The Country Liberal Party victory over the Henderson Labor Government in the Northern Territory should not go unmentioned as an important milestone for Australian politics.
First, the 2012 election is only on the second where the government has changed hands in that jurisdiction.
Second, it indicates a little mentioned but emerging of swinging voter – the Indigenous aspirational battler. (Andrew Bolt is being too optimistic to talk about ‘the rise of the Indigenous conservative’).
The old CLP never bothered with the Indigenous bush voter. The party was notorious for its wilful neglect, especially in the areas of Indigenous housing and education. In those days, under Chief Ministers Everingham and Perron, law and order were by-words for the colour bar.
In fact, this neglect allowed the homelands movement, championed by Warren Snowden and the powerful Lands Councils to impose its own brand of neglect and poverty in the absence of any policy interest.
Since the 2007 Northern Territory Emergency Response, there has been a paradigmatic shift in the CLP’s outlook towards Indigenous Territorians.
Instead of benign neglect the CLP began to believe it could champion Indigenous issues and be tough on law and order. Mal Brough and the Howard Government gave the CLP a broader and more dynamic outlook about the role of government for a post-settler Territory society. Instead of narrowly focused on pastoral interests and suburban Darwin, the CLP began reached out to new constituencies.
Perhaps no-one has helped this process more than Adam Giles, an ambitious Koori man from NSW who ran for Lingiari against Warren Snowden in 2007. He ran a campaign against the ‘sit-down’ money of the notoriously corrupt CDEP program and in favour of controversial income management.
This kind of crazy-brave campaign in remote areas where the Aboriginal work-for-the-dole program was popular as the only alternative to mainstream income support was never going to be successful. Snowden easily won that election.
Giles, a former Federal public servant, represents a typical Aborigine of his generation who has grown tired of the victimology of the older generation of ‘radical’ urban Aboriginal activists. He believes Indigenous Australians could achieve great things in the real world where education, jobs and home-ownership help fulfil individual self worth and was in no way incompatible with being a proud Aborigine or Torres Strait Islander. It’s a sentiment that infuriates some on the ‘progressive’ side of Australian politics who force Indigenous Australians to play the belittling role of the forever dispossessed and exploited noble savage, living without hope.
Since the 2007 campaign, Giles has impressed local powerbroker, Senator Nigel Scullion, and many of the old CLP pastoral vanguard for his chutzpah and rewarded him with pre-selection for the uber-safe seat of Braitling. Since then Giles, as the only Indigenous caucus member, has had a number of shadow portfolios and was instrumental in luring Alison Anderson, a veteran bush tactician from the Labor frontbench to the CLP. It is expected he will become a successful member of Terry Mills’ ministry.
Other aspirational Indigenous battlers have since emerged, most notably Bess Price, the presumptive member for Stuart, and the new hate figure for the venomous Australian Left.
It is a great testament to Giles and the rise of the aspiration Indigenous voter, that Lingiari is now notionally a marginal seat based on the weekend figures.
SCULLION HOLDING THE PEN
The third point is the broader national development of Indigenous and social policy. The CLP is committed to delivering a new compact with remote and disadvantage that will include greater homeownership, improved teaching standards, more responsive local government and innovative strategies towards rehabilitation for substance abuse. Given Nigel Scullion’s position in the Federal Coalition as led Indigenous shadow, the policy convergence between the Commonwealth and NT is set to emerge.
Under NT Labor, the NT government had been a very reluctant partner in ‘The Intervention’ – which is now known officially as ‘Stronger Futures’. This obstacle has now been removed. 99 year leases and tougher job seeker compliance rules are now back on the agenda.
This is fertile ground for Abbott who has elegantly elevated the awareness of Indigenous disadvantage with his regular trips to Cape York.
For many in the Coalition, ‘the Intervention’ represents unfinished business in social reform and many policy wonks will be now re-invigorated. But the zealots should be warned for just as Brough and Howard over-reached in the NTER, NT Labor also over-reached with local government and alcohol reform.
LABOR’S GLIMMER OF HOPE
The fourth implication is that glimmer of hope for the Federal ALP. The decent showing Paul Henderson and the Darwin Labor incumbents experienced in NT elections points to an emerging Federal strategy for 2013.
The Federal Labor Party strategists will be heartened by the effectiveness of a scare campaign about public servant cuts and therefore services. It has been re-enforced by the union campaign against Campbell Newman’s 20,000 public servant job cuts and the correlating improvement for Labor in Queensland and slight improvement for Gillard in the Federal polls.
A massive Labor scare campaign against Liberal rationalisation is very reminiscent of the anti-IR reform demonstrations against the Kennett Government in 1992-3, which shoved sufficient momentum behind Paul Keating’s anti-”feral abacus” strategy to roundly punish John Hewson in 1993.
In twelve months time, Federal Labor will be considerably more competitive than current polls suggest. They won’t win, but the furniture will be saved. Abbott’s landslide may well be worn down by months of attrition on this theme of ‘cuts, cuts, cuts’.
In turn, Abbott and the Coalition will need to expand its own scare campaign against Labor to counterbalance the better organised and assertive Australian labour movement – the same one that spent $30 million in 2007 for a Ruddslide (which was not a landslide) for the purposes of throwing out WorkChoices.
Finally, the realignment of Indigenous votes bodes well for the Australian body politic. Indigenous Australians are proving just as realistic and as aspirational as everyone else. Nothing has been so poisonous that the tyranny of low expectations built into so many government programs that had been perpetuated by the Australian left since the 1970s.
The CLP disappointed many of those on the Left by not dog-whistling. Crikey’s Bob Gosford claims to have found evidence of such crime in CLP’s clever subliminal add about Labor mishandling drunken violence.
The churlish Gosford also makes for an amusing election pundit:
‘Absent any dramatic events over the next few days, Paul Henderson’s NT Labor is a shoo-in to win the NT election next Saturday.’
The good news for all Australians is the CLP and Indigenous Territorians have moved on from the racial acrimony and neglect of the past, even if some in the Australian Left refuses to do so.