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Media silence: NT Govt caught stealing $2 billion from Indigenous budget

By Welcome to Country

There has been nothing but silence after The Australian revealed the NT Government kept over $2 billion of its Indigenous aid budget.

The scathing report from The Australian came at a time when all eyes were on the NT after a shocking case of child sexual abuse hit Tennant Creek. The NT is facing a mountain of problems right now. From Indigenous health to housing, unemployment to education. Indigenous communities really need all the help they can get. The situation is nothing short of a national disgrace.

While many people have their fingers pointed directly at Aboriginal communities, no one seems to be questioning the $2 billion of Indigenous funding that was taken out of Indigenous aid budgets by the NT Govt. Can you honestly say that problems would be so bad in these communities if the $2 billion was invested like it was supposed to be?

The report revealed that successive governments under-spent on allocated Indigenous and remote disadvantage GST funding. The total of under-spending has now reached around $2.2 billion dollars. In 2014, we saw outrage when Tony Abbott and Warren Mundine announced nationwide Indigenous budget cuts of over $500 million. Now it has been revealed that $2 billion was stripped secretly from some of the most disadvantaged Aboriginal communities and there is nothing but silence.

We can’t blame the public for not knowing about this as the only article about this story is behind a pay-wall on The Australian’s subscription based website. But other media throughout Australia have no excuse for ignoring this. What is really going on here? Is there going to be another military backed intervention in the NT? An intervention aided once again by Australia’s media that is only telling one side of the story?

We are facing an extremely concerning time right now. While some regions of Australia are talking about truth and reconciliation the NT government appear to be doing all they can to demonise, degrade and de-stabilise Indigenous communities. And while all this goes on, there are persistent fears of fracking and remote community closures.

If you’re feeling helpless as to what you can do, let’s start by sharing this story. At present, this is the only non-paywall article talking about the misuse of over $2 billion dollars. And let’s start putting pressure and questioning why other news sites aren’t reporting on both sides of the story in the Northern Territory.

This article was originally published on Welcome to Country.



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  1. roma guerin

    Does a Territory have lesser accountability than a State?

  2. Glenn Barry

    What’s Twiggy Forrest’s role in any of this, he’s usually pretending to be advocating for indigenous rights whilst simultaneously sabotaging them.

    Recently I read someone that had managed to get the breakdown of the actual expenditure by the WA Govt. on indigenous welfare – needless to say that it was just a rort

  3. wam

    Last century it was so bad that little johnny had to specify money to stop the clp from hiding it in general revenue.
    I was the adviser to one project $800k employed 3 Aboriginal men at base public service level with access to a pool car.
    Arguably nearly 90% on costs???
    I made myself a target by entering discussions at the golf club over the millions to ‘indigenous folk’. Many of the complainants were in the government and knew of the rip offs.

    Their arguments were intentionally spurious, deliberately rednecked and designed to hoodwink the newcomers into believing that Aboriginal people were wasteful..

    Reading this post, how stupid am I for assuming labor would be different.

    I am ashamed of all those attacks on the redneck behaviour of the golf club clpians.

    Oh gunner how bitterly disappointing is your silence.

    I feel ill.

  4. Harry.v.Dirchy

    As a person who has lived and worked in the Territory (mostly in remote communities) for 40 years, Territory governments, since self government, have done the same, whether it be indigenous, education, health or any other money, subverting it into “general revenue” (governments of both political persuasions).

    And this surprises whom??

  5. Aortic

    Part of Tony Abbotts agenda that the taxpayers could not afford to fund remote indigenous lifestyles. After watching ” Lousy Little Sixpence” today we later invaders should hang our heads in shame after our treatment of the aborigines all in the name of God and whatever German ancestral Royal happened to be on the throne. Treaty Now!

  6. jamesss

    A singing or bone pointing has a habit of bringing about retribution. We as humans perceive a politician to be of service to the public and the welfare of the country. I for one don’t, they represent treasonous criminality with intent.
    Westminster government in DEAD.

