Chief Minister Michael Gunner is facing increased pressure to release an update on the state of the Territory’s finances, following a federal report that shows his government was made aware of GST funding figures in February – the same figures the Tasmanian Government used to draft a fiscal update this month.
While the figures provided in the Commonwealth Grants Commission (CGC) funding report will change later in the year, the former head of the NT Grants Commission says the Gunner Government is stalling for political self-interest rather than a lack of information, as they have claimed.
Bob Beadman told the NT Independent the Gunner Government has more than enough information to produce a fiscal update report and that doing so would provide certainty to the business community and the public at large.
“The public want to be reassured that the government is leading them to an optimistic future and there is a plan to get them there,” he said. “There doesn’t appear to be any of that coming from government today.
“They’ve made a political judgment about whether producing a fiscal outlook would help or hinder their election prospects – they’ve answered themselves by not bringing one down.”
Commonwealth Grants Commission report was distributed in February
Mr Gunner has repeatedly rejected calls for a budget or pre-election fiscal outlook before the general election, citing unknown GST revenues.
But according to the CGC report that was sent to state and territory governments in February, the Territory can expect an extra $368 million in GST payments this year. Those figures and other GST revenues would change throughout the year, as they do every year.
CLP shadow treasurer Tracey Hayes said the decision to withhold a fiscal update report or a “mini-budget” before the election showed “contempt for Territorians”.
“The Gunner Government has been aware of the important GST change since mid-February,” she said. “By refusing to release a mini-budget before the election, the Chief Minister and Treasurer are showing absolute contempt for Territorians and disregard for fair democratic process. It’s a disappointing demonstration of poor leadership and poor governance, devoid of political fortitude.”
‘No obstacle’ to producing some form of financial update
Treasurer Nicole Manison was contacted for comment but did not respond to questions, including whether or not she felt Territorians were buying the government’s repeated assertion that a budget or fiscal outlook cannot be produced.
The Territory’s net debt has escalated from $1.7 billion in 2016 — when Labor was elected — to what experts estimate will be more than $7 billion by the end of this financial year.
The final net debt figure will now remain unknown until the budget is handed down after the August election.
“There is no obstacle to the NT producing a Fiscal Outlook Report, if it wanted to,” Mr Beadman said. “Final receipt numbers are not essential to produce an indicative report, as Tasmania has shown.
“I note the NT has an election due in three months, and Tasmania in two years. Presumably the NT (government) sees no electoral advantage in producing a Fiscal Outlook.”
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