Bess Price, candidate for Stuart. Pic: CAAMA

Yesterday The Australian ran a piece by Gary Johns with the headline “Bess Price must lead her people from promised land” that has drawn well-deserved opprobrium from both the left and the right. Normally this would indicate that Johns was on the right track – if everyone disagrees with him then he might have hit a raw nerve.

That analysis couldn’t be more wrong.

Johns’ article is the latest of too many written by what pollster and political strategist Mark Textor last night called “southern Monday morning quarterbacks.”

Rather than valuable op-ed commentary the piece reveals Johns’ fundamental ignorance of the real-politik in the Northern Territory. Johns knows not of what he speaks.

I have no special regard for Bess Price, the almost-there candidate for the NT seat of Stuart, in particular with regard to her views on racial politics. But Price – for all her faults – has done nothing to deserve association with the crap that Johns wrote yesterday.

As I wrote about Price and her camp-followers during the recent campaign:

… Price’s latest comments against “southern white activists” and “white-blackfellas” were enthusiastically picked up by The Australian and the egregious Andrew Bolt, but got little traction in the NT. It was obvious that Price was running a line unauthorised by CLP head office and she was soon told to stop talking about it.

Price – and her husband and election campaign manager Dave Price – have long had an association with the lunar right of Australian politics, most particularly with the assimilationist Bennelong Society, which awarded her it’s Bennelong Medal in 2009.

You can read the Price’s inaugural Peter Howson Lecture to the Bennelong Society’s annual meeting here.

Gary Johns was – and I speak in the past tense because the Bennelong Society has slipped unlamented into the long good night – past-President and a prime mover of the Bennelong Society. He has recently been described as a hack for slightly less kooky right-wing think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

Earlier this month Johns was a guest speaker at The Samuel Griffith Society’s Twenty-third Conference where, alongside such luminaries as George Brandis, Ian Callinan and Richard Court, he regaled delegates with his thoughts on “Native Title 20 years on: beyond the hyperbole.

For their sakes I hope that Johns did better for the delegates at the Society meeting than the  drivel he slopped out yesterday for the poor readers of The Australian.

The factual and analytical poverty of Johns’ piece wasn’t helped by the clunky lede. Surely Bess Price and her recently elected colleagues from the bush would be expected to “lead her people” to a promised land, not from one?

It didn’t get any better from there.

The gratuitous use by The Australian and Johns of Price’s name amounted to little more than linkbait and Johns’ piece had little relevance to any issues in play at the NT election. During that campaign both major parties stayed well away from native title and Aboriginal land-related issues.

I’ll leave a finer-grained analysis of the flaws of Johns’ confused jumble of disconnected ramblings to others.

For now, other issues warrant further attention.

Firstly Johns, Price and her supporters and advisers and the editorial team at The Australian need to wake up to the realisation that as much as they may dislike it the politics of racial division have little place in the contemporary Northern Territory.

New Chief Minister Terry Mills has made clear that in relation to Aboriginal issues his CLP government will concentrate on the politics of unity – not division.

While I won’t be alone in being just a tad cynical, and very watchful, about how well those good early intentions play out I think that Mills will – and should – prevail over those remaining idealogues inside and out of his party who may wish for a return to the dark days of the past.

Secondly, Johns and the other ‘Monday morning quarterbacks’ should be very careful about calling  the recent electoral successes in the bush as the first wave of a national surge of black conservatism.

It isn’t.

What it does represent – in part at least – is the rising awareness among Aboriginal Territorians that regardless of their political affiliations they can run for and win political office.

In the past  Labor has done this far better than their opponents, but as I pointed out earlier this week, this time around the CLP got a whole lot smarter and raised the bar a whole lot higher – particularly in the bush.

Which brings me to my last point. This morning’s NT News editorial points out that the problems for Terry Mills and the CLP are only just beginning.


” … probably doesn’t think he has a problem in the world at the moment; he is riding high after an extraordinary election victory. But when the cheering from his supporters dies down he will have to face up to a dilemma: how to keep voters in the bush happy enough to vote for the CLP again in four years and how to win over voters in Darwin’s northern suburbs, who backed Labor … there is a risk that the Bush will wag the dog.”

A very different kind of dog-whistle indeed.