Records 1981


This guide has Cabinet record information from 1981, including Cabinet decision highlights from that year, Cabinet members and a background to the Northern Territory and Australia in 1981.

For a full listing of 1981 Cabinet decisions go to the indexes of Cabinet records PDF (2.1 MB) page.

For more information read 1981 Northern Territory Cabinet records - public release of the Cabinet records PDF (2.1 MB).

Members of 1981 Cabinet

This page shows the Northern Territory Government ministries in 1981. 

Fifth Everingham Ministry - 1 July 1980 to 25 January 1982

Hon PAE Everingham MLAChief Minister
Hon MB Perron MLATreasurer and Minister for Industrial Development
Minister for Community Development
Hon IL Tuxworth MLAMinister for Health
Minister for Mines and Energy
Hon JM Robertson MLAMinister for Education
Minister for Lands and Housing
Hon RM Steele MLAMinister for Primary Production and Tourism
Minister assisting the Treasurer
Hon NM Dondas MLAMinister for Transport and Works
Minister for Youth, Sport and Recreation and Minister assisting the Chief Minister - 1 July 1980 to 31 December 1980

NT and Australia in 1981

This page has a historical overview of the Northern Territory (NT) and Australia in 1981.

Political leaders

In 1981, Malcolm Fraser was Australia’s Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and Ronald Reagan the President of the United States of America. 

Chairman Mao was running the show in China. 

Lady Diana Spencer, Kindergarten teacher, was rumoured to be the girlfriend of Prince Charles.

On 1 January 1981, Commodore Eric Johnston AM OBE RAN was appointed the Administrator of the NT.

Society and popular culture

Territorians were going to the movies to see 'Smokey and the Bandit', starring Burt Reynolds, 'Superman II', and Francis Ford Coppola’s 'Apocalypse Now'. 

On television, Australians were watching the American soap opera 'Dallas', and the Australian drama 'Patrol Boat'.

Territorians ate at the Rock Oyster Restaurant, then located in Cavenagh Street opposite the Casino at the Don Hotel. The Tai Hung Tol Chinese Restaurant at Parap and the Top of the Telford were also popular dining spots.

In 1981, GPO Status was conferred on the Darwin Post Office, FM radio stations opened at Alice springs (8CCC) and Darwin (8TOP), Kalymnos Island in Greece was offered sister city status with Darwin, and 'We of the Never Never' was filmed on location at Elsey Station.


A three bedroom ‘post-cyclone’ elevated house in Nakara was on the market for $70,000. 

The average weekly earnings in the NT was $359 for males, higher than the Australian average of $304 per week.

NT politics

The Gurig National Park was declared after successful negotiations between government and traditional owners of the Coburg Peninsula.

Waterside workers were determining policy on the handling and loading of 'Yellow Cake' (uranium oxide) at the Darwin Wharf. 

Uranium mining and export was set to expand with negotiations happening between the French and Australian Governments.

Education Cabinet decisions

These are the Cabinet decision highlights about education in 1981.

Two-semester school year

In October 1980, Cabinet had considered a proposal to replace the existing three-term school year with a two-semester school year. 

The submission noted that this matter had been a topic for discussion amongst teachers and parents in the Northern Territory (NT) for a number of years, and that some schools in Indigenous communities such as
Maningrida had been operating a form of semester system since 1975.

Members of the Education Advisory Council and the NT Council of Government Schools Organisation circulated and discussed the proposal throughout the community. The response from parents and teachers was reported as being greatly in favour of the proposal, and it was noted this structure was more in harmony with NT seasons and holiday patterns.

At the time, Cabinet had deferred consideration of the submission pending more consultation between interested departments and feedback from the public.

The proposal was re-submitted in February 1981 at which time Cabinet endorsed the introduction of a two-semester school year, to commence in 1982.

Read the Cabinet decision - submission number 1149 and decision number 1519 of 11 February 1981 PDF (2.1 MB).

Green paper on primary and secondary education

In February 1981, Cabinet considered a Green Paper submitted by the Minister for Education on the direction of primary and secondary education for the 1980s. 

At that time, the NT Government had been responsible for the delivery of educational services for Territorians for only 20 months. During this period, a core curriculum for all primary and secondary schools had been developed, technical and further education services had been expanded, regionalisation of the education system had been pursued in an effort to become more responsive to local needs, a Northern Territory Teaching Service was being created, a university was being planned and a new Education Act had been enacted.

The Green Paper noted there was still more to be done to develop a high quality, flexible, developmental system of education, geared to the needs of Territory students and conditions. The purpose of the Green Paper was to inform the public about what Government was doing in the field of education and invite input on possible directions for education in the 1980s.

