InterestingIn the recent Northern Territory election, Barbara Shaw was the Greens candidate for Braitling, one of the electorates in Alice Springs. She is Aboriginal and strongly opposed to the Northern Territory intervention.To southerners, this may well seem a natural arrangement. Shaw won friends on the east coast by helping to contest Jenny Macklin’s housing intervention in the Federal Court, and thus stopped the building of houses in the Alice Springs town camps for several years on the grounds that residents had not been properly consulted. Shaw’s activism also saw her play a role in the Australia Day melee in Canberra earlier this year.Her efforts did not go unnoticed in Alice Springs. On 25 August, Shaw received just 9% of the vote. The swing against the Greens in Braitling was almost 6%. Territory-wide, the Country Liberal Party (CLP) gained 56% of the two-party preferred vote, enough to win 16 of the legislative assembly’s 25 seats.Few commentators picked the conservatives’ victory. It had been assumed the Aboriginal vote was rusted on to the ALP. Yet it was Aboriginal voters in the bush who threw out the government that had ignored them, delivering victory to the Country Liberal Party. This extraordinary outcome challenges mainstream perceptions of the marginal power of the Aboriginal vote. The voter turnout across the Territory was an unusually high 77%; three in ten Territorians are Aboriginal. Clearly, they wanted to make their votes count.
State and Territory governments have long used untied Commonwealth grants for ‘Indigenous Affairs’ as a general purpose slush fund for everyone except the poorest of the poor, the remote Aboriginal populations. In the same way, the vast sums committed to the intervention have been soaked up by the bureaucrats and consultants. The caravans of high-end, late-model white Toyotas returning from the bush to Darwin and Alice Springs on Friday afternoon, and the young, shiny, well-fed members of the helping class alighting to enter their homes and hotels, are evident for all to see. The gap between this high-income group and the desperately poor Aboriginal people they purportedly serve is played out in all social relations in the Northern Territory. The whites-only revelry along Mitchell Street in Darwin on any Friday night is a jarring sight. Evident too are the regular small plane charters unloading teams of bureaucrats in the communities for endless consultations: it may be just talk, but it sure isn’t cheap.
Aboriginal people voted to end this conspicuous waste. The perception that the NT Labor government was indifferent to the remote areas was exacerbated by the effective dismantling of bilingual education in schools. Aboriginal women also voted for continued income quarantining. The re-election of Alison Anderson and the support for Bess Price suggests that Aboriginal women in remote communities, long ignored by anti-interventionist campaigners and their media cat’s paws, came out in force at the polls. It was confirmation that the tri-state NPY Women’s Council’s successful push for voluntary income quarantining in the adjoining lands in South Australia and Western Australia had come from the bottom up, rather than being imposed from above, as the southern media had misreported.
I always wondered how long it would be until the whitefellas in the Greens and Left got found out as being ineffective.