Northern Territory

Aug 4, 2009

Anderson quits, NT government on the brink

The ALP may have lost the numbers in the NT parliament, after Minister for Indigenous Policy, Alison Anderson, walked out on her cabinet post this afternoon.

Chris Graham

Tracker managing editor

The Northern Territory government hangs in the balance this afternoon after Minister for Indigenous Policy, Alison Anderson has walked out on her cabinet post, and her party. Anderson attended a cabinet meeting this morning, and sources who spoke to Crikey confirmed she told staff that she was going to resign about 20 minutes into the meeting. Anderson reportedly left the cabinet meeting as promised. The Henderson government has refused to comment , but with Anderson's departure, the ALP may have lost the numbers to hold government. This is the second time in as many months that an Aboriginal MLA has walked away from Labor. In June, Marion Scrymgour, the former deputy Chief Minister and one of four black Labor MLAs, resigned from the party in protest at the government's outstations policy, a program which critics say is aimed at driving Aboriginal people off their country and into larger urban centres. At the time, Labor held a one-seat majority in the 25-seat Territory parliament. Scrymgour now sits as an independent on the backbench, but for the time-being at least has assured the government it has her support. The numbers yesterday were Labor with 12 seats, the CLP with 11 seats and two seats held by independents. But today it could be a different story. With Anderson's dseparture, Labor would only hold 11 seats, although a final tally would depend where she departs to. If she supports the CLP, it would be game over for Labor. The second independent Gerry Wood leans to the CLP. This afternoon no one knows how the numbers will fall. Anderson has kept her colleagues guessing for more than a week amid accusations that both federal and Territory Labor had completely botched the NT intervention, in particular the emergency housing package. The National Indigenous Times and Crikey revealed on July 22 that Jenny Macklin had been warned via a private office memo that the $672 million Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) ­ the most expensive plank of the NT intervention -- would not deliver any housing until 2011, and would drive up the cost of construction. The story sparked a media storm, and two days later, Anderson revealed to The Australian newspaper that an NT government briefing estimated that up to 70 percent of SIHIP funds would be spent on administration. The Henderson government quickly denied the story, claiming the briefing was "inaccurate". But Anderson threatened to quit unless she received an assurance the housing money ­ and intervention more generally ­ were brought back on track. It culminated in the ridiculous situation of Anderson being promised a briefing update every three days, in exchange for her ongoing support of the ALP. It was clearly shaky ground ­ we'll likely all know later this afternoon just how shaky. Anderson won the seat of Macdonnell for the ALP in 2005, and again in 2008. She is a former ATSIC Commissioner, and was born and raised amongst the grinding poverty of the desert community Papunya. This is by no means Anderson's first show of strength, nor the first time the black MLAs have flexed their political muscle. In May 2007, Anderson risked expulsion from the ALP after she crossed the floor with Barbara McCarthy and Karl Hampton to vote against mining legislation at the McArthur River, near Borroloola. Even if Anderson hasn't walked, this crisis is still reverberating outside the Northern Territory. Jenny Macklin is being blamed, to varying extents, for growing fears Labor's housing program and the NT intervention will collapse. Indeed, Macklin is sweating on the outcome of a court challenge this afternoon to the compulsory acquisition of the Alice Springs town camps after nugling the process twice in two months. Town camper Barbara Shaw is seeking an injunction against the acquisition. If Macklin loses ­ and we¹ll likely know this afternoon -- it will be just another disaster in the unfolding train wreck that is Labor's handling of Indigenous affairs.

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16 thoughts on “Anderson quits, NT government on the brink

  1. stephen martin

    The situation is becoming untenable, which ever move Alsion Anderson makes it’s time for an election to clear the air. An election will no doubt throw Henderson out on his ear; and not before time.

  2. Jon Hunt

    Black? Oh, I suppose you really mean Aboriginal.

  3. Sean

    This whole thing is about the attempted continuing dispossession of native title in order to get minerals and arable land on the cheap, isn’t it? In other words, the policy of colonialism and appropriation of resources of two centuries continues. I wonder when Australia will cease being a despotic and fascist plutocracy and start becoming some semblance of a democracy which respects the land rights of the original inhabitants. What’s the point every academic starting every speech ‘respecting the rights of the original custodians of this land’ when this sort of thing is constantly going on?

  4. stephen martin

    Oh come on Sean – there is an awful lot wrong both in the past and the present with the way that we treat our aboriginal citizens. Health, education, and disgraceful housing to say the least. But at least in the NT about 40% of the land mass in inalienable aboriginal freehold. Any mining company wants to mine aboriginal land must secure that right from the traditional owners, and pay adequate compensation by way of royalties; which is something not available to non indigenous land holders by the way.

  5. Frank Campbell

    The NT government? A sandpit of oxymorons. An airconditioned box of suits who fled the south just in time.

  6. Sean

    So why is there such an interest in moving people off more remote areas and completely disrespecting their connection to the land? It’s not in the interests of ‘modern efficiency’ that’s a discourse, a smokescreen. There is no reason these people cannot live an existence where they are.

    Health, education and housing are furphies. For one, it turns out that health outcomes are better than have been traditionally measured and reported, adding about 6 years to life expectancy. The health question and how you deliver services is a complicated one — these are often people whose very existence does not include regular visits to doctors, and a lifestyle completely different from the modern Westerner. Diet and nutrition, often borrowed from Western convenience food, is not helping. It’s little wonder that health outcomes are different, and it’s not the fault of the urban middle class constantly being told about ‘health problems’ or how much money needs to be spent on health.

