Sunday, 26 August 2012

Being Bush and Black counted in yesterday's Northern Territory election


Networkers, I am sure you will have tuned in last night or this morning to hear the results of yesterday's Northern Territory election.

Before I go on, let me give some full disclosure.  From 1993 to 1997, I was the electorate officer for Maggie Hickey, the then Member for Barkly (ALP) who later became Leader of the Opposition in the NT. The seat of Barkly has two major towns - Tennant Creek and Borroloola.  When I went to work for Maggie, she held the seat by 93 votes having won it from a former CLP Chief Minister. In 1997, our teamwork meant that we made Barkly a very safe Labor seat.  After fifteen years, it still is and Gerry McCarthy, the current MLA, held on to his seat last night.

While it galls me to have to say that I am thrilled with the election result and the CLP victory, the fact is that I am - for all the reasons that Chris Graham outlines.

After all my years in politics, I don't believe that longstanding safe seats - or taken for granted constituencies - are good things.  My favourite political slogan is "Make it marginal".  In short, keep politicians on their toes and working for you.  It is a shame that it has taken two horrendous pieces of public policy affecting adversely the lives of Aboriginal people to shake Labor to its core in the NT.  

While some people whom I don't like may get a seat in the new NT Parliament  - Bess Price may win the seat of Stuart and she favours The Intervention, and then there is Alison Anderson who I wouldn't trust from A to B - I am proud of what Aboriginal people have done in this election.

The seat of Barkly was always ignored - the Berrimah line and, in my view, a Mount Nancy line by which Tennant Creek was ignored by Alice Springs as well as Darwin. The northern suburbs of Darwin, until now, had always been the significant political vote changer. Probably for the first time in Australian political history, we have seen the vote of people in remote areas change a government.  The remote area voice has triumphed over the urban voice.  And not only was that an Outback vote, it was a Black vote.  How significant is that!

I found Clare Martin's comments in the wash up last night astounding ... and if that is a true reflection of ALP thinking, then the party has a long way to go in coming to an accurate analysis of what went wrong for them.  Martin said that there has been more money than ever before put into Aboriginal communities with The Intervention/Stronger Futures program.  Sure, she said, there were some problems in the housing area but there had been a substantial amount of new housing built. 

This goes back to what I call the old "achievement by dollars" syndrome.  I remember when Bob Hawke was met with ridiculing laughter at a World Council of Churches Congress event in Canberra for a similar statement.  The ridicule hit home and after that, attached to information about dollar spending, reports from the Aboriginal portfolio used to speak of outcomes.

Politicians must realise - and I wonder if the major parties will - that it doesn't matter how much money is poured into electorates, whether they are black or white. Unless there is honest consultation with people and people's views are acknowledged and worked with, all that those dollars will deliver is but shifting sand.

The big decider for Aboriginal people was The Shires vote.  Out in white Australia most people will not have a clue about this policy area and its significance on the ground.  Opinion has been divided in Aboriginal communities with regard to The Intervention.  It is my guess that there was no division in relation to The Shires.  What the CLP will do with this knowledge remains to be seen.  It is almost certain that they will abolish the current Local Government system... and then we will have to see what comes next and what the results of any new policy are. 

There is another factor which may be significant.  From what I have seen of the new Chief Minister, Terry Mills, he seems a nice man.  Now this comment may seem a bit twee in the political context but I have to say that the old CLP which lives on in my memory was horrible: it was corrupt, racist, played the racist card election after election, was riddled with cronyism, and had some very nasty and vicious players.  Back in those days, to get anywhere in the NT it was advisable to be a member of the CLP ... and you were assured of preferrment if you were a member of the Silver Circle.  I suspect this may have changed and, if it hasn't, it will now with the significant Aboriginal contingent on CLP benches.  However, one must not ignore the fact that family relationships (what we whitefellas may call nepotism) plays a significant part in Aboriginal ways of doing things.  In fact, these relationships have been discussed in political commentary in relation to Anderson's electorate success.

Lastly, I wonder if this will have any bearing on Federal Labor's ambitions (as well as Fed LibNats ambitions) to establish a radioactive waste site on Muckaty station, north of Tennant Creek and in the seat of Barkly.  The majority of the Traditional Owners are against the proposal.  However, the Northern Land Council has done a deal with Amy Lauder and her family to establish the dump with the NLC and Lauder set to receive millions of dollars in the deal.  Currently, the TOs have a case pending in the High Court.  


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