Initiatives covered in the Green Paper included:

  • changes in the year structure, including three streams of courses at senior secondary level (matriculation, Northern Territory Senior Secondary Studies Certificate and transition to work)
  • incorporating Year 7 in high schools
  • establishment of Senior Secondary Schools
  • options for boarding facilities in Darwin
  • evaluation and accreditation of bilingual programs
  • improvements in Aboriginal teacher education
  • expansion of secondary school programs in Aboriginal communities
  • major reviews of primary and secondary core curricula
  • alternative curricula for students with special needs
  • expansion of in-service teacher training and development
  • establishment of Advisory Councils on Special Education, Aboriginal Education and the Katherine Rural Education Centre.

Read the Cabinet decision - submission number 1337 and decision number 1568 of 2 March 1981 PDF (15.7 MB).

National Parks Cabinet decisions

This page has Cabinet decision highlights for National Parks in 1981.

Cobourg Peninsular Aboriginal Land and Sanctuary Bill

In March 1981, Cabinet approved the Cobourg Peninsula Aboriginal Land and Sanctuary Bill for introduction in the March Sittings of the Legislative Assembly. 

The Bill proposed the creation of the Cobourg Peninsula Sanctuary, with national park status.

The Bill provided for a joint board of management for the area, the membership of which gave the traditional owners the ultimate say in the policy for the sanctuary.

The Cabinet papers described the peninsula as supporting a rich and varied flora and fauna typical of the Top End of the Northern Territory in an area largely unaffected by European influences. 

The sanctuary’s large size, geographical isolation and state of preservation gave it unique value, along with the cultural and spiritual importance of the area to the Indigenous people who lived there.

During the negotiations leading to the development of the Bill, the traditional owners agreed to the peninsula remaining as a wildlife sanctuary, with title to vest in a board of trustees consisting of traditional owners. 

The minister’s draft second reading speech noted that the traditional owners were enthusiastic about working with the Conservation Commission of the Northern Territory to protect the land and preserve it for future generations of Australians.

Read the Cabinet decision - submission number 1365 and decision number 1596 of 2 March 1981 PDF (5.7 MB).

Kings Canyon National Park

Kings Canyon National Park

In October 1981, Cabinet considered a proposal to create a national park over the Kings Canyon area on the western portion of Tempe Downs pastoral lease. 

In 1980 the Chief Minister directed that Kings Canyon be acquired for a national park after extended negotiations with the pastoral lessee, Tempe Downs Pastoral Company, had proved unsuccessful. 

An offer to negotiate area and price was made by the Conservation Commission in June 1981, but the company failed to respond to this offer and the matter was brought back to Cabinet for further direction.

The intention was to acquire 1,000 square kilometres of the 4,815 square kilometres of the Tempe Downs Pastoral Lease. 

The Cabinet submission advised that the area within the proposed park boundaries had not been grazed for the past 20 years and possibly not since the 1920s.

The proposed boundaries of the park took into account the use of natural features to give control of watershed, feral animals and fire and minimised the needs for fencing. 

The boundaries were considered practical for management purposes and optimised the potential for tourist development and maintenance of conservation values.

It was suggested that Kings Canyon would rank with Uluru in terms of visitor attraction and would form an important link in the tourist route between Alice Springs and Uluru.

The area was considered botanically the most important in Central Australia, containing a richer array of plants than either Uluru or Finke Gorge. This included a large number of rare and relict plant species, as well as plant communities of interest to the pastoral industry.

The fauna was also of considerable scientific interest, representing an overlap between the fauna of the southern sandy deserts and the central ranges. The habitat of the area was suitable for the reintroduction of rare and endangered species, complementing breeding programs for bilbies and western hare wallabies.

The submission noted the area as a whole, and particularly the area north of Ochre Hill and in the Hope Valley, contained a considerable number of relics of Aboriginal occupation. 

Cabinet decided that steps should be initiated by the Northern Territory Government to compulsorily acquire the Kings Canyon National Park area.

Read the Cabinet decision - submission number 1670 and decision number 1981 of 29 October 1981 PDF (13.2 MB).

Makarrata Agreement

Makarrata is a word in the Yolngu language meaning a coming together after a struggle, facing the facts of wrongs and living again in peace. 

The Commonwealth Government had previously agreed that the National Aboriginal Conference, a body established in 1977 to provide a forum for the expression of Indigenous people’s views, should develop proposals for a treaty of commitment, or Makarrata. 

All Australian governments had agreed to enter into discussions about this matter with the National Aboriginal Conference. A treaty with Indigenous people was expected to have significant legal, constitutional, political and social implications for Federal, state and territory governments.

It was in this context that an information paper on the Territory position on a Makarrata was considered by Cabinet in August 1981. 

One of the central issues for Cabinet was whether the Territory Government should develop a position in relation to a Makarrata for discussion with the National Aboriginal Conference and Commonwealth Government, or await the proposals being developed by the Conference.