  7. Harry.v.Dirchy

    Aortic, Abbott is a fake, always has been. His “living in the community” was simply a photo opportunity for someone that live in Warringah (or Point Piper) to be SEEN to be doing something.
    My experience of his last one in Arnhem Land:
    He rocked up in the PM plane + 2 plane loads of journos (a mate does the refueling); stayed at Gulkalu (the site of Garma Festival) in a just built multi million$ convention centre, that is 13 km from Yirrkala, 20k’s from Nhulunbuy (didn’t do that one – pretty well all whitefellas – Chrsitopher Pyne did & that is another story) & 26km from Gunyanguru (Ski Beach), but did photo opportunities at both. e.g. did a photo opp with 6 Truancy Officers in Yirrkala (with the mincing poodle in tow) – of whom 2 were regulars, the other 4 were bits of truants themselves. Ditto the photo op at the timber mill and the cattle station – you could tell the ring ins by the new hiviz uniforms they had.(worked with the wife of the bloke that had to do the ‘ringing in’).
    You can tell by the reaction by Turnbull to the recent Yularu conflab that ABSOLUTELEY noth will be done.

    Just talk and more photo opportunities.

  8. Matters Not

    Because the link to The Australian is behind a paywall, I need some explanation(s). So what meaning am I supposed to give to these statement(s)

    the NT Government kept over $2 billion of its Indigenous aid budget

    What is meant by kept? Does that mean an allocation within the Territory’s Budget Estimates wasn’t spent in that area – and therefore kept? Or does it mean an allocation in the Federal Budget Estimates was provided to the Territory and then redirected (by the Territory) to other areas? If so, then what areas?


    the $2 billion of Indigenous funding that was taken out of Indigenous aid budgets by the NT Govt. … report revealed that successive governments under-spent on allocated Indigenous and remote disadvantage GST funding.

    While I understand that the NT Government acted – did it act (negatively) against its own Budget (allocation) or that of the Commonwealth? In short, to which noun(s) does its refer? Does kept refer to wasn’t spent? Or dos it suggest that monies were reallocated? If so, then where?

    Clarification please.

  9. Roswell

    Harry V, that pledge from Abbott to spend one week a year in an Indigenous community didn’t last long, did it?

    About as long as his stint as prime minister.

  10. diannaart

    So the Australian has done some investigation into the allocation and use (or not) of funding for NT indigenous. They have turned up a $2.2 billion anomaly… and, that’s all folks?

    No further investigation? Just a disturbing report sitting behind a pay-wall. (Who the hell wants to pay Murdoch to read his rags anyway?)

    So what is the Australian waiting for? A suitable time to cast ALL the blame on Labor – while Labor does not appear shining innocence, it is the LNP which has been in power for FIVE years, the butt definitely needs to stay with them. Not that I’m expecting Turnbull & Co to actually take any kind of action, as noted above, Turnbull dropped the Uluru Statement so fast, as if it would burn him.

    A lot of money, a lot of cover-ups, strange that any revelation has come about from Murdoch’s minions, although true to form that we have not heard anything else.

    As Wam, said, I feel ill.

  11. Matters Not

    diannaart, while the Report in question may sit behind a paywall, the writer of this article (presumably) accessed it (whether by fair means or foul matters not) but I can’t understand why more (shock horror) information wasn’t provided. Yep the Welcome to Country site may have a headline (apparently) but a headline doesn’t make a case for outrage (for me at least).

    But perhaps the application of a critical consciousness is only sanctioned when applied to particular causes? And is not meant for universal application? One would hope not.

  12. Roswell

    Dianna, what appals me is that too many Aborigines live in Third World conditions.

  13. Kaye Lee


    “In relation to the difference between the CGC assessment and actual NT Government expenditure the Yothu Yindi Foundation has analysed in detail the Indigenous component included in the CGC assessments in respect of the Northern Territory for 2015/16.

