Territory Stories

Debates Day 2 - Wednesday 17 February 1999



Debates Day 2 - Wednesday 17 February 1999

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Parliamentary Record 14


Debates for 8th Assembly 1997 - 2001; ParliamentNT; Parliamentary Record; 8th Assembly 1997 - 2001




Made available by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory





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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory

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Attribution International 4.0 (CC BY 4.0)

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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory



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DEBATES - Wednesday 17 February 1999 embarked on similar programs aimed to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness. In the Territory, the process of reform of local government has been under way for some time. Discussion papers released by 2 of my predecessors raised a variety of issues for consideration. It is now time to take the next step. We currently have 68 councils serving about 175 000 people. The national trend, though, is towards bigger councils. The larger councils are in Victoria, where 78 councils - only 10 more than we have in the Territory - service more than 20 times the population, resulting in nearly 60 000 people per council. In South Australia there are 19 000 people per council, in Western Australia 13 000, in Queensland 22 000 and so on. Yet the Northern Territory averages fewer than 3000 people per council. In the rural and remote areas, 95% of the councils have a population of fewer than 1000 people. However, none of the states are working in an environment such as that which faces the Territory. Out of the 68 councils, 6 are in the larger population centres and service 80% of the population. The remainder are in rural and remote areas. Some community government councils face continuing difficulty in attracting sufficient numbers of qualified, competent and ethical staff. Many fail to do so. Sometimes due to poor advice, and on other occasions because they ignore good advice, at any given time at least 10 councils are in significant financial or management difficulty. All councils will face new challenges as we move into the next century. The larger municipal councils are in a better position to deal with these challenges than the small councils in rural and remote areas. But none of them are immune. It could be questioned whether all of the larger councils in the Territory operate at the cutting edge of best available practice in all areas all the time. For the smaller councils in rural and remote areas, the task is difficult and complex. It is made more so by the difficulties many face as a result of their history. Most honourable members would be aware of the problems that have been created in rural and remote areas of the Territory by the often artificial creation of communities based on missions, pastoral properties and settlements. These communities often brought together people from different clans and groups, and many such communities have undergone regular periods of dysfunction. Many current councils are also simply too small to generate the revenue necessary to support the delivery of minimum services or to sustain administration that allows for the achievement of any economies of scale. Even so, they are immeasurably better off for the experience and are now well positioned to take the next step towards an expanded form of governance. The funding which flows to local government from the Commonwealth is distributed among the states and territories on a per capita basis. It is distributed within the Territory on the recommendations of the Local Government Grants Commission on horizontal equalisation principles. Unfortunately, the number of councils to which funding must be provided means that the small councils receive insufficient funds to undertake significant projects. The Territory government also provides significant resources to councils at more than twice the level of those provided by the Commonwealth. Most of the states make no contribution to their local councils and, of those that do, none match the level of the Territorys contribution. Even so, the total amount provided is still too small to ensure that all community councils have the capacity to ensure that an appropriate level of services is provided to all constituents. For community councils struggling to fund basic service delivery, it is a sobering thought to consider that, under current policy directions, there could easily be twice as many councils as there are now - all looking for a slice of the same funding cake. Our unique cultural environment adds other important elements to our agenda. While the Local Government Act as it stands provides for the recognition of traditional Aboriginal decision making structure, there has been an ongoing, if sporadic, criticism that local government ignores the role and function of traditional land owners. This criticism is shrugged off by those councillors who hold their position as a result of their traditional role because it is clear to them that the Local Government Act does not affect land tenure. A stronger relationship between traditional decision-making structures and service delivery structures would assist in creating local governments with legitimacy and credibility. Innovative models for such structures are available and already a number of groups are positively discussing the way they could be introduced. Work on the new system does not, however, mean the current system does not have significant advantages. The current system was developed in consultation with Aboriginal people and other residents. It provides a service delivery framework that has battled on against, at times, quite incredible odds to deliver a range of services much greater than those expected of councils in the major 2770