Article – Aboriginal people get a new voice

4 July 2014
Australian Associated Press
Aboriginal people living in the far-flung communities of the western top end of the Northern Territory don’t always get heard by governments, but now a new council will help them raise their voices.
The NT government made an election promise in 2012 to dismantle eight super-shires, creating nine regional councils and 63 local councils in a move it says will give power back to people in the bush.
“The farther out you get from major centres the harder it is to find someone from Territory government,” Minister for Local Government Dave Tollner told the community of Peppimenarti on Friday as six new councillors were sworn in for the new West Daly Regional Council.
The community joins Wadeye and Palumpa in the new council, which has broken away from the Victoria Daly shire.
The area is home to more than two dozen clan groups and decision-making powers had previously been centralised 360km north in Darwin and Katherine, leading to the more remote communities feeling disengaged.
“Local government is something people see in front of them every day, whether it’s a road you can drive on, whether the kids can play in parks, whether rubbish is being collected,” Mr Tollner said.
“What we’ve done is reinvigorate council; they’ve got a bit of money to spend and a reason to turn up. People can see a way forward and feel their voices are being heard.”
Newly elected mayor Harold Wilson said there was no one to blame for problems now the community was taking matters into its own hands, and providing better education and health services for his almost 4000 new constituents was top of his list.
“I think the core services have been neglected a bit,” he said.
“The statistics are against us. I feel our kids should be privileged, it’s their right to get an education in this world and I think the Western Daly (Council) can help.”
Mr Toller said boosting the regions was key to the federal government’s plans to develop northern Australia.
“We want to see private businesses set up in Aboriginal communities, whether that be hairdressing salons, butchers, market gardens or construction businesses.”
Mr Wilson has indicated an interest in discussing township leases which would enable home ownership and businesses to take off, he said.
Regional councils in the NT can’t raise much revenue because they are located on Aboriginal land and are therefore dependent on government funding.
Although the NT government has doubled funding to the sector to $10 million, its challenge to the Western Daly is to find a way to be independently economically viable.
It would be up to other communities whether they choose to separate from their regional shires, Mr Tollner said.
“People right across the Victoria Daly region expressed to us without equivocation that they wanted two separate councils and it’s really been community-driven,” he said.
“There’s no guarantee the other shires will be broken down, unless the people in those shires want it.”
Courtesy of the Australian Associated Press