The Anindilyakwa Land Council (ALC), which represents people on the 40 islands that make up the Groote archipelago in the Gulf of Carpentaria, is lobbying the Northern Territory Government to allow the islanders to break away from the Nhulunbuy-based East Arnhem Regional Council and form their own council.
“We’ve got nothing against the people on the mainland, but we want to represent ourselves,” says land council chair Tony Wurramarrba.
“The regional council doesn’t understand the problems and challenges on the islands. It’s not in touch with life on the islands.”
Islanders are also unhappy about the lack of local government investment on the islands.
Groote had three small councils until the so-called super shires were set up in 2008.
Anger over the scrapping of the little community councils was a major contributing factor to Labor losing three bush seats – and government – in 2012.
Mr Wurramarrba says islanders do not want the three community councils re-established.
“But we do want a single council covering the whole archipelago. That would allow us to make our own decisions about how we want to run our lives.”
At the moment, Groote’s two councillors have to fly to Nhulunbuy to attend monthly meetings of the East Arnhem Regional Council.
The ALC has carried extensive consultation among the 2000 islanders and found strong support for the breakaway council.
“The Anindilyakwa people look forward to joining the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory in their own right, with an independent directly elected local government council.
“The feeling is that local people should be making the decisions that affect their lives.”
Mr Wurramarrba is optimistic that the Territory Government will consider the plea sympathetically.
The ALC signed a letter of agreement about local government reform when Michael Gunner came to power in 2016, and is in discussion with the City of Darwin, which has offered to help the new council in building its systems and capacity.