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Wednesday, 12 October 1983
Page: 1681


Mr REEVES(7.05) —I will refer in a moment to some of the matters raised by the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite). This legislation appropriates $16.9m as a special assistance grant to the Northern Territory and is based on the Fourth Report of the Commonwealth Grants Commission on Special Assistance for the Northern Territory. It is based on the provision of the memorandum of understanding which provides for the Northern Territory to apply for special assistance grants until the end of the 1984-85 financial year. The Northern Territory Country Liberal Party Government should pay heed to that fact, because after the end of the 1984-85 financial year it will quickly realise that the party is over.

This report, however, makes it clear that the Territory population has special needs. The report puts to rest the nonsense that the Northern Territory is over- funded or is generously funded. I am happy to agree with the honourable member for Dawson on the question of statements about the Territory being generously funded; it is not. This report points to a number of areas in which the Territory sufers from particular disabilities. In particular, it refers to the differences of area, climate, topography, natural resources, size and distribution of population, productive capacity and levels of income and expenditure. The report also refers to the high cost of providing services for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. The large population of Aborigines in the Northern Territory, combined with the location of many of them in remote communities, clearly gives rise to a major disability in the Territory. There are special needs in the Northern Territory and that is why the memorandum of understanding provided that special assistance could be granted to the Northern Territory during the early years of self-government.

The criticism of the Northern Territory, based on the generous or over-funding line that some people raise, is justified when we consider the conduct of the Northern Territory Country Liberal Party Government. I suggest that, instead of talking about the people of the Northern Territory receiving too much, we should be looking at the conduct of the Country Liberal Party politicians in the Northern Territory. I suggest there is ample ground for criticism. The Northern Territory Government's Budget indicates that for the last five to six financial years the level of revenue raised from Territory sources has been about 16 per cent. It has fluctuated from 16.94 per cent in 1979-80 to an estimated 13.9 per cent in the 1983-84 financial year. The rest of the Northern Territory Government's revenue comes from the Commonwealth Government, that is, about six- sevenths of the total Territory Budget is provided by the Commonwealth Government. Grants from the Federal Government over the last five years add up to about $3 billion. Yet we hear statements from Country Liberal Party politicians in the Northern Territory that indicate that they have no appreciation of the level of funding or their responsibility for the funding that is received from the Federal Government.

On 24 May 1983 the Canberra Times reported:

Mr Everingham accused the Commonwealth of callous neglect of the Northern Territory since 1910.

I suggest that $3 billion over the last five years is hardly 'callous neglect'. On 7 April this year he stated, as reported in the Northern Territory News:

We are forced to rely on the generosity of those who have confiscated a major portion of its (the NT) pay packet.

He was referring to uranium royalties. Of course he gets them back by way of a special grant through the grants from the Commonwealth Government. He is yet again indicating that he does not appreciate that he has certain responsibilities for the money that comes from the Federal Government. One of those responsibilities is to spend the money wisely and not to waste it. I suggest that if we look at this year's Budget for the Northern Territory, the appropriation for the Department of the Chief Minister shows a total allocation of about $12.8m. Two of the largest allocations in that Budget are for ministerial travel and ceremonial and hospitality-in other words, travel and entertainment. Those two allocations total something like $2 1/2m. This financial year the six Ministers in the Northern Territory Government have budgeted to spend on travel for themselves $1.02m. The honourable member for Dawson said that the Northern Territory Government is a very responsible government. This year the six Ministers will spend $1.02m on travel. That works out at $1,000 a day. They would have to travel to and from Sydney every day to soak up that amount. That is what has been allocated for travel. Nearly $1.5m has been allocated for ceremonial and hospitality. The Northern Territory Government has allocated $350,000 for advisory fees. That includes the very expensive lobbyist whom it employes in Canberra at a cost of about $150,000 on various estimates-none other than David Combe. Another $200,000 has been allocated for other advisory fees. The whole of the Northern Territory Budget is riddled with waste. I suggest that if the Northern Territory Government wants to be recognised as a credible and responsible government it must stop this sort of waste.

Let us look at one of its recent initiatives. It has introduced six new seats into the Northern Territory Assembly. That takes the size of the Northern Territory Assembly from 19 to 25. Those electorates, some find it very hard to believe, comprise 2,200 electors each, Northern Territory members have electorates the size of most Federal members backyards. If they do not know every man, woman, child and their dog in the electorate, they are not doing their job. If honourable members look at the Commonwealth Grants Commission report they will see that the Northern Territory spends on its legislature $52. 29 per capita, in comparison with Victoria which spends $6.09 per capita and New South Wales which spends $5 per capita. One can see from looking at these expenditure figures in the Grants Commission report where the money is being wasted by the Northern Territory Government. It is not the people of the Northern Territory who should be criticised; it is the Northern Territory Country Liberal Party Government which is not doing its job responsibly in spending the money that is granted to it by the Federal Government.

