Gunner takes aim at PS heads
NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner is considering disciplinary action against department heads who come in over budget.
Mr Gunner has announced plans to rein-in routine overspending across Northern Territory Government departments, as part of broader efforts to curb the region's spiralling debt crisis.
The Territory is on track to be $35.7 billion in debt by 2029-30, creating a serious need for budget repair.
John Langoulant - a former under-treasurer for the Western Australian government and author of a new report on NT’s situation - says the budget would be manageable if expenditure growth dropped from 6 per cent to 3 per cent a year.
“A 6 per cent to a 3 per cent reduction doesn't necessarily sound a lot, but in a public sector environment where that has become the standard practise, it does require a significant change in the way all the public service goes about their task,” Mr Langoulant said this week.
He suggested forcing departments to stay within their budgets, but that will be difficult for some like the NT Health Department, which has blown its allocated budget seven times in the past eight years.
“Government now is actually going to require agencies to manage to a set budget, as distinct to having a mindset that a budget is, if you like, nothing more than an estimate which can be broken,” Mr Langoulant said.
“And that's a change in the culture which needs to occur.”
Health, corrections and police departments were singled out by Mr Gunner as chronic over-spenders.
“We know that there are reasons why police are busy at night, why our hospitals are full, why our prisons are full,” Mr Gunner said.
“A lot of what we need to do in the structural budget-repair space is that social reform around generational change.”
The Chief Minister said there will be a “root and branch” review process in which the chief executive of every NT government department will explain how they deliver services efficiently, effectively and find value for money.
They will have to detail how their department aligns with “government priorities” of job creation, generational change, community safety and integrity.
“We will need to make tough but smart decisions to bring the budget back to operational balance in the medium term,” Mr Gunner said.
“I can guarantee Territorians we won't be putting the economy and jobs at risk by following the advice of those calling for savage cuts to the public service.”
Mr Gunner threatened disciplinary action for departments that continued to blow their budgets, but was vague about the details.
“We are actively looking at how we hold CEOs and agencies to account around their budget allocations. That's the work we are doing as a cabinet going into this budget,” he said.
Mr Langoulant said in Western Australia, if a government department blows its budget, it becomes subject to an external review of all its expenditures.