The view from Billinudgel

The state of the Territory
Labor won the NT election in a landslide, but will much change on the ground?


A few years ago the Northern Territory government legislated to allow voluntary euthanasia. The Commonwealth, not ready for such radical adventures, reversed the decision.

But when the Country Liberal Party government in Darwin was put out of its misery last Saturday, there was nothing that Canberra or anyone else could do about it. The condition of the bunch led (to use the term loosely) by Chief Minister (to use the term absurdly) Adam Giles was irrevocable and terminal. Best we forget.

The administration, as it was called, stumbled from blunder to gaffe, sometimes tragically but more often farcically. Even the NT News, that chronicle of reptilian misfits both saurian and human, struggled to find words for it.

And the weekend’s debacle must make the rest of the country, if not the Territorians, wonder why the place was ever accorded even a limited measure of self-government, as happened in 1978. Over the past 38 years there have been some halfway competent politicians on both sides of the fence. But for what seemed like most of the time the cowboys and their cronies were in charge.

The grants handed out from Canberra were shamelessly pork-barrelled to prop up the politically sensitive electorates in Darwin and occasionally some of the provincial centres, while callously ignoring the majority of the more remote areas. Which meant, of course, the indigenous inhabitants.

And in even in the cities they were marginalised, with disastrous consequences as we saw in the Don Dale detention facility. If this were not deliberate, it was criminally negligent. It is hard to justify the continuation of such dysfunctional husbandry of other taxpayers money to highly subsidised fat cats in State (a misnomer if ever there was one) Square.

The election result was, as Giles cheerfully announced over a beer, “a thumping”. His Country Liberal Party was reduced to a mere two seats in a house of 25. The swings appeared enormous, but given the population of many Northern Territory electorates, they actually comprised no more than a few hundred votes. As Giles pointed out, they could easily be reversed in the next election, if not sooner.

Giles himself was unrepentant: apparently his own policies were flawless; the dysfunction was the fault of everyone else, including the normally reliable psychic crocodile who promised him victory.

The new Nabob of the Never Never is Labor’s Michael Gunner, who says he is gunner provide stable government. This may be something of a stretch, unless, of course, he is simply talking about a stable as a place full of horseshit. But then, he can hardly do worse than the last lot. Surely.

There must be times when even the most Top Enders yearn for the days when the place was under the tender gaze of an administrator, with the real power residing in far-off Canberra. The feds might easily stuff it up too, but at least there would be foreigners to blame for it.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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