Take a look at the Central Desert Shire's "Accounts receivable" summary and you begin to get a picture of the complexity of shire operations. Their debtors range from small local businesses, a plethora of Aboriginal organisations and other NGOs to government departments. Most of it is quite in order, within the normal 30 day turnaround for accounts. But over $500,000 has been owed the shire for more than 90 days and a big swag of this is owed by Territory Housing. As at February 29 the amount was $403,992.06.
Some of that has since been paid. However invoices for over $300,000, relating to work done in 2010-11, are still being verified, according to a statement from the department.
At the last council meeting CEO Roydon Robertson told councillors that a number of shire CEOs had met with the head of the department to try to resolve their "massive concerns", as a result of which a working party was being formed.
This has apparently helped. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Where will the money come from to pay rent for shire assets on Aboriginal land?
The eight Northern Territory shires are acting in concert on the issue of lease payments for shire facilities on Aboriginal land. The Northern and Central Land Councils' position is that traditional owners are entitled to rent for leases over the various land parcels once the Australian Government's five-year town leases expire in August. The Australian and NT Governments have accepted this, with the NT Government determining that rents should be set at 5-10% of UCV (unimproved capital value).This will amount to a bill of around $3 million annually for the NT, potentially rising to $5 million once all leases are settled. The leases for public housing land are exempt, with 'peppercorn' rents charged "in recognition of the direct benefit for local people", according to Minister for Local Government, Malarndirri McCarthy.
The cash-strapped shires are appalled: already they are struggling to provide a basic level of service to their communities. Don't their services amount to a "direct benefit for local people"? And, with limited operational funding, rates revenue, and budgets patched together from grants and charges to agencies for delivering their programs, where will the money come from?
A meeting on January 24 was attended by representatives of the eight shires, a lawyer from the firm Minter Ellison to advise them, and representatives of the Australian and Territory Governments as well as the Local Government Association of the NT.
The eight shires agreed to five points of a joint approach. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: Shire workers learning to undertake maintenance on work plant at the Ti Tree works depot. Photo courtesy Central Desert Shire.
Councillors of the Central Desert Shire – black and white – say the shire system time needs more time to prove itself. Most of those I spoke to will put their hands up again for election in March, including shire president Norbert Patrick. He says he would accept the leadership role again if asked, but would rather be just an elected member who could give new members the benefit of his experience.
I spoke to the councillors outside the chamber after they had met for the last time before the election. During the meeting shire CEO Roydon Robertson had raised the recent negative comments made about the shires by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, angrily dismissed by the CEO as "another insult". Mr Gooda was reported by the ABC to have called for the shires model to be scrapped, referring to its "total detrimental effect" on communities.
Councillors appeared to be in agreement with the CEO and the sentiments expressed by Kerry Moir, president of the Local Government Association of the NT (LGANT), who was appalled at Mr Gooda making such damaging statements just two months out from the shire elections. KIERAN FINNANE reports.
Pictured: Shire president Norbert Patrick and Councillor William Johnson, both of Lajamanu, outside the shire head office in Alice Springs last Friday.