Session 4 day 1

Thursday 23 February (day 1)

(scribe/author: Robyn Smith)

Session 4:  The Way Forward

Panel:  Gary Higgins, Kezia Purick, Gerry Wood, Jeff Collins

Gary Higgins:

  • All Australian governments have had bad people in them. The 2012-16 Northern Territory government is not unique in the national context.
  • Upon being elected, asked the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly about the legal requirements of being an MLA. Was told it was to turn up when parliament sat.
  • Was elected Deputy Speaker and there was no induction for that, either. Travelled to Westminster where there was some instruction from House of Commons people, but nothing in the NT.
  • Was then appointed to Cabinet. Asked about an induction, was given a Code of Conduct for Ministers and that was all.
  • There is a lot missing by way of induction for Members and Ministers about their role and function.
  • We need people going into to politics for what they can do, not what they can get out of it.

Kezia Purick:

  • The system is not broken; it’s robust.
  • The 12th Assembly was chaotic but functional. We have democracy.
  • The Constitutional Convention (Election) Act remains on the statute books; it is live.
  • The summit must support statehood as a first order issue.

Gerry Wood:

  • Use MLAs to their fullest.
  • Canadian experience – consensus government – Westminster system but all Members are Independent. There are no political parties.  Premier and Cabinet are elected at the end of a 10-day orientation conducted by the Clerk of the Parliament.  Caucus is all elected Members.  Committees are very influential and are more wide-ranging with Ministers responsible to those committees.
  • The NT Assembly should sit in Alice Springs every two years.
  • In the NT, the Westminster system has been reduced to two institutions: (1) Parliament/Executive Government/Government and (2) the courts.
  • Consensus government could work in the Northern Territory.
  • In Canada, three languages are spoken in Parliament. We need to discuss this further.
  • In the last four years, no one has been interested in statehood because we were a laughing stock. I agree with Selina that for people who don’t have a house, statehood is not going to be front of mind.

Jeff Collins:

  • Self-government is not a failed experiment.
  • Government in the NT doesn’t need wholesale change, but changes are required and engagement must be pursued.
  • There is ‘lack of thought’ in the media with a 24/7 news cycle and the advent of social media.
  • There is public alienation and reform has been flagged: an ICAC for the NT, publication of details of Ministerial travel, a Committee on opening parliament to the people.  The latter will result in reform via a number of recommendations.

Panel Discussion:

  • The size of the gene pool. Garry Higgins – politicians must respect each other in order to have people respect them.  He cautioned against attacking the person.  MLA salary and conditions are all right, but there was no one with business experience in the last parliament, nor are there in the current one.  Gerry Wood – parliament should be able to elect Ministers based on merit and experience.  We need a better cross-section of people in parliament, including those from business and people from the bush.  Kezia Purick – you learn on the job and draw on your own past experience.
  • Are we being run by ‘faceless men’ in the back rooms? Jeff Collins – I haven’t felt that controlling hand or had any experience like it.
  • Consensus government. John Bailey – consensus government is without a policy basis so Members become followers rather than leaders.  Gerry Wood – it’s been in Canada since 1890 and it’s about ‘we’ as a parliament, not ‘we’ as a government.
  • Kezia Purick – I don’t purport just to represent my constituents.  I also seek their input on lots of issues and work with them to make our community a better place.  Gerry Wood – being an MLA is about representing constituents and others.  I’ve undertaken research trips on mining, planning, energy and a range of other issues and I report to my constituents and the parliament about them.  An MLA is a Territorian first and a representative of constituents second.  Jeff Collins – supports the party system.  Agrees with Gerry about being a Territorian first representing constituents as a second priority.  Noted that it’s not much different from being a lawyer without the billing in six-minute units.
  • Where is the government on the matter of a treaty? Statehood and the issue of a treaty go together.  What are the process and the timeframe?  Selina Uibo – Chansey Paech and Selina are co-chairs of the Indigenous Sub-Committee of Cabinet where there are three standing agenda items:  (1) treaty; (2) land and sea; and (3) local decision making.  Kezia Purick – we have to start the statehood process again.  Marshall Perron – there is an alternative interim step on statehood.  It’s called ‘full self-government’ and includes ALRA, uranium, national parks and industrial relations being the responsibility of the NT government.  Then there’s the issue of federal representatives.  We’ll never have 12 senators because it would mean additional MHRs.
  • In respect of planning and development, what needs to change? Gary Higgins – independence from Ministerial interference.  Social media is a big issue for local Members and parties and boards/commissions because they are easily lobbied by small vested interests.  Ministers should not sign off on planning matters; they should go to the parliament.  Kezia Purick – big business, big risk.  The system is vulnerable.  There is no transparency, no way to examine reports or evidence from them.  Gerry Wood – we’ve lost vision.  Why wasn’t the Berrimah Farm kept aside for industrial or community use?  Why is it a designated residential development?  Establishing the Planning Commission was political and took power from the Development Consent Authority.  The government needs to stick to its vision and leave planning to an independent body.  Jeff Collins – there is an inquiry into political donations.  Trade unions go back a lot further than developers.  There needs to be openness about who is donating to whom.  Should donations be done away with all together and substituted with public funding?  All will be considered during the inquiry.  Steve Hatton – urban sprawl is hideous in Darwin.  There should be a general structured plan with defined and fixed zoning – absolutely no rezoning.  Rezoning destroys town plans and planning.