Cabotage, sabotage and boosting northern Australian trade

As I have previously argued here, quite a bit of the Northern Territory News’ coverage of federal cuts to the Territory’s share of GST funding is tabloid silliness, creating fake cartoon villains out of politicians like Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and local Senator Nigel Scullion.

Presumably it’s because that sort of nonsense boosts newspaper sales. I can’t really blame them all that much. It’s a tough world out there for mainstream newspapers, competing for eyeballs and advertisers in the age of Google, Facebook and advertising revenue based on “page impressions”.  Clickbait and extreme silliness seem to be an effective way of surviving in the Brave New Media World, so it’s pointless fulminating against tactics they’re forced to adopt for their own survival. I’m not overly fussed by having to wade through croc and UFO stories and bulls**t characterisations of politicians as “bastards”, “robbers” or “Nigel No-Friends”.  More experienced MPs and their advisers accept it as one of the unavoidable facts of political life. You don’t survive long in politics if you can’t learn to cope with suffering an almost complete loss of personal privacy and being treated unfairly by the media.

However, one of the more positive aspects of the NT News’ populist coverage of the GST cuts issue has been a call for Territorians to come forward with ideas for helping the politicians cope with the situation and keep the Territory growing and prospering despite our GST misfortune. I have lots of ideas of that sort, some of them possibly impractical dreams, but some maybe not.  Here’s the first of my dreams and schemes (there will be more).

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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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What might a treaty look like?

A letter published in today’s Northern Territory News by David Mitchell of Nhulunbuy encapsulates several of the common misconceptions that many Territorians have about the possibility of a treaty or treaties between the Northern Territory Government and Aboriginal clans. Several commenters to a recent article at The Summit Facebook page had similar uncertainties, but Mr Mitchell’s letter is the most convenient to quote:

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The hidden karma of Aboriginal affairs policy …

An article by Amos Aikman in The Weekend Australian is especially noteworthy from a Territory governance perspective:

A policy designed to reward indigenous business owners with easier access to government contracts is instead exposing taxpayers to fraud and corruption, including serious misconduct by public officials, whistleblowers warn.

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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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Dan Murphy’s, proper purposes and political donations

Today’s Northern Territory News has a front page story revealing that “liquor giant Dan Murphy’s will take on the NT government in the federal court in a bid to open a store in Darwin”.

Like another current controversy featured here concerning CLP government interference in public service appointments, this story also raises important questions about government probity, transparency and accountability. However it relates to actions by the new Gunner Labor government rather than the CLP.

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Political operatives ordered public service boss

A significant aspect of transparent and accountable public governance involves a public sector that is not only efficient but fair and not subject to undue politicisation.  In that context there is an important story by Christopher Walsh in today’s Northern Territory News titled “Political operatives ordered public service boss“:

“COMMISSIONER for Public Employment Craig Allen took part in initiating a month-long hiring freeze at the request of political operatives in order to consider a restructure of government departments that never eventuated.”

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Railing About Politics

Following the successful NT Governance Summit, CDU School of Law is joining with Darwin Press Club to present fairly frequent (possibly monthly) events on Tuesday evenings with prominent speakers or small panels discussing current public governance or political issues in an entertaining but thoughtful, analytical way. We’re calling it “Railing About Politics!” because it will happen at the Railway Club, Parap (where food and liquid refreshments are of course available).

As with the Summit, we’re planning on streaming the events on Facebook Live so anyone anywhere can participate online. We’re aiming mostly to focus on issues that are not only relevant to Territorians but much more widely. Email to be put on a mailing list to receive notifications of “Railing …” events.

Dare to dream of democracy

One of the most interesting suggestions that came out of last week’s NT Governance Summit was one by the ABC’s Antony Green proposing that the Territory might consider adopting a version of the New Zealand system of “top up” nationwide seats elected by proportional representation, in order to correct the frequent drastic imbalance between votes and seats that often occurs in Territory elections.

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