The initial Makarrata proposals put forward were for a treaty, covenant or convention which could include provision for matters such as:

  • the protection of Indigenous identity, language, law and culture
  • the recognition and restoration of rights to land
  • the conditions governing mining and exploration of natural resources on Indigenous land
  • compensation to Indigenous Australians for the loss of traditional lands and to their traditional way of life
  • the right of Indigenous Australians to control their own affairs and to establish their own associations for this purpose.

Cabinet noted the issues for Makarrata and decided to await proposals from the National Aboriginal Conference which could be the subject of future discussions.

Read the Cabinet decision - submission number 1574 and decision number 1863 of 11 August PDF (1.8 MB).

International Year of Disabled Persons

In response to the International Year of Disabled Persons (IYDP) in 1981, Cabinet considered two proposals during the year.

The first of these proposals put forward suggested amendments to the Building Regulations to make sure that access to and facilities within future buildings in the Northern Territory (NT) catered for the needs of disabled persons. 

The submission observed that disabled people were seldom seen in public places in the NT. It also noted the advice of the Handicapped Persons Association that the handicapped were discouraged from venturing into public activities, due to the lack of access and facilities.

Existing building designs were seen as excluding disabled persons from everyday activities by restricting access to supermarkets and cinemas, places of employment and public toilet facilities. 

The amendments to the Building Regulations would improve access to buildings such as hotels, motels, offices, shops, cafes, service stations, warehouses, factories, hospitals, clinics, schools and cinemas.

In respect of public buildings, the amendments proposed access to fixed seating, space for wheelchairs, and door furniture and water taps to meet a required specification. One in every 100 car parking spaces was to be of sufficient size to permit wheelchair user access.

The changes would apply only to new, not existing, buildings. The submission calculated that the extra cost of construction to accommodate the new requirements was considered to be generally not more than 0.5 per cent of contract building costs and not likely to act as a deterrent to developers.

The submission noted the desirability of implementing the proposed changes as early as possible to demonstrate support for IYDP. 

Cabinet accepted the proposal and approved the drafting of amendments to the Building Manual on 29 April 1981.

Read the Cabinet decision - submission number 1394 and decision number 1655 of 29 April 1981 PDF (6.1 MB).

Later in the year, Cabinet considered a submission for the establishment of a Disabled Persons Bureau within the Department of Community Development. 

At that time an estimated 5,100 disabled persons lived in the NT. 

Handicapped persons had raised concerns about finding appropriate services within government departments and favoured the availability of information and advice from a single source within government.

An IDYP unit had been established to undertake IDYP observance in the NT during 1981 and this had demonstrated the advantage of a focal point within government to help disabled people and their families, with specialist knowledge and an advocacy role. The submission argued that a permanent bureau could continue this work.

Cabinet agreed and in December 1981 approved the establishment of a Disabled Persons Bureau to:

  • consider all policy matters concerning the needs of the handicapped and disabled
  • provide information and counselling services
  • make recommendations on government grant and subsidy programs for the disabled
  • undertake research related to providing services for the handicapped
  • support advisory committees on the handicapped, and
  • facilitate training for workers with the handicapped.

Read the Cabinet decision - submission number 1789 and decision number 2116 of 21 December 1981 PDF (3.1 MB).

Solar Rebate Scheme

In July 1981, Cabinet considered a submission from the Minister for Mines and Energy to establish a solar rebate scheme as an energy conservation initiative. 

The scheme would provide a 10% rebate on the new cost of solar hot water services and air-conditioners for householders and businesses. This was an election promise made during the 1980 General Election campaign.

The submission noted that a 10% rebate level equated to approximately $100 per system. In addition, it was estimated that households with a solar hot water system would save around $107 per year in electricity costs, representing the value of the half tonne of fuel oil saved each year per installation.

An amount of $75,000 was set aside in the 1980 to 1981 Budget to finance the first year’s operation of the scheme.

Cabinet agreed to the Solar Rebate Scheme and directed that the scheme be trialled for 12 months.

Read the Cabinet decision - submission number 1519 and decision number 1790 of 2 July 1981 PDF (2.9 MB).

Arts and culture

This page has Cabinet decision highlights for arts and culture in 1981. 

Performing arts centre - Darwin

In 1979 to 1980, the Territory Government funded the Darwin City Council to commission a feasibility study and planning brief for a performing arts centre and convention centre in Darwin. 

The study confirmed a need for these facilities and recommended their construction at an estimated cost of approximately $7.5 million.

Around the same time, the Northern Territory Development Corporation (NTDC) commissioned a study on the feasibility of an international hotel in Darwin. Subsequent to these studies, and after an international promotional mission, the NTDC proposed the development of a hotel, convention centre and theatre as a joint venture between the Government, the Darwin City Council and a private developer, Burgundy Royale Investments Pty Ltd.