We heard from the honourable member for Dawson a lot of talk about railways, uranium and the recent Budget. He also mentioned the need to develop Darwin as the front door to Australia. In 1980, 1981 and 1982 the former Liberal Government had plenty of opportunities to do something about commencing construction of the Darwin International Airport. Did it? Of course not. It announced its intention to do so in 1980; it announced its intention to do so in 1981; it announced its intention to do so in 1982; and prior to the election in 1983 it was still saying that it would build the Darwin Airport. However it had no money. The Government announced all sorts of things, but it did not allocate any money for them. In seven months in office the Labor Government has allocated the money to build the $96m Darwin International Airport.

The other day we had the spectacle of the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher ), the shadow Minister for Transport, saying that the $5m that has been allocated for the route identification study on the Alice Springs to Darwin railway should not have been allocated. He said that we should not spend it. Yet the Liberal and National parties are saying that we should construct the railway line. Surely it should get through the thick skulls of Opposition members that before one builds a railway line one must do a route identification study, survey the line and do all the basic design work for it, but the honourable member for Hume suggested that we should not spend that $5m.

The honourable member for Dawson talked about uranium mining. I am well aware of the state of the uranium industry in the Northern Territory. There are two existing mines. The third mine mentioned by the honourable member, the Honeymoon mine, is not in the Northern Territory; it is in another State. That indicates his knowledge of the Northern Territory. The two existing mines continue to produce at a rate which meets current demand. It is well known that the world demand for uranium collapsed in the last two to three years and, on current expectations, there will not be a balanced situation until the mid 1990s. There is no potential for massive development surrounding the uranium industry in the Northern Territory because there is no demand for uranium on the world market at present, and there is unlikely to be any demand for at least 10 to 15 years.

The Grants Commission, in its report, made a number of guarded comments which reflect very strongly on the competence of the Country Liberal Party Northern Territory Government. The Grants Commission was trying to work out what level of special assistance it should give the Northern Territory. These are the sorts of comments that it made. Referring to the Northern Territory's accounting system it said:

This relates to the structure of the Territory accounts, which make no accounting distinction between transactions by source of funds. There is therefore no distinction between recurrent revenue sources and loan funds or other sources earmarked for capital purposes. The consequential difficulty of identifying recurrent revenues and expenditure in the Territory complicates the tasks of comparison between the Territory and standard States.

It is basic accountancy that one splits off one's revenue sources in recurrent and capital accounts, but it seems that the Territory Government has not done so . I suggest that that reflects very poorly on its competency as a manager of the funds given to it on behalf of the people of Australia, including those in the Northern Territory. The Commission further said:

. . . The Commission experienced difficulties in understanding some of the data provided by Departments for 1981-82 . . .

I pause there to say that they are Northern Territory departments-

and in reconciling these data with published figures and with information provided in respect of previous years. Some dissections were not provided and in other cases data were received too late. The Commission considers that some more satisfactory arrangements should be possible by which the requisite data can be presented in a more understandable format without involving Northern Territory departments in additional work.

That is not the worst of it by a long way. The Commission finally had this to say:

The Commission's program was seriously hampered by ther late receipt of essential data from the Northern Territory. Even when this information was received, it was found that there were serious deficiencies in the data supplied by several departments; these deficiencies were of such nature and magnitude as to prevent the satisfactory functional allocation of revenues and expenditures according to the Commission's needs classifications without reference back to the Territory.

The Northern Territory Government, which has spent so much time criticising the Federal Labor Government for incompetence and not looking after the Northern Territory, is being criticised very soundly for its incompetence in basic areas of government. I think the message is on the wall for the CLP Government in the Northern Territory. If it wants to be treated as a responsible manager of the public purse it cannot go on wasting money like it does at present; it cannot display the sort of incompetence it has displayed in trying to make some sort of submission to the Grants Commission and it cannot go on with the rhetoric and political grandstanding that it has in the last few months because the writing is on the wall for it. An election is due in the Northern Territory in six months, and after that there will be, as there is in almost every State in Australia, a Labor government. The people of the Northern Territory, and Australia for that matter, will not accept such waste and incompetence by any government.