Government debt drag on shire finances


Take a look at the Central Desert Shire’s “Accounts receivable” summary and you begin to get a picture of the complexity of shire operations.  Their debtors range from small local businesses, a plethora of Aboriginal organisations and other NGOs to government departments. Most of it is quite in order, within the normal 30 day turnaround for accounts. But over $500,000 has been owed the shire for more than 90 days and a big swag of this is owed by Territory Housing. As at February 29 the amount was $403,992.06.
Some of that has since been paid. However invoices for over $300,000, relating to work done in 2010-11, are still being verified, according to a statement from the department.
At the last council meeting Councillor Liz Bird asked the executive whether it was concerned by size of the Territory Housing debt.
“Extremely concerned” was the answer.
Director of Corporate Services Cathryn Hutton said there had been “countless meetings” to try to resolve the problem. There were a  number of invoices in dispute and some progress had been made recently.
She said Central Desert was not the only shire affected. CEO Roydon Robertson told councillors that a number of shire CEOs had met with the head of the department to try to resolve their “massive concerns”, as a result of which a working party was being formed.
This has apparently helped.
There were several meetings last week and it’s “just about sorted”, Mr Robertson told the Alice Springs News Online today.
The invoicing was for repairs to Territory Housing stock, which the shire carries out under contract. There are up to 21 bureaucratic steps involved for this work to be initiated, completed and paid for.
The Alice News asked the department whether this process could be streamlined.
This was the reply:
The process for reporting, actioning and paying for tenancy management repairs and maintenance services includes:
1. Repairs and maintenance work is requested from the tenant or tenancy manager.
2. Central Desert Shire raises a work request, and provides this to Territory Housing.
3. Territory Housing authorises works and raises a work order to the Shire authorising them to complete the works.
4. Work is complete and Territory Housing is invoiced.
“Includes” is the catch word.
“It can happen this way, ” says Mr Robertson, “but there are 21 steps in our agreement, it’s very complex.”
However,  following a report by consultants KPMG, “we are expecting improvements”, he says.


  1. How things don’t change! Anyone who is familiar with dealing with NT government over the decades would be familiar with the tendency of various departments dragging out their accounts payable to small businesses. This practice has been in place for a very long time. I know this from my time in the mid to late 1980s when I used to make many purchases for the section I worked for within the Primary Industries department, as this department generally enjoyed a good reputation with local businesses for prompt processing and payment of accounts. This wasn’t the case with other NT government departments, as I was frequently informed.


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