That’s the claim made in today’s Oz, quoting the NT Council of Social Service president Barry Hansen. The NT gets very high levels of Commonwealth Grant funding on the basis of a needs-based formula which is heavily influenced by the large proportion of indigenous people, living in remote areas that are costly to service. According to Hansen, the funding is largely spent on providing services to the wealthy (mostly white) suburbs of Darwin.
Mr Hansen pointed to the latest Commonwealth Grants Commission State Finance Inquiry working paper that showed the commission had assessed the Northern Territory Government’s expected per capita expenditure on indigenous services to be close to $218 million in 2006-07. The working paper’s assessment showed that the Northern Territory Government, whose grants from the commonwealth are not tied to the spending areas for which it is allocated, only spent $110 million.
I haven’t studied the NT accounts in detail, and I’ve only visited a few times, but I must say this is consistent with my understanding.
As an illustration, it’s worth comparing the Parliament building for the NT (pop 217 000) with the building in which the Legislative Assembly for the ACT (pop 339 000) which received self-government about the same time . The NT assembly is an imposing building. I don’t have a cost figure, but obviously it would not have been cheap. The ACT assembly meets in a low-rise office building, at least 40 years old and refurbished 15 years ago. (pics to come) It’s hard to see how the NT could have afforded its building on the basis of the local tax base, assuming that any compensation for the high cost of remote services was spent where it should have been. And what’s true of the buildings is true more generally of the capitals. While the ACT, and particularly its city centre, has got noticeably shabbier since the end of direct Commonwealth control and funding, Darwin looks like a place that is getting plenty of public expenditure.
Of course, impressions can be wrong and bloggers like Ken Parish at Club Troppo are much better-informed on the NT than I am. So I’ll follow this story with interest.