    Likewise for education — what are the terms of co-existence going to be? Do you respect and acknowledge the right of indigenous people to live in a traditional subsustence way on their own land without being institutionalised into schools in the Western model? After all, these ‘citizens’ as you call them have had all this — modern industrialism and all its routines and expectations — imposed on them. Why not interfere in their patterns of kinship, marriage and dispute settlement while you’re at it.

    As for housing… what do you suggest they should be given? And what are they asking for? If they are receiving ‘royalties’ so generously, why can’t suitable housing be constructed out of the proceeds? And what housing is required in these areas?

    I’m tired of middle class urbanised Westerners storming into these places telling everyone how the modernist social constructions of ‘health, housing and education’ all have to be ‘fixed’ for ‘these people’.

    You’re taking the piss, Stephen Martin, and just spouting shibboleths. Why not consider what’s under where these camps are? e.g. uranium.

  7. Sean

    In other words, Stephen Martin, round ’em up and put ’em on reservations just like the colonial response to the American population, or the supposedly Christian missions. Once they’ve been removed from their traditional lands for a while, why, there won’t be any traditional owners to pay royalties to, will there? Property of the gubmint — and it’s a territory, not a state. How very convenient. This is a process which may take some years and decades to accomplish, but, little by little, the whitefella will achieve it.

  8. Liz45

    Sean, I’m with you! I’m waiting to read about all the mining applications before the Federal/NT govts in recent times. I’d love to know what minerals lie where and how much they’re worth. I got out of the ALP when Hawke gave me and others the middle finger over the uranium policy. He’s just been given life membership. Says it all really. The past President of the ACTU bringing in scabs to pilot the planes during a dispute? Yeah, that desrerves a reward? Great stuff! Anyway, I digress………

    STEVEN MARTIN – Tell me then, why are the areas that have all the wealth under the ground so impoverished; where the indigenous people get the royalties etc, why are the people there living in such poverty?Why hasn’t some govt(NT or Federal/State)at least provided decent water, sanitation, housing and education, not to mention criminally neglected their health?Why are kids in these areas still contracting Rheumatic Fever, which was removed from Sydney & Melbourne after the end WW2? Why? It’s well documented that poor sanitation, overcrowding, insufficient foods with nourishment(due to remoteness)and other contributors was the cause then and still is – but it’s good enough isn’t it? After all, it’s not as though they’re real people is it? If it was happening in those 2 states, there’d be an outcry, and it would be deserved.
    Why is a lot of these monies kept in a Federal govt account(was under Brough anyway?). Didn’t he spend some of it on a swimming pool in an area where there were hardly any indigenous people? Howard used to use money out of the budget for aboriginal people, and used it to fight them in the courts over native title? Where’s that money now?

    Housing? A report was released several months ago. It took 7 years to put together. Houses(one name for them I suppose) built shabbily with no adequate areas to prepare food or clean one’s body. No locks on doors. Light switches on architraves, light bulb in the middle of the room – guess what?No wires between them? Who built them and why weren’t/aren’t they facing charges? What happened to the money they didn’t spend? They built them out of crap, they fell apart and someone made whoopee with the money? That’s the only explanation that makes any sense!
    You’d think out of the mining boom over Howard’s 4 terms, that there’d be some sign of aboriginal people enjoying it too wouldn’t you? What was this money spent on STEVEN?

    Why do govts think they have the right to just tell people what type, style of housing they’ll get? When will they learn, that aboriginal people have had enough of being patronized and treated with a paternalistic attitude. Some things never change do they?

  9. jack jones

    Sadly there are zero policy initiatives coming from either the CLP or Gerry Wood that are capable of moving the situation foward. Granted the NT government of the last 6 years or so and most of the leadership of the NT bureacracy have performed extremely poorly in regard to Aboriginal policy. The sad thing is that the CLP and Gerry Wood are basically just a different version of the same thing. Its all about directing the rivers of cash that flow from Southern taxpayers to Darwin and parts of Alice while spouting platitudes about supporting Aboriginal people, at the same time as falling over yourself to support whatever dubious big development most recently turns up on your doorstep with massive subsidies via either direct cash (eg fuel subsidy of approx 10 million p.a. to mcarthur river mine owned by one of the worlds biggest mining companies which never paid royalties over the life of its operation, or in kind money-eg 20 million to clearn up after mining cyanide spill from Mt Todd mine). The kind of development model the NT is pursuing via both liberal and labor will not deliver increases in socioeconomic status or lasting employment to the majority of Aboriginal people in the NT. Granted its not an easy task and no political strand from left to right can hold its head up particularly but some basics need to be in place-but don’t kid yourself that a change to the CLP or Gerry Wood/Alison Anderson brokered govt would change anything at all. Same bureacrats, same idealogical approach must equal same outcomes. Possibly wait for a bit more dimunition of land rights at the behest of mining companies and other resource developers, more money for jails, mandatory sentencing re-introduced. Its possibly time to question whether the entire NT adminstration has been a massive failed experiment and at least give the feds a direct run at things.

  10. Grace

    ABC Radio in the NT is reporting that Marion Scrymgour has rejoined the ALP and the Government.

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