Electing for change

Article image - Electing for change Damien Ryan, President, Local Government Association of the Northern Territory

The next local government elections in the Northern Territory are to be held in August 2017 following recent amendments to the Local

Government Act, which extended:

  • the terms of current elected members from March 2016 to the date above and
  • the period in which a by-election was not required from 12 months to 18 months of a general election with persons being able to be co-opted onto councils.

The changes were necessary due to the potential clash with Federal and Territory elections in 2016 making it unworkable for all three elections to be held in the one year.    

Add to this the 2016 Census and it was obvious changes to the local government election date needed to be made.  This was evident given the local government elections are the largest of any government election, comprising 152 councillors compared to the 25 members in the Northern Territory legislative assembly and the four members in the Federal parliament.

Some councils are undertaking by-elections at present including the City of Darwin which has two casual vacancies. After February 2016 however, under the new provisions it will not be necessary for councils to hold by-elections if further members choose to resign. It is likely some councillors will chose after February 2016 to resign from their councils given they were considering not standing for the next general elections in any case and were also working on ending their terms at the end of the former election period of March 2016. The new provisions allow them to do this and it will be interesting to see how many councillors choose this option. It will be interesting also to witness the number of persons that put their hands up to be co-opted on councils under the new provisions for the period before the next general election in August 2017.

Many councillors have welcomed the changes to legislation with perhaps the most supported change being that from the month of March to that of August.  The merits of an August election far outweigh that of a March election simply because it is more convenient, costs less and is likely to involve a greater voter turnout. For the most part this is due to March being in the wet season in the Northern Territory, a period when transport and access is hindered making the logistics of holding an election more difficult.