Crikey has some of the answers for those who were curious what triggered Shane Stone’s bitter attack on the media at the recent Federal Liberal Party meeting.

Take one bitter ex Chief Minister of the Northern Territory who has always felt that his electoral victories have not been properly recognised. Add the scorn of academic Australia to his efforts in the 2001 Federal election. Let these ingredients mix together, provide a public forum and a sympathetic audience and then leave the room if you hope to hear objective discussion.

The passion in Stone’s address to his gathered Liberal party colleagues would have raised a few eyebrows. His loyalty and compassion for the Prime Minister seemingly knew no bounds as he accused all those not inspired by Howard’s political doctrine of being head in the sand elites. Well something close to that anyway.

Where did this passion come from? Why prosecute a major assault on the popular media instead of spending more time discussing the objectives of the party’s third term?

For 26 years the Country Liberal Party was entrenched in power in the Northern Territory. Perhaps is was the surety of power that led to such a high level of infighting but Chief Ministers were turned over with a surprising frequency. Despite it being a common occurrence, few would argue that the demise of Shane Stone ranks amongst the most inglorious.

After having led the Country Liberal Party to a crushing victory in 1997 Stone was on a wave. He had just secured for his party 18 of a possible 25 seats in the Northern Territory Parliament. The Opposition under Maggie Hickey had been annihilated and Stone was the hero.

Stone may have expected to be acknowledged as a master tactician and brilliant politician but instead of accolades and adulation in the wake of victory he found an uncomfortable amount of accusation and derision. Sound familiar? But the similarities don’t stop there, elements of the NT media and academic community suggested that Stone’s campaign was based on scare mongering and division with little effort, if any, to disguise the racist threads weaved into each policy platform.

Did Stone focus on Health or Education? Not likely. Stone, like Howard, relied on divisive ‘us versus them’ issues like Mandatory Sentencing, which was NT speak for ‘locking up Aboriginal youths’. He threatened of dire financial implications of Aboriginal land claims and Aboriginal lawyers closing down pubs in Darwin’s suburbs should Labor take power. He made no apologies for ‘monstering and stomping’ itinerant Aboriginals who were accused of causing social disruption on the streets of Alice Springs and Darwin. His response to concerns raised by the indigenous community to some of his policies was to call them “whingeing, whining carping blacks”.

In victory, Stone expected to rule as a king and in attempting to do so it all began to unravel. Breaking with convention, he controversially appointed himself a Queens Council, which attracted the degree of public contempt that you might expect. He then unsuccessfully held a referendum to have the Northern Territory made a State. By the time Shane Stone was finished with the referendum process, the Northern Territory people felt they had been disenfranchised and Statehood was commonly referred to as Stonehood. What should have been a popular process that achieved greater rights for Territorians became a farce. The writing was on the wall for Shane Stone and his massive election victory of ’97 did not save him from the executioner’s sword when his own party room came to view him as a liability.

Many have suspected that Shane Stone has carried bitterness and resentment for his fall from grace with him in the years since. After all he won a massive victory so why don’t people talk about that?

Although Darwin is a long way from Canberra, John Howard and the Liberal party clearly saw in Stone someone who could contribute to a divisive campaign. He came through for them and as the Federal Liberal Party President, Stone has just overseen the biggest 2 party preferred Federal swing to an incumbent since 1966. He may have expected to be championed as a brilliant political strategist and a great leader. Imagine his frustration when again the media highlighted that the campaign was based on populism and division and did nothing for the country’s future. As he stood and gave his speech in Canberra last week, Shane Stone must have wished he could ‘monster and stomp’ the media.

Peter Fray

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