The Federal government is becoming increasingly frustrated with the Northern Territory government over what it feels is an apparent lack of progress on a number of major construction health projects, and is threatening to withhold payments if project milestones are missed.
Following media reports suggesting that progress on the $150 million Palmerston Regional Hospital was well behind schedule along with that on a number of regional health clinics, Federal Health Minister Susan Ley says a semi-annual update on project progress due in May would be scrutinised closely, and the Federal government would not advance funding unless required deadlines were met.
“It’s not uncommon for infrastructure projects to have changes in timeframes, particularly where weather has a huge influence on construction like it does up north, and we try to be accommodating to this,” Ley is quoted as saying on news.com.
“However, at the same time we have set clear construction milestones, which need to be met for Commonwealth funding to be released to the Territory Government. If these milestones aren’t delivered on time, then no funding will be paid until they are.”
Ley’s comment follows an NT News report late in February suggesting that work on the hospital was significantly behind schedule.
According to that report, whilst a timeline released by the NT government in May last year showed construction of the facility starting in late 2016, former health minister Robyn Lambley signed a project agreement with the Federal Government committing to a start in May this year with the base of the building being completed in April next year and the internal fitout starting in May of that year.
In response to that, NT Health Minister John Elferink insisted the word ‘construction’ in the agreement referred to road and headworks as opposed to simply the hospital itself, and that whilst works on services associated with the hospital were set to start this year, actual construction was not set to begin until late next year.
Still Elferink has acknowledged work on a number of remote health clinics was behind schedule, but insisted these delays were bought about by land tenure issues.
In a statement, Elferink hit out at criticism from Senator Nova Peris, who has called on the Commonwealth Health Department to conduct an urgent investigation into the status of the Palmerston Hospital.
“I admit it – there are some delays,” Minister Elferink said in a fiery statement.
“But what would Senator Peris have us do when some of the hold ups are around the land tenure issues for some of the clinics? And would she like us to trade off the land issues for consultations with the community?
“Would Senator Peris and Labor’s Ken Vowles like us to compulsorily acquire the land? Perhaps they think there should be changes to the Aboriginal Land Right and Native Titles Acts to allow for the title to be stripped from the communities and/or land councils.
“Would they like us to stop consulting with the communities and just build a template clinic on their land?
“What is their solution?"
Jointly funded by the Federal and Territory Governments, the Palmerston Regional Hospital will provide public hospital services on a 45 hectare green field site in Palmerston.
The hospital is considered necessary to meet the needs of a growing population in Palmerston (expected to reach 44,000 by 2025) and the greater Darwin region.