    …68% of the assessments were intended for the benefit of Indigenous people; this compares to 53% reported by the Northern Territory government in its Indigenous expenditure review. The difference is 15% of the CGC distribution, being in the vicinity of $500 million.

    One major contributing factor in these inequities is the continued growth of the Northern Territory public service.

    In 2003 in the NT public service there were 14,538 full-time equivalent positions for a population of 201,725. By 2016 there were 20,596 full-time equivalent positions for population of 244,900. Public service up 41.7%: population of 21.4%.

    The increase in the public service over and above the population increase is almost 3000 positions or about $400 million per annum. Presumably the cost of the additional staff in Departments responsible for services to Indigenous people will be treated as “Indigenous expenditure” despite the apparent inefficiency inherent in the numbers, and the fact that the spending is on non-Aboriginal people who may, or may not, provide a public service to Aboriginal people, and who ordinarily live in the main urban centres (particularly Darwin and Alice Springs).”


  14. diannaart


    Kaye Lee has provided the numbers for you. Perhaps now you could join us in seeking solutions to the problem that too many of our First Nation people are living (as Roswell noted) in third world conditions.

    A campaign demanding full transparency would help – I doubt the paywalled Australian provided much more detail than we see in the Welcome to Country Article – we simply do not know, and that is the problem.

    However, there is enough knowledge and cause for doubt we ARE AWARE of right here, right now, that programs set up to provide support for First Nation people is not happening.

    Or do you want to argue in circles, rather than doing something?

  15. Kronomex

    “We’re only looking after it for them because if we let them use it they would only waste the money…er, um…must dash.” said the minister standing behind the Parliamentary De-Embarrassing and Scuttling Board of Hiding.
    “Hut, hut, hut.” cried the security guard to his whiteboard squad. “Keep that board in front of the minister as he leaves.”

  16. Terry2

    Hard to comment on a pay-walled article : probably better to cut & paste data from the article with attribution, then we can all get a bit of a handle on what seems to be going on.

  17. Kaye Lee

    Another real problem is the way these things are reported.

    For example….

    “The estimated total spending per person for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians nationwide is $44,886, compared with $22,356 for non-indigenous Australians, according to Productivity Commission figures.”

    But when we actually examine these figures,

    “Indigenous specific services (targeted expenditure assumed to relate exclusively to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians) accounted for 18.0 per cent of direct expenditure on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Mainstream services (expenditure available to all Australians through services and programs — for example, school education) accounted for 82.0 per cent.”

    In 2015-16, of the $33.4 billion spent on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, only $6.0 billion was Indigenous specific expenditure.

    Mainstream expenditure (that all Australians receive) is higher for the ATSI community for various reasons – Indigenous disadvantage, remote location, younger demographic etc

  18. Kaye Lee


    This article gives some idea….

    “The NT government said in its submission that the system, as it stood, was fair and any move to redistribute – as other states were lobbying for – would widen the gap on Indigenous disadvantage and would be “a national shame”.

    It said recent changes to GST distribution took about $2bn from the NT economy and had “a very real and deep impact on the Territory’s budget”.”


    I think there are two separate issues – GST redistribution and also underspending by the NT government on Indigenous affairs.

  19. Kaye Lee

    There seems to be another issue at play.

    Many more people are identifying as ATSI (some of whom are not suffering from any disadvantage), and this has diluted funding for those who are suffering extreme hardship.

    “It is alarming to see that the Territory has in fact a declining share of the national Indigenous population. This cannot be explained by natural increases in population growth but we assume it comes about because of lax census data, through selfidentification in census, and through the children of marriages between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the other States and Territories henceforth identifying as Aboriginal. As the CGC says indigeneity is an important factor in the equalisation process and in our case it is drawing money away from the desperate need in the Northern Territory.”

