UPDATED: The Territory’s latest quarterly financial figures show the Gunner Government on track to blow out its budget, but it continues to refuse to offer official projections of just how much.
For the first nine months of the year, the net debt was listed at $5.5 billion, according to the Treasurer’s quarterly financial statement to the end of March.
But worrying numbers around borrowings, loss of revenue and increased expenditures could mean a lot more debt to come.
The figures show the government already borrowed more by the end of March than they budgeted for the entire year. That total is currently at $6.5 billion, compared to the $6.4 billion in the last budget.
The quarterly figures did not include the $300 million Treasurer Nicole Manison drew down to spend on coronavirus stimulus announcements or the estimated foregone revenue losses of $180 million to help businesses cope with the economic impacts of the pandemic.
It’s expected the net debt by the end of the year could be an estimated $7.3 billion, say government observers.
But the actual figures, which will be dependent on GST funding from the Commonwealth, are still unknown Chief Minister Michael Gunner said, adding that he would not provide any official forecasts of what the net debt will look like by the end of next month.
“We obviously don’t know the full impact of this quarter yet and we’ll be able to do that at the end of the financial year,” he said at a press conference. “We’re being accurate with our reports and not making guesses.”
Mr Gunner said the end of year statement would include unaudited agency estimates, not the typical actuals in a budget. It’s expected to be released in late July or August, weeks before the election.
“It will show you what we’ve done, it will show you the actual position where things are at,” he said. “I will stand here then and tell you exactly what happened.”
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Treasurer Nicole Manison said the quarterly figures showed the government was “on track” before the COVID-19 pandemic, but also offered no forward estimates. She added that the projected fiscal deficit was down by $247 million, but cautioned that “the biggest economic downturn in nearly 100 years will mean the budget position in the June quarter will be substantially different”.
Professor Rolf Gerritsen, with Charles Darwin University’s Northern Institute, said the quarterly figures were inconclusive, but expected the net debt to reach more than $7.3 billion by the end of June.
He also estimated the GST figures could be down by as much as 25 per cent.
“This is really the last accounts before the sky fell in,” he said.
“That ($7 billion figure) is partly a reduction of revenue and an increase in expenditure. We don’t know how much extra expenditure has taken place.
“The other number to watch is when we stop the border restrictions how many people leave. When the Northern Territory has an economic downturn, employment figures go down because the unemployed leave, they go to bigger markets where they have family and friends.”
Deputy Territory Alliance leader Robyn Lambley said the latest numbers were bleak and borrowing was continuing to get away from the government.
“It paints a very bleak picture of the Territory’s fiscal position,” she said. “They are continuing to borrow money to pay interest and wages. These figures are before the impact on the government’s budget books, before the $300 million Treasure’s advance impact to prop up the stimulus announcements actually hits the books.
“They continue to show they are incapable of meeting their own budget targets.”
CLP Opposition leader Lia Finocchiaro said the quarterly numbers were of little value and renewed calls for a “mini-budget” to get a better sense of the state of finances, similar to other states.
“The Gunner Government is covering up the real numbers with this report,” she said. “It’s pretty useless to be able to see where the Territory’s finances are currently at. It’s nothing near what Territorians have been calling for and we need a mini-budget.”
Independent MLA Scott McConnell, who has called for a federal inquiry into the Territory’s financial dealings, said he was concerned with the borrowings.
“There’s no easy way out of this,” he said. “The borrowings indicated are well ahead of the Treasurer’s forecast, even before coronavirus spending. That’s future generations money, they’re the ultimate future-eaters. They’re actually spending our children’s earnings that will have to be repaid.”
Last week, the government quietly dropped their progress update for meeting the recommendations of the Langoulant report on budget repair, which showed key targets were yet to be met more than a year after receiving the report and that measures to reign in spending were not being accomplished.