Here’s an interesting yarn from Australia’s wild political frontier from a local in the know.

There were numerous examples of capable bureaucrats who because of their political persuasion found their careers limited and the contrary was also true.

Senior appointments to all public sector positions are to some degree politically charged.

But in a single party state, where the ruling cabal happily looked northwards to Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia for its political inspiration (a single party that through internal machinations evolves with the people), doubly so.

Young aspiring public sector players were advised that membership of the right, right-wing, political party would ensure a smooth ride and most of the fast burners were at one time or another seen handing out the how to vote cards. The NTPS is the town, almost 20% of employed people work for government.

Because of the process of continual renewal within the CLP itself, from prior to self government in ’78, Chief Ministers rarely lasted more than 5 years, a southerner might expected that the Sir Humphries would be running the show, but no.

Like a totalitarian regime, spies and secret committees could wield enormous power over the departmental heads. Small electorates (roughly 4000 registered voters in each of 25 seats) meant that even 20 angry junior clerks could readily shift government policy.

Then the world changed.

Clare Martin ran the first credible ALP campaign for the Territory assembly and Territorians themselves were compelled to agree that it was ‘time’.

The truth and reconciliation hearings that followed claimed the Under Treasurer Ken Clarke. Who would replace him? The net was cast wide.

I have it on reasonable authority that on the short list were just a few names:

Alan Tregilgas – The current part time NT electricity and competition regulator, part time access economics consultant and part time economics gun for hire, former Deputy Under Treasurer in SA and alleged to have old Canberra ALP credentials and had done a previous stint in the Territory Treasury in the 80’s. Serious economics qualifications. Serious work ethic. Family issues meant that he would have difficulty leaving Adelaide full time.

Gary Henry – Former Deputy Under Treasurer to Ken, now based in Qld at the Queensland Competition Authority. Well qualified in the economics field and serious capacity to do the hard yards. He left in the dying days of the CLP. It was alleged that he was pushed by Ken and Jen, but may have simply seen the end coming.

Jennifer Prince – Ken’s deputy to the last. Trained in health science, moved into health management and from there to public finance and Treasury. Long time Territory associations, but had spent some time interstate (possibly in NSW or Qld) consulting back to the Territory on how to convince the Feds to keep paying for 75% of everything.

Don Parker – Strong ALP affiliations and Treasury experience as a budgets officer. Had left (or been pushed out of) Treasury, supposedly after a huge barney with Jen. Took a pay cut to work as economics adviser for Clare when she was leader of the opposition when they were seemingly a long way from government.

Some other pretenders from interstate, who no doubt were in the race for a while, but lacked one critical thing – a track record in the place.

So who would be selected for one of the most significant posts in the new look NTPS? It is Terry’s view that it was more a matter of elimination.

First the non-locals were knocked off, a new look does not mean big steps – it is a parochial place and revolutions up here are slow and occur by a million little steps. People who have lived in the NT for 20 years are not locals, because they were not born here.

Next – knock out Parker. He is a good operator, but better to keep him close and besides he can avoid all those midnight budget re-writes. Roger was surprised when his informant said Don had even put his hand up. He may have been told not to bother to apply.

Henry – Has made the move away and didn’t leave well. Bringing him back might destabilise a delicate balance of morale

Tregilgas – would he commit? He has a business to run, consulting all over the country and the south pacific. He currently commutes to Darwin from Adelaide to do the Utilities Commission post, would he be willing to settle his family in Darwin and take the pay cut?

Which leaves Jen.

Jen is the go-to officer for all things Grants Commission, they couldn’t afford to lose her – huge chunks of NT revenue need securing. She was just far enough away from the stink that landed on Ken in the post-revolutionary recriminations and has been acting in the job since Ken’s demise.

Her anointment is a signal to the NTPS of continuity but perhaps a lost opportunity for generational change.

In summary:

Things move slow, the air is thick and heavy and rushing about just gets people unnecessarily excited, railways take 100 years to build and there was not a seismic shift in politics in the Territory last year. The true believers, and up here you had to be really true to keep the red flag flying for 25 years of single party rule and triennial humiliation, may start to think that the new team is not very different to the previous mob.

All the best from Borroloola

Peter Fray

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