    As has also been pointed out, when the NT gained self-government, they inherited huge deficits in infrastructure, housing, services etc. They had a lot of catching up to do.

  20. Roswell

    This (from the article) is the real problem. Not misused words. Not paywalls (sorry, Terry 😉). Not government budget estimates. Not budget allocations. This:

    From Indigenous health to housing, unemployment to education. Indigenous communities really need all the help they can get. The situation is nothing short of a national disgrace.

  21. diannaart



    Until indigenous people are involved from the start, from what is actually needed to distribution of funds, self-determination for First Nation people remains a dream.

    Recommendations from the Uluru Statement would help facilitate such progress – Malcolm Turnbull!

  22. Kaye Lee

    I agree diannaart.

    Self-determination is crucial for real progress and lasting success.

    Our government is reactive rather than proactive.

    Instead of introducing gambling reform legislation, they quarantine income.

    Instead of building detox centres and refuges in regional areas, they build jails.

    Instead of facilitating relevant curricula and involving the community in education from an early age, they close Indigenous pre-schools and employ truancy officers.

    Instead of lifting people from abject poverty, they slap the unemployed with non-compliance fines.

    I just don’t understand how they think punishment, humiliation and degradation are going to help.

  23. diannaart

    Kaye Lee

    Our nation “leaders” remain entrenched in the 1788 mind-set.

  24. Matters Not

    Two macro issues in the Submission to the Commonwealth Grants Commission (CGC) from the Yothu Yindi Foundation. First, and perhaps the most important, are criticisms of the methodology employed (including assumptions made) by the CGC in determining what should be allocated to the Northern Territory Government. Second, is the criticism of Territory Governments (over an extended time) as to how they allocate the funds received.

    Criticisms of the CGC (a truly independent body) are par for the course. Currently, Western Australia (from both sides of the political divide) wants the whole methodology reviewed because they claim disadvantage. And yes they have a point because there is a time lag in the way funds are allocated. Nevertheless, WA was silent in times gone by when the application of the same methodology was to their advantage. The CGC will always be criticised because they are dividing up a finite pool of money and an extra allocation to one State or Territory is only possible if it’s at the expense of another. When it comes to offering up fiscal sacrifices, there are no volunteers.

    As to the question of how successive governments of all political stripes, then decide to allocate the funds to various communities will also be problematic. The submission asserts:

    fiscal policy in the Northern Territory has embedded a system marked by systemic failures to appropriately or effectively spend funds or deliver key programs intended to deal with the issue of rampant Indigenous disadvantage and improved Indigenous futures

    That may be so. But that’s to be expected as well. In Queensland, for example, those who reside in the North complain constantly that too much money is spent in the South – particularly in Brisbane. In this Submission, the claim is that Alice Springs and Darwin get more than their fair share at the expense of more far flung Aboriginal communities. Who is to judge? It’s not a matter for scientific determination.

    Seems to me that the Submission from the Yothu Yindi Foundation is a good one in the sense it can generate political heat. So good luck to them.

    As for the bigger picture of Aboriginal disadvantage and how to address same, I have little to offer. It’s beyond me.

  25. Kaye Lee

    Reddit had a quote from the Australian article…..

    “Successive Northern Territory governments have redirected more than $2 billion in GST intended to address remote and ­indigenous disadvantage, promp­ting new calls for urgent reform in the wake of shocking child abuse revelations in Tennant Creek.

    Since the tax began operating in 1999, the NT has received $6.4bn in GST for welfare, housing, family and children’s needs, based on the Commonwealth Grants Commission’s remote and indigenous criteria.

    However, because the grants are not tied, just $4.2bn of this has gone to those categories, analysis of the commission’s figures shows, with a large part of the rest ending in consolidated revenue.”

  26. paul walter

    MN was right to question a typically lose worded Murdoch smear piece and I think the story would be likely to be some what different if someone like Quiggin was doing the analysis.

    “Murdoch alibis Federal failure” would be my reading.

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