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Issue #1561      22 August 2012

Candidates gear up for Territory election

Aboriginal politicians and aspirants are gearing up for a hard-fought contest as the Northern Territory barrels towards its next general election later this month. The poll will be held on Saturday August 25 and the number of Aboriginal candidates looks like exceeding 20.

Paul Henderson’s Labor government will be hoping for a fourth term.

The 25-seat Parliament has been close since the 2008 election, when Territory Labor won 13 seats to the Country Liberals’ 11. That lead narrowed last year after former Labor Minister and then independent Alison Anderson joined the Country Liberals, giving both parties 12 seats each and forcing Labor to rely on the support of a sole independent, Gerry Wood, to govern.

Nominations for the elections have closed, but both major parties had unveiled their candidates and those of the fledgling First Nations Political Party were firming up. The Greens had yet to reveal theirs when the Koori Mail went to print.

The NT Intervention and its new incarnation Stronger Futures, with income management, alcohol bans, and push for community leasing, is expected to influence the votes of many Aboriginal Territorians. Indications are that the future of homelands and outstations, the new “super shires” and what many see as a corresponding loss of community autonomy, employment, and law and order could all impact on the outcome in electorates with sizeable Aboriginal constituencies.

With the retirement of Tiwi Islander Marion Scrymgour, Labor will have two Aboriginal MPs hoping to hang on to their seats – Indigenous Development Minister Malarndirri McCarthy in the bush seat of Arnhem, and Minister for Central Australia Karl Hampton who holds Stuart, around Katherine.

The party is fielding another six Indigenous candidates: Dean Rioli in Marion Scrymgour’s old seat of Arafura; Des Rogers running against Alison Anderson in Namatjira (formerly known as MacDonnell); Cerise King in Katherine; Ken Vowles in the Darwin seat of Johnston; Russell Jeffrey in the outer Darwin seat of Brennan, and young Damien Smith in Goyder, also outer Darwin.

The Country Liberals also have two incumbent Aboriginal MPs – Shadow Minister for Indigenous Policy Adam Giles and Parliamentary Secretary to Shadow Cabinet Alison Anderson in Central Australia.

The party is fielding three other Aboriginal candidates: Larissa Lee in Arnhem; staunch NT Intervention supporter Bess Price in Stuart; and Francis Xavier Maralampuwi in Arafura.

The First Nations Political Party (FNPP) is expected to field eight or nine candidates, two of them non-Indigenous.

Party co-founder and Alice Springs-based cross-cultural consultant Ken Lechleitner was still deciding whether to run, but other likely FNPP candidates include activist Maurie Japarta Ryan in Stuart; Bill Risk in Daly; Valda Shannon in Barkly; Daniel Fejo in Blain; and popular country singer Warren H Williams in Namatjira.

Aboriginal author Yvette Holt had been expected to stand for the FNPP against Adam Giles in Braitling but has withdrawn for family reasons.

The Koori Mail asked the NT Greens for details of their candidates but, aside from a suggestion that several would likely be Indigenous, had not heard back at the time of printing.

Elected unopposed in 2008, Malarndirri McCarthy’s seat of Arnhem has been considered a very safe Labor seat, but she thinks that’s changed.

“I don’t think anything is safe anymore,” she told the Koori Mail. “The political landscape has changed quite significantly across the bush and no seat is being taken for granted. We’ve had our ups and downs – without a doubt – but Labor has a genuine interest in improving the lives of the country’s most disadvantaged people, Aboriginal people.”

On the largely unpopular NT Intervention and the shift to super shires, Ms McCarthy said the government was conscious that there was “a fair bit of discontent”.

Fighting

“But we’re also conscious that people know that we are the ones who are there with them all the way and we’re not going to give up. We’re fighting for them,” she said.

She said the Intervention had magnified the Constitutional vulnerability of the people of the NT, in particular Indigenous people, but the Henderson government was determined to work through that. “We know that federal decisions can always override our decisions, but knowing that doesn’t mean we give up,” she said. “Knowing that means we fight harder.”

One example of “a massive win”, Ms McCarthy said, was the federal government’s promise in March of $200 million over ten years for NT homelands and outstations. That will be further bolstered by the Henderson government’s own announcement that it would provide $100 million in homelands support.

Ms McCarthy said improved co-ordination across government agencies, a high proportion of Aboriginal employment in shire councils, a push for greater financial stability of shire councils on Aboriginal land, and implementation of the federal Building the Education Revolution had all benefited Aboriginal Territorians under Labor.

Country Liberal MP Adam Giles enjoyed a 20.3 percent margin in the 2008 election. While not taking anything for granted, he said he expected his party to take Aboriginal votes off Labor.

“I think Aboriginal Territorians are pretty unhappy with being tricked over by Labor for many years and I expect more and more people will vote with their feet,” he told the Koori Mail.

“Everyone knows that Labor has just announced their second intervention and people are unhappy about that. There are some elements like welfare reform that some people see as a positive thing but not others. And the consultation has provided a great level of dissatisfaction. We’re seeing billions of dollars being spent but the tangible results on the ground are not being seen as much as we’d like.”

Mr Giles said that, while former PM John Howard had the Intervention for four months, “Labor have had it for five years and the results haven’t been as substantial as we’d like to have seen”.

“And there are some clear disincentives to progress in the Intervention, such as welfare quarantining for CDEP participants,” he said.

Mr Giles listed the Country Liberals policy of “giving people their voice back” by moving away from super shires towards regional councils, a promise of $50 million over four years for outstations, greater support for bilingual education, rigorous support for mining expansion, and a yet-to-be released roads package for Aboriginal communities would all benefit Aboriginal Territorians.

The First Nations Political Party’s performance at the ballot box will also be keenly watched.

Co-founder Ken Lechleitner is hoping the FNPP’s ideas around replacing NT super shires with more culturally appropriate structures, a shake-up of alcohol management that would enable people to drink responsibly, structured community work and proper rehabilitation for Aboriginal prisoners, and ways to allow Aboriginal people to leverage their communal ownership of land for greater development would resonate with Aboriginal voters throughout the Territory.

Mr Lechleitner said he thought the FNPP had good electoral prospects. Five seats would give the party the balance of power, he said, but “even just two or three would be good because it’d be saying we’re here and this is how we want to do business”.

“In the whole of Australian history, this is a first,” he said. “This process has been waiting for the host (Aboriginal) people to lead the way and this is what we’re doing; leading a change to a new direction but in an inclusive manner.”

Last month, the Greens received a major reputational boost when Arnhem Land Elder and fierce NT Intervention critic Reverend Dr Djiniyini Gondarra encouraged Aboriginal people to abandon Labor and vote Green instead.

The Greens have been strident opponents of the NT Intervention and have called for greater support for Aboriginal homelands and outstations. They have also backed traditional owners of Muckaty Station against a push for the site north of Tennant Creek to be considered for a nuclear waste dump.

Koori Mail  

Next article – Housing Action election campaign launch

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