Session 1 day 1

Thursday 23 February (day 1)

(scribe/author: Robyn Smith)

Session 1:  Personal Perspectives on 39 years of self-government

Panel:  Marshall Perron, Clare Martin, Terry Mills, Barry Hansen, Earl James, Nigel Adlam


Barry Hansen:

  • money is the language of governments worldwide.
  • There was an underspend of $522m in 2006-07 on social justice and remote communities. In 2014-15 it was $290m.
  • In the NT, 68% of expenditure should be or relate to Aboriginal expenditure
  • NTPS figures from 2003-15 indicate an increase in Aboriginal employees of 38.4%

Earl James:

  • There was general dissatisfaction in the electorate with politicians and prior to self-government, this was particularly the case with rule from Canberra
  • The best governance we’ve had in the NT has been since self-government.
  • Biggest mistake (by Canberra) was not to give the NT power over Aboriginal lands.
  • Governments generally have an inability to accept independent advice.
  • And independent Planning Commission was the best decision by government, but the final decision rests with the Minister, which is bad governance.
  • Statehood should remain a goal.

Terry Mills:

  • His has been a journey from being a local Member to being a local Member again with much in between.
  • It would be good to choose Cabinet from the Parliament, but the party system has intervened.
  • He watched the Four Corners [juvenile justice] program in Indonesia and viewed it from an Indonesian perspective. No one could believe such conditions existed in Australia and it was a topic of conversation.
  • We have challenges. Juvenile justice and social dysfunction are two of them.  Money doesn’t address the problem and doesn’t just fix stuff.  Cited example of a nucleus of families in the Palmerston area from where the vast majority of criminal activity emanates with families around them seeking help to intervene and manage the issues.
  • The power for change lies with the community. A proper voice is needed for those people.

Marshall Perron:

  • Cited the 1962 remonstration with the Federal Government
  • ALRA significantly affected the government’s ability in respect of land use.
  • National Parks, industrial relations, land and uranium being excluded under self-government thwarted NT governments.
  • No other state has such a volatile boom-bust economy.
  • The NT had excellent relationships with Asian neighbours – better than the Federal government’s.
  • Few would understand the years of work involved in securing the Alice to Darwin railway.
  • Holding Cabinet meetings outside of Darwin compelled Ministers to see and hear from ordinary people.
  • Failures included the Douglas-Daly agricultural experiment, the TDZ, Dalway and the like. Another failure is that there has been no improvement to the standard of living for bush Aboriginal people.

Clare Martin:

  • Don’t be overwhelmed by the ‘failed state’ label.
  • Self-government has its limitations but has been a success.
  • The last four years were difficult. That’s a fact of life.  So is Donald Trump.
  • During the 27 years of CLP government there was talk that self-government wasn’t working because there was no change in government. The lack of an ALP government was not down to self-government but down to the ALP.
  • In 2001, Clare was a rookie Chief Minister with a rookie government. Not one of them had any experience of being in government.
  • The electoral system in the NT is not bad.
  • Governments since self-government have been very well served by the public service.
  • The public service needs to be independent without Chief Executives being appointed on a party basis.
  • The limitations on governance functions under self-government are ongoing. Examples cited of ROTI and s50A, the Intervention, etc.
  • The Grants Commission funds the NT as a state but does not address the lack of infrastructure in the bush at the time self-government was granted. NT governments have always been behind the 8-ball playing catch-up.
  • We need 12 senators.
  • Australia is largely ignorant about the Northern Territory.

Nigel Adlam:

  • I was not fond of federalism. Thought the NT was inefficient and cumbersome under federalism 33 years ago, however I now understand that it is designed to protect the regions and the smaller states.
  • I’ve never seen such squalor as I saw at Kalano recently, not even in Zimbabwe.
  • Our 25 members of parliament are evidence of (1) over-governing and (2) a shallow gene pool.
  • Are we a failed state? The experience of the last four years indicates that we are.
  • The economy will recover from the previous government, which talked us into a recession and ruined the NT brand.
  • Aboriginal disadvantage can be addressed, but we have ourselves to blame.

Panel Discussion:

  • Earl James – the NT does not promote itself effectively.
  • Marshall Perron – experienced a variety of attitudes towards the NT from Federal Ministers. Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs could be difficult, particularly Ministers Hand and Tickner.
  • Andre (Indonesian Consul) – Asia views Darwin with awe. What is the Asian Engagement plan?  Terry Mills – The conversation in Indonesia is about workforce capacity including a heavy emphasis on education and oil and gas.  Nigel Adlam – Indonesia is on the up.  Their economy is going to be one of the biggest in the world.  We should not lose focus on Indonesia and certainly shouldn’t think China is everything.
  • Luke Gosling – we need federal leaders to visit more often and see that the dollars are being spent wisely.
  • Grants Commission funding – are we selling the bush short as the Hansen model suggests? Marshall Perron – No.  The Grants Commission should never seek to control how money is spent.  Cited the examples of NSW and Vic revenue from pokies as a Grants Commission benchmark when no other state had them.  The CLP had a great record on Aboriginal Affairs.  Barry Hansen – there is no legal obligation on the NT to spend in accordance with Grants Commission allocations.
  • Ken Parish – what if we had the capacity to co-opt two expert Ministers from outside the parliament if it has 60% support from the Assembly? Marshall Perron – that could be an option.  Clare Martin – if the government is working closely with the community and has an independent public service providing frank advice, there is no need to have such experts in Cabinet.  We regularly sought expert advice for Cabinet.
  • There seems to be reluctance to accept expert advice from independent bodies. Marshall Perron:  what do you do when an independent authority irritates or alarms the electorate?  People turn to politicians.  There must be a thread back to government from statutory officers.