Cool reception for the non-Local Government Minister

p2378-lgantBy ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Apart from getting some applause for minor increases in funding Minister Gerry McCarthy got a cool reception from delegates to the AGM of the Local Government Association (LGANT) in Alice Springs this morning.

 

Katherine Mayor Fay Miller told him the government’s failure to have a department of local government was a “slap in the face”.

 

Mr McCarthy did his best to convince the meeting that under his portfolios, Housing and Community Development, he could do the right thing by councils, and to chop a department was a move to cut red tape  and save the taxpayer money.

 

Nevertheless LGANT president, Alice Springs Mayor Damien Ryan, announced Mr McCarthy would be getting a “we are not amused” letter on the subject.

 

Mr McCarthy claimed that local government’s proposed increased involvement in housing provided a “revenue opportunity”.

 

Barkly Mayor Barbara Shaw countered that local government is not just some program like housing and needs to be afforded the respect and influence appropriate to the third tier of government.

 

Mr McCarthy referred to the poor results of SIHIP and suggested housing needs to be looked at over 10 or more years. Issues of tenancy management and repairs will need to be improved, he said, as does housing for non-local recruits in the bush.

 

The government would ensure these solutions would be “place based” and not following a one size fits all principle.

 

“New ideas are welcome,” he told the meeting.

 

Victoria Daly Mayor Brian Pedwell asked why “millionaire cattle station owners” are still enjoying “temporary” rate privileges introduced in 2008.

 

Mr McCarthy replied that as a politician he finds it risky to comment on such matters, but he professed that he saw some need for “equity”.

 

He announced an annual $2m increase to local government operational funding for the nine regional and three shire councils.

 

There will be an additional $5m for the Strategic Local Government Infrastructure Fund starting in 2017-18.

 

“Consultation with stakeholders has commenced,” he announced.

 

COMMENT: 

 

While he’s at it Mr McCarthy should get some hints on how to deal with media requests to a Minister supposedly pledged to transparency, and how to organise a simple interview.

 

The Alice Springs News Online was seeking his views on apparent moves by three bush communities to get some distance from local government, taking care of tasks usually performed by it, and securing income usually flowing to it.

 

The communities are the Top End’s Gunyangarra, which has just been granted a lease over its entire area, as well as Amoonguna, adjacent to Alice Springs, and Utopia, to the north-east of it, which are seeking leases.

 

(These issues were not raised during the two-day AGM, according to Mayor Ryan.)

 

Mr McCarthy was in a chatty mood after his speech this morning, schmoozing with delegates during a break, and observing from the sidelines as the AGM took its course.

 

The News asked one of the Minister’s minders if we could have a five minute interview, and what would be a good time. The minder suggested 1:15pm.

 

A little while later I re-introduced myself to Mr McCarthy, who had been a source for political stories over many years, and I mentioned the interview appointment.

 

The Minister was aghast: I had spoken to the wrong minder (who was sitting right next to us). Protocol required that I speak to another minder.

 

She was 1600 kms away in Darwin. I rang her and it turned out it was her day off but she tried to absorb the nature of my enquiry so that she could pass it on to her boss.

 

Half an hour later she rang back and advised she has checked the diary of the Minister (who was still in the same room as I was, chatting away) and that he is very busy but I could try next week.

 

I declined, wondering if the Territory’s councils were not lucky after all to not have Mr McCarthy as the Minister for Local Government.

 

ERWIN CHLANDA, Editor

 

PHOTO: Mr McCarthy and Mayor Ryan addressing the meeting.

 

 

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5 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Posted December 5, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    This isn’t the first time that local government has disappeared as a stand-alone department or ministry in the Northern Territory. Almost three decades ago it vanished from the radar in an apparent (and amusing) slip-up during a reshuffle of ministerial portfolios.
    One of the hallmark decisions (early in 1987) during the brief reign of CLP Chief Minister Steve Hatton was the creation of mega-departments within the NT Public Service, intended to improve efficiencies and reduce costs of the bureaucracy at a time of tightening budget constraints (imposed by the Federal Labor Government) and generally deteriorating economic conditions.
    This was the first time post self-government that such a reform measure of the bureaucracy was attempted (later emulated by the NT Government under Labor with the creation of “super departments” in the early 2000s).
    At the beginning of December 1987 “responsibility for local and community government matters in the Territory” were transferred to Terry McCarthy, the Minister for Labour and Administrative Services, who also oversaw the NTPS and Work Health Authority (he was also Minister for Industries and Development).
    This decision led to the “disappearance” of the Local Government portfolio, which was a topic of apparently animated discussion at the Alice Springs Town Council, as reported early in the new year: “The horrified aldermen – all eight of them who attended the year’s final meeting – learnt that the Local Government Ministry had been downgraded so much in the reshuffle of departments that it had disappeared. And, to put it mildly, the aldermen were not impressed.
    “One alderman informed the meeting he’d been told the matter had been ‘overlooked’ in the latest reshuffle, which drew exclamations of disgust from almost all those present.
    “In the second to last Cabinet reshuffle the local government portfolio was handed to Barry Coulter, who became Treasurer and Local Government Minister. But in the major review of departments that took place a little later, the portfolio apparently fell out of the pack.
    “According to Mayor Leslie Oldfield, Industries and Development Minister Terry McCarthy now had responsibility for administering the Local Government Act. She and the aldermen see that as a long way from the sort of profile an important ministry like Local Government should have.
    “But are they right? A spokesman for Mr McCarthy said the minister had in fact been sworn in as Local Government Minister. But he may not have been when the council raised the issue. It appears that once the council raised the issue, some hasty action was taken to have Mr McCarthy sworn in as Minister for Local Government, with no doubt some pragmatic Sir Humphry Appleby sorting everything out behind the scenes” (Jenny Brands, Centralian Advocate, January 8, 1988).
    It appears not much has changed between the events and rationale of “downgrading” the Local Government portfolio of 29 years ago and current circumstances (the relevant ministers even sharing the same surname, and both representing bush seats in the middle of the NT!), nor of the offended sensibilities and dented egos of some earlier aldermen and contemporary councillors.
    Maybe the real nub of the issue is not so much the status of the third tier of government as seen by some members but the provision of services to ratepayers and the public at large. It’s not an important issue, in my opinion; it’s far more relevant to just get on with the job.

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  2. R Henry
    Posted December 3, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Now what was it the minister said? Oh yes! “Cut red tape and save tax payer’s money”?

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  3. R Henry
    Posted December 3, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Well Russell, if you can not find the right page to reply to a post it suffices to say you may find it harder to follow items that don’t agree with your outlook. 🙂

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  4. Michael Liddle
    Posted December 2, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    I read with particular interest Barb Shaw’s comments on local government regarding housing, and the rest of the services that she as the Barkly Regional council chairperson are obligated to deliver.
    In the area of the Sandover Highway, Alpurullum, Amplatawatja and particularly Angarrapa Land Trust, the Barkly Regional Council have failed and continue to fail!
    People have had enough of neglect on that side of the highway. No Rock to promote tourism, no mines and no gas to generate and form economic growth that are encouraged through these land assets. Just people with a belonging to country and the knowledge to identify with country.
    We seek urgent intervention from both local and Federal governments to improve the disgraceful and unacceptable living standards that we have endured for a long time and that have became so much worse since the inception of Regional Councils and Shires.

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  5. Peter Dixon
    Posted December 2, 2016 at 8:12 pm

    Well said, Erwin Chlanda.

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