This month we are profiling two councillors from the Northern Territory." lang="en" />

Councillor profiles - Local Government Focus

President Banambi Wunungmurra, East Arnhem Shire Council, Northern Territory

How long have you been involved in local government and what led you to run for East Arnhem Shire Council?

Well, I have been involved with East Arnhem Shire Council since 2008, when the Council was formed. I was elected as the inaugural President, and I am currently serving my second term on Council and as President.

I have had a long career, which has always maintained some involvement with local government in many capacities over a number of years. I was Chairperson of the Regional Council through the ATSIC days, and general manager of a number of Aboriginal organisations that worked closely with local government.

I wanted to have a role within East Arnhem Shire Council from the very start. I know a lot of people in East Arnhem Land and I knew how the system worked. Some people were concerned before the Council began, so it was important for people who understood local government to be there from the very start, to establish a new Council with strong foundations and values.

Can you give us a brief history of the Shire and how it benefits the East Arnhem community:

East Arnhem Shire Council was formed in the 2008 Northern Territory Local Government Reform, which saw 61 Community Government Councils merge to form eight Shires. The Council delivers both local government and vital community services in nine communities of East Arnhem Land.

Our mission statement at East Arnhem Shire Council is to be a council that is ‘Dedicated to promoting the power of people, protection of community and respect for cultural diversity’. East Arnhem Shire Council is about the people, and that is essentially the main benefit for the people of East Arnhem Land.
I find that often organisations and companies working in communities try to do a lot of things for Indigenous people, without seeking their input or contribution. It is part of our role as councillors on East Arnhem Shire Council to make sure that there is Yolngu (people of East Arnhem Land), Warnanindilyakwan (people of Groote Eylandt) & Balanda (white people) collaboration and involvement in the way we run our communities.

How does the remoteness of the Shire’s communities impact on your role, and how do you cope with this remoteness?

I have lived in Yirrkala most of my life with my wife and family. My family is a small unit that fits into the bigger family of Yolngu people in East Arnhem Land. This is my home. Although our communities are far apart, we all have a relationship — our elders and our totems.

What are some of the biggest challenges confronting you and your Council?

We were faced with the challenge of rolling out a very unpopular reform in communities [formation of the Shire], and a lot of people felt disempowered. We have had to work in an environment where we have to take two steps forward and one step back. So we have been working very closely, and have been able to build a strong relationship, with local communities through collaboration; and now we are seeing results and services, which are contributing to the standard of living.

We are also working in a field that is severely under funded, so another challenge is getting people to understand the financial dynamic that we operate in. While we strive to advocate and deliver quality services with the best of intentions, we are very limited in what funding we receive and how we can spend that money.

More broadly, as a Yolngu man, we need to encourage our younger people to be leaders, so they can one day be in management, leading this Council in the workforce or alongside me as an Elected Member. We have been fighting for this for a very long time and we really need to get behind our young people.

What are some achievements you have had during your time on Council of which you are particularly proud?

I think I am most proud of two particular achievements: the launch of a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) and the success and progress of our Community Advisory Boards (CABs).

In 2011, East Arnhem Shire Council launched the NT’s first stand alone RAP. The RAP is about bringing people together; developing partnerships, not only Yolngu and Warnanindilyakwan, but also people from different communities, backgrounds and organisations to be part of our Council’s vision of Reconciliation. It’s about sharing our knowledge and wisdom to make the RAP viable for the people of East Arnhem Land.

We have also come along way with our CABs, which are representative groups that shape the direction of Council at a community level. CABs are made up of councillors, community elders, Mala leaders and community stakeholders, working together as a team to shape the direction of Council in our communities.

How do you hope your role will impact on your community and what lasting impression do you wish to leave?

When I am finished as President of East Arnhem Shire Council and as a councillor for the Gumurr Miwatj Ward, I hope that my legacy will be that we have shaped a Council that has frameworks to encourage young people to take on responsibilities as leaders in their own communities. Young people are our future.

Lord Mayor Katrina Fong Lim, City of Darwin, Northern Territory

When did you become involved in local government and what were your main motivations for doing so? 

When I was young my father was Lord Mayor of Darwin and so there was some background there. However, I only became directly involved in local government in March 2012, with my election as Lord Mayor of Darwin. My main motivation for standing for the position was that I believed that I could make a difference.

Tell us about the City of Darwin local government area – what are some of the things that make it distinct?

The City of Darwin represents the northern most capital city in Australia. We are on the doorstep of some of the most spectacular natural landscapes; we have a sophisticated cosmopolitan population; we have grown up in isolation and been shaped by natural disaster; and we have a rich Indigenous culture and a fascinating war history. 

What innovative projects is your Council working on?

Council is about to launch a live online portal (sustainability@TheTop via that provides information for community members about ways to make changes in their life to reduce their carbon footprint in our tropical environment. The website is cutting edge in terms of enabling people to create their own personal action plan by pledging to a range of actions at home, at play and at work.

Also, in partnership with the Northern Territory Government and the Federal Government, we are about to commence work on the development of a precinct plan for the Darwin CBD. The Plan aims to maintain our tropical lifestyle whilst addressing the challenges and opportunities of significant industrial growth through a number of major projects, including the INPEX oil and gas project and the development of a marine supply base. 

What do you is think is the most difficult part of the role of Lord Mayor and how do you cope with these pressures or difficulties?

The most difficult part so far is the intrusion into my personal and family life. To deal with this I ensure that I schedule times in my diary for my family, and I also try to include family members in the things I do as Lord Mayor.

How do you hope your role will impact your community and what lasting impression would you like to leave?

I would hope to encourage a happier, healthier community with a renewed respect for the work of local government.