MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire has yet to publicly announce its “partnership” with a remote municipality in the Northern Territory.
The Gulf to Peninsula Partnership was arranged by former mayor Cr Anthony Marsh and agreed to by council on 31 October. A formal announcement planned last September was delayed following the “last minute” cancellation of a visit to the peninsula by the mayor and CEO of Roper Gulf Regional Council.
“We hope to re-schedule the visit in the near future,” the current mayor Cr Steve Holland said.
Details of a visit to Roper Gulf late last year by Marsh and shire CEO John Baker were revealed earlier this month when Marsh claimed expenses for the trip (“Expenses test memories” The News 21/2/23).
Mornington Peninsula councillors have been assured “opportunities” will flow from a “relationship” agreement reached with Roper Gulf council.
Negotiations for the municipal partnership last year by Marsh follow 15 years of cooperation at the community level, and more lately through the Womin Djeka – Balnarring Ngargee community festival.
On paper, the two municipalities have little in common: Roper Gulf is about three times the size of Tasmania and has a population of less than 7000 people in 14 towns and remote Indigenous communities.
The peninsula’s 170,000 residents predominantly live in 21 towns or suburbs scattered across 723 square kilometres (Roper Gulf is 201,000 square kilometres).
While visitors can come and go freely to the peninsula, visitors to Roper Gulf communities must have a permit from the Northern Land Council.
Roper Gulf’s website says the permit system “helps to protect the privacy of Aboriginal communities, preserve Aboriginal culture, safeguard the natural environment and promote visitor safety and amenity”.
It says permits are required travellers, tourists, contractors, journalists, hawkers, representatives of any group, company agency or government department not covered by statutory permit arrangement.
Both the shire and Marsh refused to say if Marsh had obtained a permit before visiting Roper Gulf communities. In separate emails they suggested The News contact Roper Gulf for an answer.
In a report to council’s 31 October 2022 meeting Baker and governance manager Pam Vercoe said peninsula residents and groups had been working with Roper Gulf communities for the past 15 years.
Children from Roper Gulf had “visited Point Leo and local schools over many years” and a “friendly council partnership” would “build on” existing community relationships.
The visits resulted from discussion between Roper Gulf elders and peninsula residents.
Baker and Vercoe’s report said the “most outstanding feature” of the exchanges “is the fact children from both communities are open and frank with one another and able to share hope and dreams and understand the differences between their communities”.
Future projects could include tourism, energy development and infrastructure “offering training and experience to both communities”.
“We also hope to build economic development relationships … and further explore other opportunities, for example cultural, knowledge exchange and opportunities for councillors and officers to learn from each other.”
Along with his request for reimbursement of expenses Marsh said his September 2022 trip to Roper Gulf was made “to explore potential opportunities for creating a more enduring relationship between the two councils”.
The idea had been informally discussed and supported by “the councillor group” which led to his and Baker’s trip “to meet with the mayor and chief executive officer of the Roper Gulf Regional Council and to tour the region”.