Instability and opportunism have dominated the last few months in NT politics, with a merry-go-round of Ministers causing headache for Chief Minister Paul Henderson.
Personal agendas foster the volatility, but the ongoing failure of the NT intervention and associated policies underlie the crisis.
On June 4 Marion Scrymgour, then Deputy Chief Minister, announced she was leaving the ALP to become an Independent Member citing unhappiness with implementation of the “Working Futures” policy on outstations that she had helped to craft.
This policy seeks to concentrate the populations of hundreds of remote outstations and small communities around 20 Territory “growth towns”.
Scrymgour said “I feel strongly because we have lied to Aboriginal people….[We] said we would go back and talk to them before we made that policy.”
Exactly two months later, (now former) Indigenous Policy Minister Alison Anderson stormed out of the Labor party, blasting Chief Minister Paul Henderson for not defending her against racist remarks in the Northern Territory News.
Anderson had been threatening departure over failure of the multi-million dollar SIHIP (Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Project) to deliver any new houses for Aboriginal people, which she blames on bureaucratic red tape.
But Anderson is a strong supporter of the federal Intervention and has said nothing about the attacks on land rights and the exclusion of local Aboriginal organisations—the core reasons for SIHIP’s failure .
Anderson’s move came under fire from Aboriginal leaders across the NT already angry at her support for the Intervention. Kim Hill, CEO of Northern Land Council, led calls for her resignation.
Richard Downs from Ampilatwatja community in Anderson’s electorate of MacDonnell, where residents walked off their community a month ago in protest of the Intervention, said they have heard “nothing” from the Minister. “She says she is pushing for Aboriginal people, but we don’t give her our support at all”.
The same day Anderson walked, Scrymgour announced she was rejoining the government, indicating the depth of personal politicking that has led to the revolving door, and disappointing many in communities who had hoped that her position on the cross bench would provide a consistent source of heat on the ALP.
On August 13 a “vote of no-confidence” motion put forward by the Country Liberal Party (CLP) came down to the wire. Independent Gerry Wood finally voted with the ALP, conditional on an agreement with Chief Minister Henderson that contains 11 pages of mostly electorate specific policy demands.
Wood has thrown a punctured life raft to the captain of a sinking ship. There was immediately speculation of a leadership challenge from Deputy Chief Minister Delia Lawrie and Wood’s support is conditional on Henderson remaining in the top position.
Henderson remains for now—but none of the underlying tensions have been resolved. Aboriginal communities themselves have the answers to mounting social problems—we need to step up the fight to lift the punitive Intervention regime and redirect resources to the grass-roots where they are desperately needed.
By Natalie Wasley