Taxpayer-funded travel vouchers have been misused on “luxury limousines” and personal travel by staff in the Northern Territory’s cash-strapped health department, according to an internal email seen by the ABC.
- An NT Health review has found misuse of Cabcharge vouchers in a “large proportion” of department sections
- The audit found unauthorised use of the vouchers for limousine transfers and personal travel from “post-work functions”
- The department’s latest annual report shows NT Health is $90 million over budget
It comes as the department’s annual report tabled in parliament confirmed it was $90 million over budget and failing to meet key performance indicators for patient care and treatment.
The all-staff “broadcast”, which was sent on Thursday morning and not signed by a specific office, said a recent review found a “large proportion” of business units in the department were found to not be complying with government travel and finance rules.
The department said some incidents would be referred for further investigation and there could be disciplinary action for “any further identified misuse”.
The email said “a number” of instances of misuse were identified by the department’s Risk Audit and Integrity unit, including:
- using Cabcharge vouchers for executive or luxury limousine transfers
- personal travel including post-work functions
- taking Cabcharge vouchers from the work unit without authorisation
- using the Cabcharge voucher for any other purpose apart from what it was originally intended for
- not returning unused Cabcharge vouchers
- failure to report Cabcharge vouchers that are lost or unable to be accounted for
“Quite a number” of excessive fares and charges “that appeared to be outside the allowable maximum fares and charge for taxis set by the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics (DIPL)” were also identified.
The email did not give an estimated total for the amount of department funds misused.
Opposition calls for formal audit, medical union defends staff
Going forward, “greater scrutiny” would be applied to Cabcharge use and compliance, the email said.
In a statement, a spokesperson said the department had increased the frequency of reporting requirements and is using cloud-based systems to allow real-time tracking.
The audit had examined more than 2,000 transactions by staff and patients, with 3.5 per cent of fares deemed excessive referred for investigation.
“Reasons for excess use identified included multi-trip fares, surcharge fees and travel in regional areas which attracts higher rates compared to metropolitan locations,” the spokesperson said.
Opposition health spokesperson Bill Yan said the incident was concerning “when you consider the budget position the government is in now”.
“There needs to be a really, really close look at how the finances in NT Health are being used, this certainly highlights that,” Mr Yan said.
“Every department has a responsibility to tighten the belt and do their part.
“If we’re seeing people using luxury limousines for transport and exceeding the related costs for using cabs then that’s a real major cause for concern.”
Mr Yan said he would support a formal review of the issue being conducted by the NT Auditor-General.
But Australian Medical Association President Dr Rob Parker said while the misuse was a problem, the health department was right to first issue staff a warning.
“I think it’s very good that the department is trying to reign in what appears to be inappropriate use of public money,” he said.
“In the end its money gone and I think it’s probably better to look at the future rather than look at the recriminations in the past, to be frank.”
Dr Parker said staff in the NT’s hospitals were working under ongoing strain, with demand now regularly overwhelming capacity and triggering ‘code yellow’ emergencies.
“In this sort of situation mistakes like this can occur,” he said.
NT Health’s annual report tabled in parliament on Tuesday night confirmed the department’s budget was in the red by $89.3 million, more than $26 million worse than projected.
Key performance indicators were not met in multiple areas, with only 59 per cent of emergency department presentations finalised in four hours.
The number of “hospital-acquired complications” increased, while the rate of non-emergency surgeries done within clinically recommended time frames was around 60 per cent.