Death by a Thousand Grants? The Challenge of Grant Funding Reliance for Local Government Councils in the Northern Territory of Australia

Thomas Michel, Andrew Taylor

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    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.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)185-500
    Number of pages16
    JournalLocal Government Studies
    Volume38
    Issue number4
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2012

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