Wards for Alice council, including one for town camps?


2469 counil elections OKBy KIERAN FINNANE
Should the local government system of representation change from a single electorate to wards?
Right: Voting day in the 2017 council elections. Photo from our archive. 
And should the number of councillors increase, from the present eight to 10 (plus mayor)?
Councillor Eli Melky thinks so, or at least these matters should be seriously discussed as part of the review council is required to have before the end of this term. And he goes further, suggesting five wards with two councillors from each, with one set aside for the Alice Springs town camps.
The other wards he proposed to be Araluen, Braitling, Sadadeen, and Gillen.
He said the town camps should be represented by people residing in them; the criterion would be residency not race.
Non-Indigenous residents of town camps are rare. In the 2016 Census 100% of camp residents counted themselves as Aboriginal, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. In a separate question, fewer than 10% listed other ancestries, being Australian (if that is ‘other’), English and Irish.
It is interesting to note the Census count for total residents of town camps: 967. Two councillors representing their interests would thus be numerically disproportionate.
Many more Aboriginal locals live in the suburbs. The total Indigenous resident population, including the camps, in 2016 was 4361; so the camps make up roughly a quarter of that.
Cr Melky was not suggesting that the camps at present are not represented but observed about himself that he has only ever had one meaningful experience inside a town camp. Cr Melky has been on council for eight years, since 2011.
p2311-Nuke-waste-Barb-ShawHe also commented that it is difficult for representatives from camps to get elected under the present arrangements, referring to the past failed candidacies of Barbara Shaw (recently elected as Deputy Chair of the Central Land Council).
Right: Barbara Shaw speaking against a nuclear waste dump being hosted in The Centre in 2016. Photo from our archive. 
The current system of counting, which changed in the 2012 local government elections from the “exhaustive preferential” system to what is known as  “single transferable vote proportional representation” is supposed to broaden council’s base.
In 2017 there were three strongly identified Aboriginal candidates and two were elected (Jacinta Price and Catherine Satour) but there was no candidate strongly associated with the town camps.
Ms Shaw, long-time high profile resident of Mt Nancy camp, last stood for council election in 2012.
It would be fair to say that issues specific to the town camps have rarely been a topic for the current council. An exception springing to mind is the subdivision development of Ilpeye Ilpeye, alone of the town camps to elect to ‘normalise’ as a suburb in the wake of the Intervention, with the potential for residents to own their homes freehold. In council there has been controversy over the standard of subdivisional works by the NT Government, which council is ultimately expected to accept responsibility for.
Council’s relationship with the town camps advocacy body Tangentyere Council has been notoriously difficult, that is to say, in the main dormant.
The last time there were 11 elected members was during the 10th Council, 2004-08.
Mayor Damien Ryan pointed out a “glaring omission” in Cr Melky’s wards proposal – anyone south of Gap.
He also said that it is the work of every councillor to work with all residents, and he didn’t think the town had a big enough population to set up wards.
Cr Marli Banks pointed out that Litchfield has wards, with a much smaller population than Alice Springs.
She welcomed a constructive review looking at giving access to broader participation. She agreed that rural residents should be part of that, saying that they often feel they don’t get value for their rates.
Cr Glen Auricht could only see difficulties in a ward system. He would welcome having representation of the town camps on council but, given the number of language groups involved, he couldn’t see how it would work “without serious argument”.
Cr Jamie de Brenni noted that the current system “doesn’t discriminate”, pointing to Barbara Shaw having run twice.
He recommended that the topic go to a forum, council’s monthly informal meeting (not open to the public).


  1. I think it will be a good idea for town camps to be included within the town council having a stronger understanding of town camp issues.
    Hidden Valley and Larapinta Valley are the two biggest camps out of the 19 town camps in Alice Springs.
    Having strong voices from town camps will be a good thing to understand the different groups that lived in the camps and their issues in the camps.
    Coming together is a beginning and together we are strong.

  2. Wards for the Alice Springs Town Council are not a new idea but have never been supported by the NT Government.
    There was discussion about wards in the mid-1990s, which was firmly rejected by the government.
    It was also raised by candidate Steve Strike during the town council election campaign in May 1988. Like Eli Melky’s current proposal, Strike also suggested five wards, each with two aldermen; however, he didn’t overlook the rural area on that occasion over 30 years ago (the other wards suggested were for Eastside, Gillen, Braitling and the Gap Area).
    The town’s municipal boundaries were expanded significantly in early 1988, incorporating the whole rural area for the first time despite widespread opposition from affected residents. The idea of a ward system was the final suggestion to differentiate the rural area from the town, after calls for a separate community government and a shire were rejected by the NT Government.
    It’s interesting to note that during the operation of the original Alice Springs Progress Association from 1947 to 1960, the town was divided into wards a couple of times for choosing delegates onto the association. The wards were the (now old) Eastside, town centre (now the CBD), the south side of the town, and the Farm Area along what is now Ragonesi Road. The town’s population grew from about 2000 to over 3000 residents during this period, which was long before there was a town council.
    One person who represented the south ward from 1958 onwards was Bernie Kilgariff, kickstarting what was to become an illustrious career in NT politics.
    Personally I support the concept of wards; for one thing, it would substantially reduce the cost and inconvenience of town council by-elections.
    With regard to increasing the number of councillors from eight to 10; well, it’s just over a decade ago the reverse occurred.
    Moreover, the ASTC first started off with eight aldermen (plus the mayor) in 1971 until 1977, when the number was increased to 10.
    Here we go again?

  3. I am a strong supporter of wards. How nice to have an alderman as a first go to for street by street issues.
    The generic group we have now are somewhat impotent when it comes to on the ground residents issues. Make them earn their allowance or move on.

  4. Thank you Alex Nelson, I wasn’t aware of that, although my suggestion to highlight five Wards didn’t specifically identify Rural. You can be assured they were not overlooked.
    Given the discussion is in its early stage, I have not had the opportunity to outline in detail the proposal.
    I will take this opportunity however to outline one specific detail regarding the Rural areas.
    The Ward most likely to represent Rural area in my plan would be Araluen.
    Councillors have 12 months to submit a proposal and it would be great to have all your opinions.
    My main reason for increasing it back up to 10 Councillors is to ensure we have representation from residents of the Town Camps.
    Some have already argued that it is insulting to the existing Councillors to have even suggested this proposal, indicating that the current eight have adequately represent all of Alice Springs including Town Camps.
    To that individual elected member who made that statement, my response is, can you name five issues regarding town camps that have been raised by a councillor / alderman over the past 10 years?
    I don’t believe it is insulting to have a discussion, particularly when you are requested to by the Elcectoral Commisssion or NT Government.
    Moreover there is a growing concern that when more than two elected members are not able to attend council meeting for a variety of legitimate reasons, it becomes challenging.
    Such was the case in the 12th Council when we were unable to find a quorum.
    Most recently we have been reduced to a regular six in the chamber for the above mentioned reasons. Time to be inclusive.


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