August 27, 2012

What happens when remote voices are silenced - a note on the NT election result

It's always exciting when an election turns out an unexpected result. In this weekend's NT election, the CLP have taken power again after winning as many as four bush seats off Labor. It was remote Aboriginal people who dictated the final result. I think that's a first. (I'm hoping that it means politicians will now do more than just pay them lip service which has happened far too often in the past).

(Photo source: ABC)
I find it interesting that the media commentary is talking up the big remote swing towards CLP. If you look a bit more closely, the reality is that bush polling just swung all over the place, usually in the direction of those with more local ties. For example, the booth in Lajamanu went to the First Nations candidate Maurie Japarta Ryan who is from Kalkarindji (100km up the road). Maningrida went to Greens who put up a local candidate. They also put the Labor and CLP candidates third and fourth and chose not to give their votes to Tiwi Islanders over the local candidates. Elcho Island went to an independent: well-known community worker (and Balanda) Kendall Trudgen. Ngukurr maintained their Labor support of Borroloola-bred Yanyuwa woman Malarndirri McCarthy giving her 70% of the vote. And so on.

Media commentary is focusing on the shire amalgamations which are very unpopular in the bush and saying that this dissatisfaction caused the result. (Although it should be noted that some shires are functioning better than others. E.g. Roper Gulf seems to me to be doing okay - although still not popular in Ngukurr. West Arnhem looks ok to me from afar. But Victoria Daly and MacDonnell shire look much messier from where I sit.)

In my opinion, the effect of the shires on this election is not just that people don't like them and voted against Labor. There's an additional factor at play which is that people out bush are now looking for new ways to have some power and control over their communities. In addition to the shire amalgamations/loss of local councils, we've had the Intervention, the scrapping of the permit system and the loss of ASSPA funding which have all taken away opportunites for people in remote communities to exert control over their own lives and communities.  This is why we saw more remote people nominating in this election - not just for CLP, but also for Greens and the First Nations party. In the 2008 Election there were 17 candidates standing who weren't from the big two parties. This time around there were 36 - more than double.

This then created the erratic polling results which saw not just swings to CLP, but swings all over the place as more and more remote people put their hands up to get their voice back and try and regain some power and control for their communites. The CLP managed to come out ahead of the mess but it was a scrappy race and a big mish-mash of results. The media commentary seems to have missed this point so far.