Charting the epic failure of NT corrections policy

I have previously expressed the view that the current Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory is unlikely to discover any startling facts not already well known to anyone who bothers looking. Nor is it likely to produce any recommendations not already made (though largely not implemented) by previous inquiries e.g. reports by former CLP politician and lawyer Jodeen Carney (commissioned by the former Henderson ALP government), Michael Vita and former Children’s Commissioner Howard Bath.

Nevertheless, despite its huge cost (more than $50 million) there is a powerful argument that the Royal Commission is needed if nothing else to put a strong enough public spotlight on youth justice to ensure that the politicians can’t simply sweep it all under the carpet and keep ignoring it. The twin dangers of fiscal pressures (especially in the light of recent revelations about major loss of federal GST funding) and pandering to populist sentiment (which is very easy to whip up in favour of punitive “tough on crime” “law and order” approaches) mean that little is likely to change in a long term sense in the absence of strong countervailing pressure to adopt more rational, effective, evidence-based policies in future.

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Is ScoMo a “bastard” for cutting the Territory’s GST funding?

The NT News’ front page on Saturday is a vintage piece of Murdoch tabloid journalism – aggressively funny but without any meaningful regard for fact or fairness. Of course portraying any politicians as “bastards” is bound to meet with general public approval, especially when Messrs Turnbull, Morrison and Scullion are identified as the culprits who just unfairly robbed the Territory of $2 billion over the next four years. Moreover, the journos who write this stuff might even believe it; after all quite a few usually thoughtful local pundits have made similar noises.

The truth is that the national system for distributing GST revenue between the states and territories IS badly broken, but the decisions aren’t in a practical sense made by the federal government politicians so they aren’t “bastards” at least for that reason. More importantly, the system will be devilishly difficult to fix. However, explaining that in a way people can understand or be bothered reading is a tall order, because the system is also mind-blowingly complex. But I’ll have a go at it anyway.

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Lies, damn lies and cherry-picking statistics

Poor old Jeff Collins. The neophyte Labor MLA for the inner Darwin seat of Fong Lim has just discovered that you never get between a tabloid newspaper and a circulation-boosting law and order scare story. Mr Collins had the temerity to suggest in the Legislative Assembly the other day that tabloid stories about an out-of-control crime wave in Darwin might be just a trifle simplistic and exaggerated. Outrageous! the News thundered: “Perhaps he should look at the latest shocking statistics – Darwin commercial break-ins up 90%; Darwin house break-ins up 20%.” (They are referring to the latest NT PFES crime statistics summaries for the year to end January 2017).

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Treaty: yeah, nah, maybe …

It was surprising (at least to me) that there wasn’t more discussion at the NT Governance Summit surrounding the question of a possible treaty between Aboriginal Territorians and the Northern Territory Government. It seemed as if most of the current and former politicians and politically engaged Territorians in attendance regarded the subject as one from cloud cuckoo land, not a fit topic for serious political debate by mature adults.

It’s certainly true that until the last year or so the question of a treaty was one mostly discussed by lefties and dreamers. Prime Minister Bob Hawke raised it as a serious question in 1990 but dropped it like a hot potato when a couple of influential State Premiers objected strongly. Not long after the High Court’s Mabo decision was handed down and treaty talk just dropped off the public radar. The issue hasn’t surfaced again seriously until very recently.

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Gunner’s faceless men

Chris Walsh from the Northern Territory News had an interesting article in yesterday’s Sunday Territorian claiming that “faceless men in Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s office” were having undue influence over the process of developing the forthcoming NT Budget, telling departmental CEOs how many millions of dollars they are required to cut from their forward budgets instead of the relevant Cabinet ministers undertaking that task.

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In search of fairness and equal opportunity

The Northern Territory has higher levels of inequality between rich and poor than most other parts of Australia. People living in remote Aboriginal communities are among the poorest in Australia, whereas the incomes of people in Darwin and Alice Springs are among the highest in the nation.

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Statehood, the Constitution and public opinion

No new State has been admitted or established since Federation in 1901, despite periodic bouts of seeming enthusiasm for NT statehood on the part of some politicians. For most people, it is an issue that produces almost universal guffaws whenever anyone mentions it, not only in the rest of Australia but among Territorians.  ‘Down south’ the reaction is seemingly fuelled by a perception that the Territory is a sinkhole for taxpayers’ money inhabited by Aborigines, crocodiles, and a handful of eccentric redneck Caucasians behaving strangely in the tropical heat.

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First Nations Representative Assembly


It is generally considered that a major reason why Shane Stone’s statehood referendum failed in 1998 was because of opposition from Aboriginal organisations (especially land councils) and their supporters.  That opposition in turn was to a significant extent due to a perception that Aboriginal interests were better protected by remaining under ultimate Commonwealth control.

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Ministerial Code of Conduct

A clear Ministerial Code of Conduct is one part of the armoury of democratic checks and balances needed to ensure open and accountable government. The Northern Territory has not until recently had one. However, the adoption of a Ministerial Code of Conduct was one of the recommendations of the Lawler Inquiry called by the previous Country Liberal government in relation to the so-called Stella Maris Affair in an apparent (and surprisingly successful) attempt to torpedo the political career of then Opposition Leader Delia Lawrie.

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