LGANT prepares for NT election

In readiness for the possibility that the Northern Territory election could be called as early as May, the General Meeting of the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory (LGANT) held on 13–14 April was geared around what the major parties are proposing for Local Government. Acting President, Ray Wooldridge, said that, in the lead up to the election LGANT has prepared a document titled, Resourcing Local Government in the Future. This has been given to all parties to gauge their response to various issues raised by LGANT.

“With Regional Authorities on the agenda, a massive reduction from 63 to 20 Councils will result in larger organisations servicing more people, over a greater area,” Ray Wooldridge said. “Some amalgamations to date have been pushed along without the necessary planning, largely to meet political deadlines.

“LGANT has been working hard during this process but Councils considering mergers must have the resources and proper planning processes in place. In assessing the pros and cons, many Councils are not able to carry out the in depth studies needed to assess if there are to be benefits gained.” He said some of the more vocal and better organised Council groupings have been resourced by the Department to do this, but others are missing out.

Shadow Minister for Local Government, John Elferink, told delegates that the Country Liberal Party (CLP) believes trying to fix social problems through Local Government is an unreasonable burden. “People are feeling a great deal of frustration as there is far too much compliance required by the Department,” he said. “The CLP proposes to empower Local Government through a mechanism that already exist – LGANT.

“LGANT can take up many of the support and advice roles. I will ask LGANT what roles it would like to take over, and it would be resourced to do this.”

Local Government Minister, John Ah Kit, said that LGANT’s election declarations, set out in its Resourcing Local Government for the Future document, are an illustration of the growing maturity and strength of the Association as a lobby group for the sector.

“Having the smallest per capita tax base the challenges are considerable,” John Ah Kit said. “You assert you don’t get enough money now and worry you might get less in the future. But the capacity of Local Government to survive is not just about the amount of money you receive from either the Federal or Territory Governments. It is about your willingness and capacity to sustain and build your own income streams.

“We will commit, as part of the upcoming review of the Local Government Act, to examine the funding needs of Local Government and, more importantly, explore ways where Local Governments can expand their revenue streams. The number of Councils that now raise significant revenues of their own has increased significantly in the last three years, and this is very pleasing.”

Minister Ah Kit said that with the demise of ATSIC, the NT Government believes there is an even greater imperative that Local Government becomes a legitimate voice of Indigenous communities.

“The recent bilateral agreement signed by the Prime Minister and Chief Minister relates to strengthening governance and developing community capacity,” he said. “While Local Government will not be the only means of engagement with Indigenous interests in the community, it will be the key to ensuring a whole of government approach to Indigenous issues and building stronger regions and communities.”

Minister Ah Kit has since announced that, for health reasons, he will not be contesting his seat at the 2005 Northern Territory election.