NT Govt usurps local democracy

On 14 November, the Treasurer of the Northern Territory Government, Mike Reed, and Minister for Local Government, Tim Baldwin, informed Yulara Town Council it would be dissolved. Within two weeks legislation to achieve this end had been rushed through Parliament, Council had held its last meeting, three Council staff were out of a job and the 1,000 residents of this resort township no longer had local representation.

This is not merely a case of another sphere of government dismissing an elected Council for a period of time. Yulara residents have been told that they no longer have any need for a third sphere of government or local democracy. Local representation will not be returning, permanently denying residents a voice in local decision making.

A quickly organised public meeting, attracting some 300 residents, unanimously passed a motion opposing the Territory Government's decision to dissolve Council.

"Council was told the reason for this decision was that, with the recent sale of the resort to private enterprise, the Northern Territory Government had no further use for the Council," said Yulara Town Council President, Anne Smith. "The fact that this has happened with no consultation with either the Council or community is a great injustice to democracy."

Speculation that the sale of the popular resort, located at Ayers Rock, was on the condition that the Town Council be axed has been denied by new owners, General Property Trust.

"The Country Liberal Party has tried to use the sale of the resort as justification to smash the Yulara Community, but the purchaser has made it clear the sale does not rely on the Council being dumped," said Deputy Opposition Leader, John Bailey.

Yulara Town Council was formed in 1992, as a Community Government Council under the Northern Territory Local Government Act.

"Council has done nothing to deserve this," said Town Clerk Bernie McCarthy. "Moreover, Yulara has been held up by the Territory Government as a model of Community Government."

It has been suggested by the Local Member for Macdonnell, John Elferink, that an 'advisory' committee be established to advise on community needs and priorities. This does not gel with Anne Smith who argues that the community was being adequately served by a perfectly functioning, fully elected, local Council.

"While the rest of Australia is voting on the Constitutional Convention and their future, our rights and future have been stolen from us," Anne Smith said.

The future for the 60 or so Community Government Councils and Incorporated Associations, that provide Local Government to the Territory's many scattered communities, is now less secure. In light of the Declaration on the Role of Australian Local Government and resolutions on Constitutional Recognition passed at the recent National General Assembly of Local Government, Yulara's fate again demonstrates the urgent need for Local Government to be permanently entrenched in our system of governance.