Large swings to the Greens in the Northern Territory have shown the anger at the NT Intervention and its continuation by Labor. But they are also evidence of the impact of the campaign against the Intervention—which continued to build through the election period.
The NT Greens ran two outspoken Aboriginal candidates: Barbara Shaw from Mt Nancy town camp for the lower house seat of Lingiari, which covers most of the NT outside of Darwin, and Warren H Williams, a country singer from Hermannsburg, for the Senate. Shaw is a spokesperson for the Intervention Rollback Action Group (IRAG) in Alice Springs, which has led an uncompromising grassroots campaign against the Intervention since 2007.
The Greens’ vote in Lingiari jumped from 6.9 to 12.5 per cent. In the Senate it reached 14 per cent. Anti-Intervention Independents Deirdre Finter and Kenny Lechlietner also received a combined 9.3 per cent of the vote. Across Central Australian Aboriginal communities “prescribed” under the Intervention, where the IRAG campaign has established strong roots, the Greens outpolled all other candidates.
Barbara Shaw explained that, “In 2007 [Labor] received 90 per cent of the remote vote, as people reeled from Howard’s Intervention and responded to [Labor MP] Snowdon’s promise to defend the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP).”
“But Labor has made things worse. We have lost thousands of jobs as the old CDEP closes down. Snowdon’s new CDEP is forcing people to work for the BasicsCard.”
Even Snowdon could not ignore the result. He told ABC radio, “People are sending a strong message to Labor that they weren’t happy with many aspects of what’s happening in Aboriginal communities, the Intervention”.
Struggle the key
The Greens’ success at the ballot box demonstrates the importance of the grassroots anti-Intervention campaign.
IRAG’s consistent campaign activity since 2007 has helped push the case against the Intervention into public life, consolidated a core of activists in Alice Springs and resulted in Aboriginal community leaders across the Central Desert identifying strongly with the campaign.
Regular IRAG stalls were held outside the local supermarket in Alice Springs to support The Greens but also to argue that the campaign was not just about votes. Twenty-five new people signed up to join IRAG. Two activist meetings in three weeks sought to draw new people into the campaign. At a protest at Centrelink, candidate Barb Shaw demanded to be taken off Income Management.
Greens Senators and local representatives’ association with the campaign has not gone unnoticed. Then by backing Shaw, The Greens transformed the election into a referendum on the Intervention.
In the Top End, where some of the biggest Aboriginal communities are located, there has not been the same level of co-ordinated political resistance. While powerful Aboriginal voices have blasted the Intervention consistently from regions like Arnhem land, consistent campaign work has not taken place.
Voter discontent still led to massive swings against Labor in Top End communities—some of 30 per cent. But the main beneficiary was the Country Liberal Party, along with informal and donkey votes. Despite its support for the Intervention, candidate Leo Abbott admitted his success in these communities was because: “Income Management is seen as discriminatory… people are not being properly consulted… with the SIHIP [Intervention] housing program people want to play a bigger part instead of getting people from outside”.
The other important struggle that had an impact in Lingiari was the fight against the expansion of the nuclear industry in Central Australia.
Tennant Creek is near a proposed nuclear waste dump that Labor has continued to pursue despite 2007 election promises. Here, the Greens came second to Labor by just five votes.
The campaign against the waste dump has held some of the biggest rallies ever seen in Tennant Creek and galvanised a powerful alliance of black and white leaders in the town. Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has visited Tennant Creek to address packed public meetings. Former local Labor MLA Elliot McAdam, who has championed this campaign, was out publicly campaigning for the Greens. Again, this crucial break was the result of years of joint work with grassroots activists.
A major “vote Nuclear Free”, lunchtime election rally was held in Alice Springs in the week before the poll. Plans to build a new uranium mine at Angela Pamela 20 kms from Alice Springs have been the subject of continuing protest in Alice, in which the Greens have played a leading role.
These mobilisations set the tone of debate in town. Introducing their coverage on election morning, local ABC radio in Alice Springs said, “the big issues this election will be Indigenous affairs, nuclear mining and the NT Intervention”. The election campaign has given these ongoing campaigns confidence and won them a wider base of support.