Session 2 day 1

Thursday 23 February (day 1)

(scribe/author: Robyn Smith)

Session 2:  Personal Perspectives on 39 years of self-government

Panel:  Dawn Lawrie, Grant Tambling, Steve Hatton, John Bailey, Jon Altman (online), Rolf Gerritson, Bob Gosford

Dawn Lawrie:

  • Fully supports self-government and regrets that we have not progressed to statehood.
  • A bad government in the NT is better than government from Canberra.
  • In the Legislative Council, elected Members, regardless of their political stripes, were a bloc usually opposed to the appointed Members.
  • In 1971 in the Legislative Council, Dawn’s major issues were abortion reform, having women on juries and the repeal of vagrancy laws.
  • In 1974 in the First Assembly, votes were usually 18-1, Dawn being the one.
  • After Cyclone Tracy, the federal intervention was extremely difficult and more nuisance value than anything else
  • 1977 – optional preferential voting was introduced.
  • She is a crusader for self-government and statehood.

Grant Tambling:

  • Goyder’s Camp was the first development in the NT.
  • There are five lessons from the past at the federal level: Aboriginal culture, climate change, adaptive environment, wars and conflict (the military contribution to the NT) and governance and representation.
  • Present problems are population growth, our ageing population and residential stability
  • Other issues include heritage and the environment, private sector development and public service delivery of transport, defence, education and welfare.
  • Where are we going? We must consider land use and Aboriginal commerce, Asian engagement, Commonwealth funding, the elimination of corruption, industry development, immigration and very strict rules on the environment.

Steve Hatton:

  • In 1974 there was a referendum about giving the NT representation in the Senate. He couldn’t vote in it because he lived in the NT.  That fired him up about statehood.  We remain a colonial outpost of Canberra.
  • An MLA must be ‘of their community’. That is the first role of every Member under the Westminster system.
  • In his time in parliament, he needed lots of advice from professional public servants and valued it.
  • Referred to ‘colonial raj’ times of pre-self-government days.

John Bailey:

  • Some things remain as relevant today as when he was an MLA. Cited the ‘Trump equation’ (Mexicans and ISIS) as being equivalent to the CLP equation of Aboriginal people and the ‘law and order drum’.
  • Highlights of his time include participation in the ROTI debate and the enormous influence of religion in that debate, particularly from the Catholic Church.
  • People did not vote against statehood in the referendum; they voted against Stone
  • ‘Fake news’ is not new. Push polling was first used in the NT against himself and Ken Parish.
  • Leaders need to lead. When they fail, lynch mobs take over.

Jon Altman (online):

  • Lived at an outstation in 1978 when Aboriginal Affairs Minister Fred Chaney informed Paul Everingham that outstations would remain the domain of the Federal Government under self-government. There was no proper policy for outstations by either the Commonwealth or the NT and there still isn’t.
  • Minimal service delivery to and for outstations is equal to abject neglect.
  • The 2007 Federal intervention forced the NT to take responsibility for outstations.
  • NT governments increasingly make unrealistic promises in the bush to garner votes. This is punitive neoliberalism.
  • Outstations get a more sympathetic hearing from the NT government than the Commonwealth. He never thought he’d say that.
  • Social justice should be properly applied.

Rolf Gerritsen:

  • Described the gathering as ‘very defensive’ and said he couldn’t imagine it in any other state.
  • Darwin is a big contrast to the rest of the NT.
  • The NT will never become a state. Think about becoming part of SA again if Senate representation is an issue.
  • Sovereignty is required to become a state. There is no way other states will agree.  If there are seven states, referenda will be easier to win and conservatives will not agree to that.
  • Acknowledged that fiscally, the NT is treated as a state.

Bob Gosford:

  • We are the lotus eaters of Australia. We used to receive $15,000 each more than other Australians.  Now the figure is closer to $20,000.
  • Defence is a massive budget contributor. One-third of the Alice Springs economy is generated by Pine Gap.  Darwin and Katherine benefit from military presence.
  • I am sick of Territory exceptionalism. We are not special.
  • The Northern Territory is the most corrupt (soft ‘c’) jurisdiction in Australia and is grossly over-governed, including Aboriginal governance.
  • It is a jerrymandered state: 300 public servants in tiny electorates of 5000 determine the government at each election.
  • Brutal reality should trump rose-coloured lenses.

Panel Discussion:

  • Section 121 of the Constitution provides that the Commonwealth can create a new state
  • Steve Hatton – there is an enormous disconnect between the electorate and politicians. In Sydney and Melbourne, it is huge.  Urbanism rules.  The regions are excluded.  Canberra has a ‘psychological moat’ around it.
  • Democracy is about people having a say.
  • Dawn Lawrie – the NT has the greatest proportion of women and Aboriginal people in parliament in Australia.
  • What do we do to improve Aboriginal governance and engagement? Steve Hatton – let the people decide at this summit.  John Bailey – there is no way non-Aboriginal living standards will be sacrificed for the needs of Aboriginal people.  Jon Altman – fiscal flows under federalism must be the case because of the geographic size and tiny population.  There is improper needs-based disbursement.  The NT government needs its own Grants Commission to determine where funds are applied.  It would have the same independence inside the NT as the Commonwealth one has in relation to the Commonwealth Parliament.  Bob Gosford – population growth in the NT is not in Darwin.  It’s in the bush and it’s Aboriginal population growth.  Grant Tambling – trust accounts administered by the Land Councils have significant reserves and should be scrutinised.
  • What about the politicisation of the public service v its responsibility for providing frank and fearless advice? What about the appointment of external experts, as Ken Parish suggested?  Dawn Lawrie – no.  Bob Gosford – potentially all right with constraints, but strengthen the public service.  Ministers should stand up to them and the dead wood should be removed.  Unions have extraordinary influence/control over the ALP.  The Police Association is the most powerful union in the NT and is untouchable.  Rolf Gerritsen – no outsiders/experts.  He is a supporter of the Westminster system.  Dawn Lawrie – the media has a role in keeping an eye on the back room boys, the Ministers and the government.  Jon Altman – there has been no mention of the private sector, for example Gove where the operators received heavily subsidised fuel.  Politicians and bureaucrats need to be separated and Clare’s example of importing skilled expert bureaucrats when required deals with the matter.  Steve Hatton – elected representatives make decisions based on the advice of bureaucrats but are ultimately responsible because they reflect the community and can be voted out.  Short-term contracts are bad for public servants and governments because the advice is skewed towards self-interested job security.