Crikey got it wrong earlier this week when we said that you’d be lucky to get evens on a bet that the NT Labor government of Paul Henderson would make it to the end of June. Right now his government will be lucky if it is still in power at the end of next week.
On Monday this week ex-Deputy Chief Minister Marion Scrymgour, a backbencher since stepping down because of ill health in February from her position as the most powerful elected Aboriginal politician in the country, had one foot in, the other out, of the NT government tent.
By Tuesday, after a report on Monday’s 7.30 Report by ABC Darwin reporter Murray McLaughlin, she was outside the tent pissing on it — accusing the government of lying to and cheating Aboriginal people.
By Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, after applying the softest of squirrel-grips to hapless NT Chief Minister Paul Henderson, she was back in the tent.
But that all went hell-west-and-crooked yesterday after the NT News ran a story on Scrymgour’s performance at the Cabinet meeting. By late morning she’d issued a statement to her constituents that she would leave the government and see out her term on the cross-benches as an independent.
The NT News report and some egregious editorial comments infuriated Scrymgour — perhaps because of inaccuracies, but mainly because she’d lost trust in members of the government to give effect to the deal she’d squeezed out of Henderson the day before.
This much is clear from this part of her statement released yesterday, “I can no longer rely on all caucus colleagues to implement the concessions that I won in the caucus meeting yesterday”.
Henderson, after yesterday’s dummy-spit by Scrymgour, now has two very poor choices — try to keep his failed government alive by dancing to Scrymgour’s increasingly erratic beck and call or hold a fresh election 10 months after the last one and more then three years before the next one is due in 2012.
If Henderson takes the first of his choices he risks ultimate and early failure. The first item of business when the NT’s parliament sits next Tuesday 9 June will be a motion of no confidence in his government brought on by NT Opposition leader Terry Mills.
Scrymgour apparently has given Henderson her word that she’d support him in any no-confidence motion and that she will support the money Bills for the NT Budget. But Tuesday is a long way away and the way things are going here anything could happen in that time.
Henderson will have to rely on Scymgour or the other NT Independent Gerry Woods to pass any legislation or win motions in the Assembly — and he will still require the casting vote of the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Jane Aagard.
Henderson’s second choice — call a new election — would almost certainly see him lose power and a swag of the 13 seats Labor currently holds in the NT. Labor would be reduced to a rump, just as the CLP Opposition was before the unnecessary early election that Henderson took the electorate to in August 2008.
Henderson and NT Labor deserve such total humiliation. The current chaos in his parliamentary party is largely a result of his ineptitude and poor political management, bad advice and the woeful performance of Labor since Henderson’s predecessor Clare Martin triumphantly led Labor to power in the NT for the first time in 2001.
While many of the failures of Labor in the NT have been felt by the wider NT electorate, it is no coincidence that Henderson’s government has been brought to its knees by an Aboriginal woman. If there is any element of its constituency that Labor in the NT has failed and taken for granted for too long, it is the Aboriginal people that make up roughly one-third of the NT’s population.
From the start Labor, rightly, saw that the keys to power lay in the white-bread northern suburbs of Darwin and that is where it spread its largesse. But Martin, Henderson and all who advised them failed to meet even the most modest of expectations from its other power-base — the Aboriginal people in remote electorates that have remained loyal to Labor for decades. With a number of strong Aboriginal politicians on the government benches there was at least some cause for hope that Aboriginal people in the NT would finally get a fair deal from their government.
They didn’t and it is the supreme irony that the greatest cause for the recent loss of the faith and trust that many Aboriginal people had in Labor have been the actions of Aboriginal parliamentarians — not least Scrymgour and her successor as Indigenous Affairs Minister, Alison Anderson.
Scrymgour’s rushed and ill-founded decision in October 2008 to implement mandatory English for four hours every day in the eight remaining bilingual schools in the NT is seen by many Aboriginal people in remote townships as a fundamental betrayal of Aboriginal rights to language and culture.
The announcement three weeks ago of the Working Future policy by Scrymgour’s successor as Indigenous Affairs Minister, Alison Anderson, is the latest example of the almost complete disconnect between Aboriginal people living in remote townships and NT Labor.
Scrymgour saw the Anderson version of the Working Future policy for what it is — a further retreat from the current parlous levels of service delivery and infrastructure to remote townships and a betrayal of commitments given to remote Aboriginal people by her and Pat Dodson, who led a consultation process that was abandoned by Anderson.
For Scrymgour, Working Future was now a policy that had been hijacked and fundamentally changed by her arch political enemy, Alison Anderson.
Anderson may well be the key to the futures of both Henderson and Opposition leader Terry Mills. There is the very real possibility that Anderson could follow Scrymgour’s lead and walk — not to the cross-benches — but across the Chamber to the CLP, gifting Government to the CLP.
And the last word goes to Terry “the man who could very soon be King” Mills.
On his Facebook page this morning he says that:
A day is a long time in politics. Every day this week has been long! Wonder what today has in store? Former Deputy Chief Minister now independent member will make a statement today to explain her unusual actions of the past few days. With 11 Country Liberal, 11 Labor and two independents holding the balance of power democracy is getting workout in the Territory!