Pre-July 2008 local government in the NT
Pre-July 2008 local government in the NT

Local Government elections will be held in the NT on 25 October 2008 for the ten new Councils incorporated following the implementation of the recent Local Government Reforms in the NT. Further information is available at the NT Electoral Commission website. Nominations and ballot paper positions have been settled and are available here.

As I wrote in Crikey over a year ago:

“Local Government in the NT has been in a mess for decades and Howard and Brough’s intervention is about to make it a lot worse. The six “municipal” councils of Darwin, Palmerston, Litchfield, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Katherine are the subject of separate parts of the Local Government Act 1993 to the 57 or so other small remote Councils. These small Councils are mostly on Aboriginal land and vary from well-run and effective local administrators to grossly dysfunctional centres of corruption, nepotism and benign neglect and it is they that are in the sites of Howard and Brough’s intervention.”

“Clare Martin’s Labor administration inherited the legacy of poorly-run local government from the 26 year reign of the Country Liberal Party. To her credit she has decided to bite the bullet and implement long-overdue reform of the sector. Whether Martin’s reform proposals are appropriate or not will be left for another day.”

That other day is now here – Clare Martin and her Local Government minister responsible for these changes, Elliot McAdam, have gone, but the reforms came into force on 1 July this year. Now, instead of living in the Yuendumu-Willowra Community Government Council area (the Y-WCG Council had been in administration for some years so didn’t really function other than on paper…), we live in the Central Desert Shire with an area of 282,000 square kilometres, close to the land area of the state of Victoria. The Central Desert Shire has a population of about 4,500 people. Do the maths…about 62 and a half square k’s for each resident of the shire!!

The new shire boundaries
The new shire boundaries

According to the NT Electoral Commission, voting for the Central Desert Shire will be held only Alice Springs and “may” by available by remote mobile polling elsewhere – though no details are provided at this stage.

There are, at least, two major concerns with the new arrangements for local governance in the region.  Firstly, while Alice Springs isn’t in either the Central Desert Shire or the neighboring MacDonnell Shire, it will be the administrative base for both – the Alice Springs council will be a classic ‘donut’ council – surrounded by the regions that must use it as an administrative and resource centre. There are very real concerns that decision-making will devolve away from the regional centres (like Yuendumu, Ti-Tree, Hermannsburg etc) to Alice Springs – where all of the major administrative decision-makers, i.e. the staff, will be based.

The other major concern is that representation will also be substantially diminished. This is a very real concern – while the previous Yuendumu-Willowra CGC had 12 elected members for a relatively small area that only contained the townships of Yuendumu & Willowra, the residents of Yuendumu, the largest Aboriginal township in central Australia, will share 4 members for the Southern Tanami Ward of the Central Desert Shire with the residents of the townships of Willowra, Nyirripi, Yuelamu and the residents of the several pastoral properties within the Ward boundaries. Similar concerns about diminished representation have been expressed by residents in other central Australian shires.

I’ll keep a close eye on the electoral processes over the next few weeks leading up to the election on 25 October. I’ll also post separately on the changes to residential tenancy and land-rating arrangements throughout the NT – both of which are closely related to the recent changes and are expected to be among the few sources of income for the new Shire.

I’ll particularly keep an eye on the interpretation of s. 144 of the Local Government Act 2008, which provides that, relation to land in the Shire, certain land is:

144 Exempt land

(1) The following land is exempt from rates.

(k) Land owned by a Land Trust or an Aboriginal community living area accociation, except:

(i) and designated in the regulations as rateable; or

(ii) land subject to lease or licence conferring a right of occupancy; or

(iii) land used for a commercial purpose.

I welcome any views or personal perspectives that you might have about any issues related to the upcoming elections or any information you might have that is relevant to residential tenancy or the levying of rates – either on or off Aboriginal land.