signed off by Cabinet.
“We won’t be targeting frontline services. But we do have a fairly large public service,” the spokesperson said, adding that a 0.5 per cent decrease in enterprise agreement negotiations was “very reasonable.”
Other budget measures to save $234 million included a review of grant arrangements and an annual reduction in repair and maintenance expenditure.
The cuts come with a 2018-19 Budget $1.2 billion deficit forecast and net debt expected to reach $7.5 billion by 2021-22.
Funding boost for local government
Local government bodies will receive $28.7 million in funding to assist with service delivery, while $5 million will fund the development of infrastructure by local government.
Tony Tapsell, CEO of the Local Government Association of the NT, said the funding was welcome news for the NT’s local councils:
“These grants are ongoing and supported although they have not increased from the 2017-18 financial year. They are paid to nine regional and three shire councils (outside of the major population centres in the NT) and cater for shortfalls in revenue due to most of these councils not having much of a rate base.”
The budget also delivered $3 million to support local decision making, including a $1 million boost to an initiative encouraging indigenous stakeholders to share in government service-delivery and $8.5 million to enable regional councils to employ Aboriginal staff.
Mr Tapsell said the funding, which operates as a subsidy for indigenous employees, has been instrumental to a strong indigenous representation in local government.
“Councils are very happy with this arrangement as it is one measure that has led to them having anything from 60 to 80 per cent indigenous employment levels in their total workforces which is a great achievement in areas where there is high indigenous unemployment and the communities serviced by them are largely indigenous.”
Rural infrastructure upgrades
Tackling a regional infrastructure backlog with more than half of the $1.89 billion capital works program committed to to new and upgraded infrastructure in remote and regional areas.
This includes $1.1 billion towards the 10-year Remote Housing Investment Package, with $96.9 million towards building new homes, $36.9 million to ease overcrowding and $17.4 million on new housing for locally-recruited government employees.
The government has committed $63.5 million to establish utilities infrastructure in remote communities and $5 million to upgrade essential services infrastructure across 72 remote communities.
Other highlights of the NT’s budget:
- a new minimum royalty scheme for all mines in the NT and the investment of $2.4 million to attract new mining projects
- a new minimum price of $1.30 per standard drink for alcoholic beverages as well as $11.8 million to tackle alcohol abuse.
- $229 million to reform the NT’s child protection and youth justice system, including $12.9 million on local youth programs.
- $1.5 billion on health including cancer services, a new hospital, specialised alcohol treatment and maternity services.
- $626.4 million to upgrade Territory roads
- $9.9 million to the volunteer bushfire brigade, $4.5 million towards the construction of a new Bushfires NT response centre and $ 1 million towards flood mitigation digital modelling
- $11.9 million to build a new adventure cycling track in West MacDonnell National Park, $11.3 million for Litchfield National Park and $5.6 million to construct a five-day walking track in Central Australia.
- $66 million to revitalise the Darwin and Alice Springs CBDs, including an adventure splash park, head wave mitigation strategy and a new fine art gallery.
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