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.

Peter Fray

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