The Gunner Government will release its much-anticipated 2020 Budget on November 10 – six months after it was due – and today announced it will reduce the amount of days the Opposition will get to scrutinise it.
The 14th parliament will commence on October 20, according to Speaker Ngaree Ah-Kit, who released sitting dates for the next year on Wednesday.
The Budget will be released on November 10, during a three-day sitting week. Budget Estimates hearings will commence in December for four days – less than the usual six days set aside for Opposition and crossbench MLAs to ask the government questions about its spending and budgetary processes.
Leader of the Opposition Lia Finocchiaro said cutting Estimates hearings to four days was a way to hide the economic and financial problems facing the NT.
“Michael Gunner’s first decision as Treasurer is to ensure that the Opposition can ask him and his new ministers less questions,” she said.
“This is despite the fact that this will be the first Estimates process since June 2019. It is a clear attempt to protect his new ministers from being questioned too closely after the confusing reshuffle.”
The Budget was delayed following the COVID-19 pandemic. Chief Minister Michael Gunner and his former treasurer Nicole Manison were heavily criticised for hiding the state of the Territory’s finances in the lead up to the August general election, including the unprecedented step of not releasing a pre-election fiscal outlook.
In late July, the government released rough figures that showed the net debt was projected to hit $8.2 billion by the end of this financial year. But political observers said that figure is likely on the low end of projections and the true debt could be much higher.
Real financial figures for the 2019-20 financial year have not yet been released.
The 2020 Budget will be Mr Gunner’s first as Treasurer after dumping Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison from the role in a cabinet shuffle earlier this week.
CDU research fellow Rolfe Gerritsen told ABC Radio Mr Gunner’s new job raises concerns given his existing workload and the removal now of checks and balances on government spending by assuming the role of Treasurer himself.
“The treasurer, in theory, is the person at the Cabinet table who says, ‘Hang on a sec, how much is that going to cost?'” Mr Gerritsen said.
“The chief minister then adjudicates, allegedly, between the treasurer and the relevant minister who’s proposing some bright new scheme. Whereas now, of course, he’s both judge and jury.”
Mr Gunner’s office was contacted for comment.
Leader of Government Business Natasha Fyles told the media on Wednesday that the government intends to increase the sitting hours of the four days of Estimates hearings to make up for the lost time in days.
Parliament will sit for 11 days this year and for 37 days in 2021.