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Chasing the bucks down the burrows

By Graham Ring - posted Thursday, 16 October 2008

A Senate inquiry has just been tasked with examining the Northern Territory Government's apparent failure to spend its allocated “Canberra cash” in key community sectors.

Bart Simpson cruelled the “my dog ate my homework” excuse for everybody. People have become so cynical that they just don't believe this one anymore. Similarly, the apologetic “I think I must have been away that day” no longer really cuts it as a “full and frank explanation”.

Something a bit more inventive is needed in the “duck and cover” stakes these days. And it's just possible that a recently announced Senate inquiry will prompt some new and more exciting cop-outs.


Senator Nigel Scullion has been a key player in instituting a Senate inquiry to examine federal and NT government expenditure on Indigenous affairs in the Northern Territory.

The inquiry will look particularly at whether the “NT Government's expenditure of GST receipts accurately reflects the Commonwealth Grants Commission's funding formula”.

Senator Scullion obviously knows a lot more about Indigenous disadvantage than can be gleaned while tickling down a coldie and wetting a line off the Tiwi Islands. And he'll have plenty of time to concentrate on the issue, now that he has been relieved of the presumably onerous task of leading the National Party in the Senate.

But the inquiry is welcomed, since it will serve to spotlight some alarming discrepancies between the Commonwealth Grants Commission (CGC) figures and the money actually spent by the NT government.

The CGC is an independent body which oversees the distribution of GST revenue to the states and territories. The Commission makes adjustments for remoteness, population size and other factors affecting the cost of service delivery, and then doles out the dollars that are needed to provide an equal level of service across Australia.

At the end of each financial year, the CGC publishes these figures, together with the amount that each state and territory reports as their spending in the area.


The 2006-07 figures did not make happy reading for NT politicians.

The Commission assessed the appropriate level of spending on Indigenous communities at $218 million, but in its wisdom, the NT government saw fit to spend only $110 million.

Now it just so happens that thing aren't all that fab in many remote communities here in the Northern Territory. I even recall the odd news item in the last 12 months which bears out this fact. This underspend is staggering.

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First published in Issue 163 of the National Indigenous Times on October 2, 2008.

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About the Author

Graham Ring is an award-winning writer and a fortnightly National Indigenous Times columnist. He is based in Alice Springs.

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