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 system that allows people, particularly in the rural and remote areas, to exercise more effective power over the services on which they rely. It is time to review the way we deliver local government to the Territory. Mr Speaker, I move that the Assembly take note of the statement. Mr RIOLI (Arafura): Mr Speaker, the ministers statement is the latest in a string of such statements from the local government ministers over the years. The opposition recalls similar statements from former ministers Hatton, Baldwin and Palmer, going back to the early 1990s. It is interesting to note, in this context, that local government has had 5 different ministers in the last 5 years and local government decisions potentially affect the lives of Territorians more directly than any other jurisdiction. The services these council deliver, such as roads, footpaths, dog control and garbage collection, determine the quality of life in our towns and communities. In general terms, we acknowledge the support which exists for local government reform and development in the Territory. It should be acknowledged, however, that much of the reform and development agenda is a product of local government itself in the Territory. Local government associations, working with councils, developed a broad reform agenda over the past 18 months. The new minister is, in reality, responding to that. The need for reform has occurred not as a result of historical issues and environment, but as a result of Northern Territory government policy over the last 20 years. The statement does not acknowledge that the past policies of the government are largely responsible for the need to change; instead, it seeks to divert attention from this fact by using efficiency arguments and by blaming councils. We believe that the people of local government in the Territory, particularly elected members who give their time freely at minimal cost, have done a great job battling against the impediments under which they have had to operate over the past years. These impediments have resulted from the CLP government policy. As the shadow minister I have regularly talked with local government associations, community councils, elected representatives, staff and community members as I move around the Territory and many thousands of Territorians are likely to be affected by the changes in local government structures and funding. It is absolutely essential that this process is handled with a clear appreciation of the potential impact of changes on peoples lives. Caution is required and it must be right. Stakeholders in this process have raised a number of issues with me and I will put them before the House today. The statement also indicates local government associations broad support of the proposals. While I dont doubt the support of local government, it is after all them who pro-actively supported the need for change. My understanding is that LGANT indicates that around 50% of the reform agenda has been agreed to by their association. I do not believe the minister should take for granted any more than that. More importantly, local governments have not agreed to the 2000 people per council that the statement says is desirable. In any discussions about local government, the focus must remain on development of local government. There are many, many good things about the current framework of local government and we would not want to see them discarded. The current system of community government has been very successful in some locations and we do not want to throw the baby out with the bath water. Territory local government is unique - for example Pirlangimpi Community Council has a system of electing their members on the basis of skin groups. Individuals are nominated from their skin groups and the community elects 2 delegates from each group to make up the council. The council members are involved not only in council meetings but also in community activities and community events. They are also, at times, involved in community policing and determining penalties for troublemakers within their own skin groups. It is not an easy job. There comes with it a fair amount of pressure on the council members by their own skin groups. That is normal practice, even for us when representing our constituents. There are also pressures on the presidents. We do lose good leaders, especially those who arent able to handle the pressures from their communities. I would like to see, in any reform, support for councillors and presidents in their roles, and ongoing and continued training for those office-bearers. Decision-making is at grassroots level. Accordingly, a great deal of accountability for decisions and the directions councils take already exists. The reality is that councillors are members of the communities they represent and are usually personally known by the majority of their constituents. This is one of the positive features of small, responsive government. We dont want to see this feature lost. That is something to be guarded against. We will not see small, responsive councils swallowed up into bureaucratic structures. There are 2772