On Tuesday last week Northern Territory opposition MLA Adam Giles rose in the NT parliament to speak about his involvement in the plight of almost 100 residents of the central Australian community of Yuendumu that in September this year fled their community, initially seeking temporary refuge in Alice Springs and then moving to Adelaide.
Giles’ involvement in the departure of the Yuendumu group has been the subject of vigorous debate in the NT that Crikey may return to in due course.
For present purposes Giles’ comments about South Australian Premier Mike Rann add an entertaining side-line to the end of a turbulent political year in the NT — and with the very strong rumour afoot that CLP Opposition Leader is facing another challenge to his leadership today it looks like the political year will end with a bang — not a whimper.
As part of a long speech Giles told the NT Legislative Assembly that:
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“I was quite concerned two months ago when the South Australian Premier, Mike Rann, decided to dog whistle on the fact that some 100 residents from Yuendumu have decided to, off their own bat, move to South Australia, seeking asylum for protection of themselves, their families and their children. I thought the racial undertones in Mike Rann’s comments as he dog whistled throughout South Australia, that this swathe of indigenous Territorians were moving across the border, was one of the saddest thing I have heard in Australia for some time.”
No one — in parliament or the media — picked up on Giles’ assertions about Rann. Giles went on to detail — for the first time — his involvement in the group’s travel to Adelaide — steadfastly denying that he encouraged them to do so.
The next night Giles was on his feet again, and this time his comments about Rann, made in the context of a swipe at previous statements by NT Chief Minister Paul Henderson, really got the dogs barking.
“His mate in South Australia, the South Australian Premier, the dog whistler, the racist who did not like the idea Aboriginals were coming across the border, he can put up with illegal maritime arrivals, 323 in the 2009-10 year coming to South Australia, but he does not yell and scream about a detention centre coming to the hills of Adelaide.”
Rann — never one to knock back a political free kick — wasted no time leaping to his own defence.
On Thursday afternoon Rann responded to a Dorothy Dixer from Steph Key, the Labor member of Ashford in the lower house.
Rann didn’t hold back in having a good go at Giles.
“… Adam Giles, the Northern Territory member for Braitling, has made some offensive, hypocritical and simply untrue comments about my role in this matter. Today he has accused me of being a racist. This is the same member of parliament who, apparently, called asylum seekers ‘scum’ and then denied that he had used a four-letter word, which he was later forced to reveal.
“… the South Australian government went to extraordinary trouble to arrange accommodation, health care, education and other support for the families for nearly two months. That is a lot more than Adam Giles did. I am told he is not the territory’s best and brightest, and the word that I hear most in the Northern Territory is that he completely lacks any substance. When he played football, I think that his IQ was printed on his guernsey.”
Notwithstanding the inherent pettiness of two politicians taking pot-shots at each other over a distance of 3000 kilometres, there are some serious issues in contention here.
For Giles’ part he claims that his role in the departure of the Yuendumu group for Adelaide has been the subject of serious misrepresentation that he wants to correct for the public record.
For Rann — notwithstanding his more inflammatory comments on the matter — he wants to defend the actions of his government that provided much-needed support and assistance to the Yuendumu group on very short notice.
Crikey sought further comments from Rann and Giles.
A spokesperson for Rann told Crikey that he would make no further comments other than those made to the South Australian parliament on Thursday last week.
Giles declined to add further comment other than to say that being criticised by Rann was “like being slapped with a wet lettuce”.
Friday’s NT News reported the following comments from Giles.
“… Rann was partly responsible for the rioting in the Central Australian community because he encouraged about 90 runaways to return home. Mr Giles played soccer in his younger days. He refused to say what number he wore. ‘I played in many positions — add up all the numbers’.”