Shires, Intervention, Wurla Nyinta Council
Ntaria, like all other communities in the NT has undergone a raft of significant changes in the last 10 years, all of which have a strong bearing on how governance and leadership are understood in relation to the ongoing life of the community.
The NTER began in 2007, with a three step program (stabilise, normalise, exit) designed to radically shift how Aboriginal communities would be dealt with by the government. Part of the change saw greater investment and oversight of Aboriginal communities, something that ran counter to the prevailing tendency of governments to withdraw from active presence in communities. It also saw greater being placed (at least rhetorically) on engagement and practices to identify and support Aboriginal people to become more involved in managing their own affairs.
Ntaria was at the front line of the NTER, with a visit from John Howard in the early days of the implementation of the policy. People were nervous about what it meant, and frightened of the presence of the army in the community, nonetheless as time went on people sought to make what they could of the change that the NTER had brought about.
One of the significant changes was the quite central role that local leaders were seen to play in the development of communities. In Ntaria, following on from work done over the previous four decades in thinking about and enacting community level governance, people were keen to ensure that the right people were in position to guide the infrastructure development that was promised with the NTER. As a result they took the formation of their Local Reference Group seriously, and named it Wurla Nyinta (all together, in a group), reflecting their desire to work together for the good of the community. This is an interesting development, given the five Land Trusts that cover the land in the area, as it demonstrates a willingness on behalf of the Ntaria group (Traditional Owners of the land on which the community sits) to share power with other Traditional Owners for the benefit of the community.
Other changes that occurred at the time included the dismantling of the Community Government Councils and their subsequent incorporation into Shires. This change occurred around the same time as the NTER and heralded significant changes in how affairs were managed at the local level. No longer was a local body responsible for running the community replaced instead by an authority that had its main office in Alice Springs, and which had two representatives from the community on a Shire board that covered the bottom half of the NT.
A final change that took place was the dissolving of Indigenous Community Housing Associations and the handover of housing management responsibility to the Northern Territory Government. This meant that the local community had an decision making power in relation to housing and its management in Ntaria, instead being subject to a process run by the NT Department of Housing.