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NT POLL-DANCE: CLP won the battle of the bush but could federal Labor win the war?

NtindigenousThe 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.

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.

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.


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  1. few points.

    1. Adam Giles is not the brains behind success in the bush (or anything else for that matter) – if anyone is it is Alison Anderson. Her strategy of cultural, traditional candidates against mainstream Aboriginals like Dean Rioli and Karl Hampton drew on strong family connections in those seats and will be determinative.
    2. Rob Knight pissed off the Aboriginals in his seat – they were waiting for him with baseball bats/nulla nullas. No Federal implications to be drawn here.
    3. Arnhem was uncontested in 2008, so the swing is measured against data from 2005. The Alyangula mine in Groote Eylandt could have grown in a few hundred white miners. Same for Jabiru in Arafura. A few hundred miners in small electorates would amount to a massive swing. I think the Aboriginal vote has been exaggerated to give the CLP some sort of black stamp which they’ve lacked in the past.

    Hopefully the Aboriginal CLP members will be a check on the radical law and order policies which will be targeted at “drunks”-which even Dave Tollner admits whenever a political party refers to “drunks” in the Territory, they mean Aboriginals.

    Posted by Mango Madness | August 27, 2012, 11:55
  2. interesting read and I note Boltes contribution today but you are wrong…the Indigenous people in these remote electorates generally dont give a toss who is in Government, they all stick it to them.. They vote along family/friend lines.

    Bess and Alison won the seats cos they have large families, strong connections, they may have good policies as well but the voters couldnt care less about that.

    Does it have Federal implications? will be interesting as the Coalition bought the intervention and the ALP continued it..THe ALP said sorry the others didnt…even if there is an implication, there are only 3 (or maybe 2) seats in it..

    THe CLP governed for over 25 years and they finally got tossed out…it was time for the ALP in the NT anyway..It is good to see the NT electorate become more savy and it may see some better politics hopefully

    Posted by comrade | August 27, 2012, 15:16
  3. The startling thing is that every poll including party internal and exit polls overstated the labor vote,there have been so many polls people are starting to take the micky out of the pollsters.

    Posted by boof | August 27, 2012, 15:35
  4. Giles for Chief Minister

    Posted by horrah | August 27, 2012, 17:23
  5. If Federal Labor did not have a treacherous and narcissistic underminers and leaker, like Little Billy Shorten sitting in its highest Councils, a comeback might be possible.

    But whilst he is there, it won’t be. He wants Labor to lose so he can fulfill his Hawke like destiny of leading Labor from the wilderness. His problem is that he needs to drive it into the wilderness first, without being seen to be the culpable driver.

    His further problem is that he can’t afford Labor to lose by too much, or the next Labor PM will come from a generation beyond Shorten’s.

    A delicate peace of manipulation a timing, but he is so full of himself, he believes he can pull it off.

    Posted by Wee Willie | August 27, 2012, 21:07
  6. We boongs beat up the NT bolsheviks big time.

    Posted by Albert Nullanulla | August 27, 2012, 23:57
  7. I wonder when man from CLP will bring us the piss he promised us if we ticked his name?

    Posted by Mrs Nancy | August 29, 2012, 17:39
  8. Hey nancy you are a typical white areshole taking the piss out of us blackfellas.Piss off and let us decide what is best for us hey.At least we now have a vocal voice in Govt.

    Posted by the scribe | August 30, 2012, 9:13
  9. Racist.

    Posted by DavidA | August 30, 2012, 20:57
  10. Yesterday marked the anniversary of our elections, meaning that Mighell could leave today and not impose an election on the rest of us.

    Why then is this guy refusing to go? Why is he ignoring the deal he has done with Grey?

    Because power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. He is clearly having issues with stepping away and leaving others to rebuild the mess he has created.

    ETU members at the Grocon picket demand better than this, Grey has been a rock whereas Mighell is a millstone around our necks!

    Posted by Kirribilli Agreement | September 1, 2012, 11:17
  11. We can’t go another year with this &@?/ at the wheel, time to go FIG

    Posted by Jimmysmatesmate | September 1, 2012, 12:40
  12. Bit hard for him to go when he is busy trekking across the universe

    I still want to know why he was up here last week

    Posted by The End is Nigh | September 1, 2012, 15:55
  13. That went quick, 12 months of crap, more rorts and stand over tactics

    Go, go now

    Posted by Jimmysmatesmatesmate | September 1, 2012, 19:04
  14. I’m hearing you

    Posted by Jimmysmatesmatesmatesmate | September 1, 2012, 23:18
  15. Bess Price is a champion of assimilation, the photo says it all, wheres her family? wheres the Aboriginal people? she obviously loves the media attention! All we ever hear about is bess price, noel pearson and warren mundine and all the thousands of Aboriginals I know none would ever vote for or call them Aboriginal leaders, the Aboriginal leaders are on the ground not on the TV and make great sacrifices for no personal gain, the government and the murdoch press love to promote the 3 people who believe assimilation is the only way, we hear so much from these 3 people, find another 10,000 people it it may add up to 0.001%, these three people are so out of touch with their own people, once again the picture says it all

    Posted by Samm | September 2, 2012, 19:59
  16. QLD, Victoria, NSW and now NT. What a gift to Labor next year.

    Posted by Oscar Jones | September 5, 2012, 21:46


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