“Peace for our time” read the piece of white paper held aloft in the Darwin Parliament last Friday as conservative MLA Gerry Wood announced that he would use his crucial vote to keep the embattled ALP in power for the next three years.
Actually, that’s the abridged version. The full version of this very conditional peace (not to mention a full day of heated rhetoric) can be read in Hansard … which is a shame, because I’d have recommended the video. There you’ll find that this particular deal is replete with the sort of electoral goodies one expects of such unholy alliances, along with such commitments by Chief Minister Henderson as would only have been agreed to by a Government whose own research had shown it would lose should an election be called.
Trouble is, “peace”, as Neville Chamberlain might have told Mr Wood, is a decidedly unreliable, and often short-term, concept. And “stability”, a much abused one; used last year to elect Paul Henderson’s Government and now, just one year on, to keep it in power. People don’t want stable Governments, they just want good Governments. It’s political parties that want stability and they use the word as a hackneyed catchcry to cling onto power when they can’t think of any other reason for people to vote for them.
As for the much-vaunted and apparently critical importance of “stability” to the Top End’s massive Inpex gas project … well, I reckon the good folk from Japan might have handled changing the name at the top of their cocktail party invitation list from Henderson to Mills without too many palpitations.
Had Friday’s Vote of No Confidence led to an election being called as, it appears, Territorians would have preferred, the result could actually have been a fair deal of stability. The Opposition would likely have picked up the extra 50 voters that it needed from the Darwin’s seaside suburb of Fannie Bay to gain power, and they’d probably have kept it for eight years. (Longer, perhaps, if they managed to escape the cycle of cronyism, favouritism and vindictive personality politics that seems to develop in so small a jurisdiction with so little truly independent media scrutiny).
The problem with the sort of peace and stability brought by the 13:12 vote late last Friday is that it keeps in power a Government that has demonstrated, unequivocally, that it doesn’t understand what leads to genuine stability – namely creating a thriving and sustainable local economy, and looking after the interests of those, indigenous and not, outside the palm-fringed cloisters of their Darwin electorates.
If Gerry Wood’s primary concern was to make a choice that did “least damage to investment in the economy”, then he might have looked a tad more closely at the Government’s extraordinary record of consuming the funds it gets from interstate taxpayers to feed its own bureaucracy, as former Minister Anderson complained. And, worse still, at the myriad ways in which the Government competes directly with the local private sector, actually stifles private sector investment and prevents the development of a more sustainable, self-sufficient economy.
The Government appears stuck in a subsidy mentality from some bygone era and populated with Ministers, with few economic credentials, cocooned from the advice and experiences of its own citizens by a bureaucracy and public service sector of truly epic proportions.
It’s been suggested that 50% of the available Territory workforce is paid directly or indirectly by the Government. And few Territory businesses are not dependent upon it one way or another, so free speech and independent opinion are also in dangerously short supply (even without the intimate relationship between the Government and the Territory’s most influential media outlet that’s become more common knowledge of late).
In fact, the current Government’s concept of sustainability and self-sufficiency can probably best be summed up by the retirement speech of its admirably honest departing Minister, Syd Stirling. His own assessment of his grasp of economics was that: ‘It was, at times, a bit over my head.” Syd, by the way, was a lovely bloke — and the previous NT Treasurer.
Stability will come to the Northern Territory not when a Government manages to cling to power by the skin of its teeth, but when it gets a Government that works out that its goal should be sustainability and self-sufficiency, not just stability.