Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Our Prime Minister who art fallible: Snowdon's re-instatement a sign of failure & concern


Last night, the Gillard government broke new ground.  A new way was found to announce a ministerial appointment to the public.  Nicola Roxon, appearing on the ABC's Lateline, told us that Warren Snowdon was returning to the portfolio of indigenous health under her leadership as the Minister in Cabinet with responsibility for health.  A Prime Ministerial statement came much later.

My mate, Denis - from Nature of Robertson - says that he heard Tanya Plibersek speaking about the topic on Sydney radio yesterday.

One thing is clear - the Prime Minister didn't announce Warren Snowdon's appointment.  Perhaps she is busy - but I think there might have been some unpalatable questions asked of her.

There are two topics to be examined because of Warren Snowdon's 'after-thought' appointment.



Firstly, Snowdon - a long-time Federal MP in the Northern Territory and currently the member for Lingiari, which as seen above covers almost all of the Northern Territory - took a significant hit at the 2010 election.  What was significant  was the strong polling in many Aboriginal communities in Central Australia for The Greens candidate, Barb Shaw who is a well-known anti-Intervention campaigner.

Below is an email from the election front discussing Barb's excellent result:  (Please note election analysis by communities can be a tricky thing because the communities are serviced by mobile polling booths which move across the NT in teams for a week prior to the actual date of the election.  Many communities are included altogether in the one ballot count and discerning how an individual community votes depends upon the reportage of experienced campaign workers.)

Re Ampilatwatja and Utopia. These two areas were counted together, but voted separately (the mobile team traveled through this region over a week). I was at Ampilatwatja for the voting there and am almost certain that Barb received a clear majority on the day - certainly most of the community was actively engaging with our stall and ignoring Labor and the CLP. The main thing they recognised Barb from was the opening of the protest house at the Ampilatwatja walk-off camp where she was a key speaker. People were saying "that's that girl from Honeymoon bore (the walk-off camp), she speaks up for us".
The broader Utopia region is a massive string of outstations which we didn't have the resources to cover (some local elders were going to follow the AEC, but their car broke down). In contrast, the ALP followed them all week with their how to vote cards which would have influenced the result.
Re Tennant Creek. I think Barb did very well in Tennant Creek which as you mention is a staunch Labor town. On polling day (the first table that I attached) she was narrowly outpolled by Warren Snowdon by 4 votes. There was a 29.36% swing to the Greens. Snowdon got further ahead on pre-polls. Again, the Greens did not have an organised presence at the AEC through the pre-polls. The result in Tennant is due largely to the imposition of the nuclear waste dump on the town, which saw local Aboriginal leaders, plus old Labor party figures like former MLA Elliot McAdam in the town publicly break with Labor and back the Greens.
Re Hermannsburg. There is a more organised socially conservative politics in Hermannsburg than I think anywhere else in remote Aboriginal communities - solace to Howard before Macklin - as you mentioned in your post. This is an ongoing challenge - but the 20% swing to the Greens is an encouraging sign. The more the movement in Alice Springs and the cities wins builds momentum against the Intervention, the more people in places like Hermannsburg can be shown there is a fighting alternative they can meaningfully ally themselves with.

Aside from the nuclear waste dump issue near Tennant Creek, figures appear to indicate an Intervention motivated vote against the Howard-Rudd-Gillard policy.  To take a hit at the ballot box across the communities in a clear anti-Intervention manner and not provide special responsibility for Aboriginal health is cavalier, to say the least.

Clearly, there was an outcry over the absence of this clear responsibility and the matter had to be rectified quickly, before the appointed time for swearing in the Ministry.

I believe the true situation is that the Gillard Government doesn't care -
  • doesn't care enough to have this high on its agenda; 
  • doesn't care enough to provide knowledgable oversight of the policy; 
  • doesn't care enough because Australians on the urban fringes of the nation don't understand or care enough to make the government care.
Secondly, Snowdon's set-back doesn't bode well for the North Territory Labor Government under Paul Henderson.  Labor in the NT governs by a thread.  It governs with the support of one independent.  It is involved in the Intervention - and has, in particular, stuffed up the housing program for which it carries responsibility.  If Snowdon has some ministerial responsibility, albeit a junior ministry, he has greater influence - and more travel facilities to get him around the NT as well.

So what happens next?  

Clearly, the Rudd-Gillard Governments have proved impervious to criticism on matters regarding the Intervention.  Much of this criticism has been borne, deservedly, by Jenny Macklin, Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

In this term of the Labor government, I think it is time to involve Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon.  Roxon has had a brilliant career path and handles herself well and intelligently.  She could, reasonably, look forward to greater distinctions.

With one eye on the brilliant career, she might not want to see herself involved too closely in the toxic and racist politics of the Intervention and have responsibility for its health failures sheeted home to her.

Related reading:

Health Impact Assessment of the Northern Territory Emergency Response.
Canberra: Australian Indigenous Doctors’Association, 2010.
See task bar below document to download, print etc.
Further reading

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