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Death by a thousand grants? The challenge of Grant Funding Reliance for Local Government Councils in the Northern Territory of Australia

Michel, Thomas and Taylor, Andrew (2012). Death by a thousand grants? The challenge of Grant Funding Reliance for Local Government Councils in the Northern Territory of Australia. Local Government Studies,38(4):485-500.

Document type: Journal Article

IRMA ID 82056760xPUB133
Title Death by a thousand grants? The challenge of Grant Funding Reliance for Local Government Councils in the Northern Territory of Australia
Author Michel, Thomas
Taylor, Andrew
Journal Name Local Government Studies
Publication Date 2012
Volume Number 38
Issue Number 4
ISSN 0300-3930   (check CDU catalogue  open catalogue search in new window)
Scopus ID 2-s2.0-84866338312
Start Page 485
End Page 500
Total Pages 16
Place of Publication United Kingdom
Publisher Routledge - Taylor & Francis Group
HERDC Category C1 - Journal Article (DIISR)
Abstract In July 2008, the local government sector in the Northern Territory of Australia underwent wide-sweeping reforms whereby 53 councils, most of which were located in remote Indigenous communities, were amalgamated into eight regional shires. The dominant justifications for these reforms focused on internal ‘deficit’ views about the community council sector, including lack of competent and ethical staff, managerial workforce instability, inefficient use of resources, and poor oversight as the primary causes of chronic underperformance and dysfunction. This paper identifies and discusses the under-scrutinised role of grants revenue dependency and volatility in the demise of remote small councils in the Northern Territory. We analyse financial data to demonstrate the extreme volatility in year-on-year grants funding. With their high dependency on grants revenue, such volatility and unpredictability resulted in councils being hamstrung in their ability to strategically plan and ensure stability in service delivery, infrastructure management and employment provision. We argue that these fiscal dynamics, fuelled by hierarchical intergovernmental relations, contributed significantly to dysfunction in the sector, as well as mutually reinforcing pre-existing structural and endogenous weaknesses. This argument runs against the common conceptualisation of the sector as requiring of externally imposed structural reform. We conclude by suggesting that there are factors additional to scale that need to be incorporated into analysis of the effects of amalgamation policies on remote councils.

Keywords Grants revenue volatility
Rural and remote populations
Northern Territory of Australia
Council amalgamations
Indigenous communities
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03003930.2012.666212   (check subscription with CDU E-Gateway service for CDU Staff and Students  check subscription with CDU E-Gateway in new window)
 
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