Cabinet endorsed this proposal, and approved a heads of agreement with Burgundy Royale Investments Pty Ltd and a memorandum of understanding with the Corporation of the City of Darwin for the joint development of a performing arts centre and international hotel in Darwin.

Features of the development included a 1,000 seat theatre, convention centre to seat 1,200 in lecture sessions or 600 at banquet functions, meeting rooms, a 200 room international hotel and car park for 300 cars. 

The plan needed the company to buy three lots of land, while the Territory Government and the Darwin City Council would make available four lots of land and close McLachlan Street between Mitchell Street and the Esplanade to accommodate the project. 

Financing involved a contribution by the company of $2.17 million with the Territory Government providing $4.34 million. 

It was agreed the Government would also provide $250 000 for technical consultancy and facilities management services. 

Cabinet agreed that the Territory Government would meet cost over runs to a maximum of $0.83 million, with any additional over runs to be met by the developer.

Read the Cabinet decision - submission number 1433 and decision number 1686 of 6 May 1981 PDF (2.8 MB).

Araluen Centre

In September 1979, Cabinet approved the construction of the Araluen Cultural Centre in Alice Springs, to be funded by way of a grant to the Araluen Trust. The Trust commissioned a feasibility study and planning brief for the centre, and later a design report providing for a theatre, rehearsal/meeting room, dressing rooms, a food and liquor facility, exhibition gallery, art gallery, outdoor sculpture area, art/craft studios and offices.

The Centre would be among the best in Australia for a city of comparable size. The submission warned the facility might be seen as being over-elaborate for the size of the Alice Springs population, but it was agreed that the Centre would serve the needs of tourists as well as residents and the plans took into account the needs expressed by the local arts community.

Cabinet agreed to the proposed design and funding of $4.77 million to construct the Centre over three years to 1983/1984, which would coincide with the 50th anniversary of Alice Springs.

Read the Cabinet decision - submission number 1690 and decision number 2001 of 29 October 1981 PDF (2.5 MB).

Northern Territory Heritage Program

National estate matters transferred to the Northern Territory on 1 July 1978 and a formal agreement between the Commonwealth and Northern Territory Governments was signed by the Minister for Community Development on 2 May 1980 for the administration of the Northern Territory National Estate Program.

Under the terms of the agreement, the Territory Government took primary responsibility for the establishment of priorities and the development of projects within the guidelines set by the Commonwealth. 

The guidelines provided for a balanced program of environmental and cultural projects, with priority given to those projects for which the relevant state or territory provided matching funding. 

Overall 44 projects were nominated for endorsement.

The projects approved by Cabinet subject to normal budgetary considerations included all of the following:

  • restoration of the Fannie Bay Gaol, Darwin
  • Wildman River Catchment Area study
  • Pine Creek railway station and repeater station conservation work
  • Archaeological sites documentation - Aboriginal sites of National Estate significance including Macassan sites
  • Northern Territory military sites survey
  • Emergency restoration work of historic landmarks at Victoria and Port Essington
  • Old Police Station and Courthouse/Naval Headquarters, Darwin
  • Springvale Homestead, Katherine
  • Restoration of a Flying Doctor aircraft and a Wackett aircraft for the Central Australian Aviation Museum
  • Restoration of the Borroloola police station and cell blocks
  • Alice Springs Telegraph Station National Park
  • Hermannsburg Mission Buildings
  • Daly River Copper Mines and Graves
  • Old Elsey Homestead, Mataranka
  • Adelaide House, Alice Springs - first hospital in Alice Springs, associated with the Flying Doctor System and with “Flynn of the Inland”
  • “Sandfly” historic engine – return from Port Augusta in South Australia.

Read the Cabinet decision - submission number 1443 and decision number 1752 of 16 June 1981 PDF (3.8 MB).

Alternative transport corridor

In July 1981, Cabinet approved in principle a transport corridor from Darwin Port along the Frances Bay/Stuart Park foreshore area, through Winnellie, Coonawarra and Berrimah to the existing railway line near Palmerston.

This followed a consultancy report which recommended this corridor replace the existing corridor which ran near the (then) Darwin Airport entrance, Salonika Crossing and Daly Street in the city. 

The estimated cost of the 20km of track and marshalling yard was $21.2 million.

The Cabinet submission noted the proposed corridor was compatible with plans for the Alice Springs to Darwin railway line and development of the Darwin port. 

Cabinet’s approval was subject to a further report after preliminary negotiations in relation to transfer of land to the Northern Territory.

Read the Cabinet decision - submission number 1518 and decision number 1796 of 9 July 1981 PDF (1.8 MB).