Issue 4 - May 4, 2010 enews home

Funding to bush shires ‘needs streamlining’

PhD candidate Thomas Michel

By Jason McIntosh

The delivery of local government services in the bush could be improved with the streamlining of the grant funding process, according to a Northern Territory-based researcher.

Presenting his preliminary PhD findings in Darwin last week, a Charles Darwin University Katherine-based researcher Thomas Michel spoke about his investigations into the major overhauls made to the NT’s local government sector in 2008.

Mr Michel said the heavy reliance by shire councils on short-term program grants and contracts hampered their ability to provide consistent and quality services and employment.

He said shire councils relied on grant revenue for more than two-thirds of their total revenue, compared with an average of about 20 per cent for municipals which represented Alice Springs, Katherine and Darwin residents.

“Municipals can treat special purpose grants a bit like icing on the cake, but for shire councils this negotiating, juggling and managing of program grants creates a heavy workload,” he said.

Mr Michel cited the example of Central Desert Shire of Northern Central Australia, which managed more than 80 separate grants during the 2008/9 financial year.

“This is the standard pattern across many of these shires.”

He said local government in rural and remote communities was often relied upon as the government service provider of last resort.

“Their mandate stretches to running services as disparate as aged care, child care, the local post office, Centrelink, airstrip maintenance, housing repairs and maintenance, CDEP and even horticulture.

“This raises the demands and expectations on these organisations and makes their functions more complicated.”

His PhD thesis is examining the administrative, financial, political and cultural sustainability of the NT's local government sector. He will explore if and how services and governance structures can be improved.

Mr Michel is based at CDU's Katherine campus where he is working on a local government evaluation project in conjunction with the CDU-based Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government.