The Alice Springs contingent at the Country Liberals’ annual general meeting on the weekend.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
The mood was celebratory, to put it mildly, at the annual meeting of the Country Liberals (most people still call them CLP): lots of smiles. Lots of banter in the Convention Center’s foyer where the 100 or so delegates and members from all over the NT mingled between sessions.
You could see it was the party that had just captured the Treasury benches, which spend around five thousand million dollars a year, after a decade in the wilderness.
It was a good place to talk about issues with people – politicians as well as party heavies – who now are in the driver’s seat.
They oozed the joy of playing a role – big or small – in the history of the NT.
Correctional Services Minister John Elferink is gearing up for what has been the bleedin’ obvious for years: go and see the Federal Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, and say to her, words to the effect: Madam Minister, every fortnight you give millions to people who are spending much of this money to engage in catastrophic self harm, and then you pay us millions to fix up the mess. What can we do about this?
Mr Elferink will be accompanied on the trip – likely to come off, he says – by Minister for Indigenous Advancement Alison Anderson.
He wrested MacDonnell from Labor, which had a majority there in the high 60% range, in 1997. The seat was taken back to Labor by Ms Anderson in the 2005 landslide.
Mr Elferink went on to unseat Labor’s Kerry Sacilotto in Port Darwin in 2008.
But on the flight to Canberra he and Ms Anderson will be party mates as MacDonnell – now Namatjira – is back in the CLP fold, after Ms Anderson’s defection from Labor, sitting briefly as an independent, joining the Tories, and massively increasing her own vote in the August election.
Territory politics is a small world.
Lawson Broad was pacing the corridors outside the room where his immediate fate was being decided. He’d made a pitch to the delegates for preselection as the candidate for Lingiari. He was too nervous to eat his lunch, but not to vent to me his disgust and sorrow over the state of too many people in the electorate. He says current Member Warren Snowdon is measuring his performance by how much government money is spent, not what benefit it brings or, indeed, misery.
His passionate disappointment with the current state of affairs was shared by most at the conference, judging by the energetic networking around the small number of issues that we’re just incapable of getting a meaningful handle on: booze, crime, anti-social behaviour, tourism slump, real estate costs, town planning.
In the CLP camp, frustration now clearly has made way for resolve.
Not that making weighty policy decisions was on the agenda in the meeting room whose doors were mostly closed to the media. Even the elected politicians were kept out for the selection of the candidate for Lingiari, who will take on Mr Snowdon possibly late next year.
The meeting’s main purpose was housekeeping, especially electing office bearers: the party’s Central Council has some 70 members, including two delegates from each Legislative Assembly electorate.
The executive management committee has a president, two vice-presidents, a treasurer and four management positions. On that board Alice Springs has two people.
Central Council meets four times a year, and in between the executive looks after affairs.
There must have been differences of opinion, including the Lingiari preselection: two candidates, north versus south, man vs woman, rural vs urban background, relative youth versus maturity.
But any of those differences didn’t filter out of the meeting room: the Alice contingent may have felt rolled when the Central Australian candidate, Mr Broad, on the Darwin-based staff of Chief Minister Terry Smith but born and raised in Santa Teresa and Alice Springs, did not get up, and Top End pastoralist Tina MacFarlane got the nod.
But to a man – and woman – the Alice contingent said to me afterwards things like “good choice … great decision … we support the process”.
Same when Alice Springs councillor Eli Melky challenged the Grey Eminence of the party, Graeme Lewis, for the position of treasurer and missed out (narrowly, according to one member).
Judging by those present, there are very few Aboriginal people on the ruling body of the party, it consists of men and women in about equal numbers, and their average age would be in the mid to late fifties.
The business open to the media on the weekend did not yield anything sensational.
An outline by Australian Agricultural Company CEO David Farley of an abattoir the company has under construction in Livingstone Valley, 50km south of Darwin, at a capital cost of around $85 million, with an offshoot later – maybe – in Alice Springs, was noteworthy.
The speeches by Member for Solomon Natasha Griggs and Senator Nigel Scullion were like pep talks to a footy side: don’t look for analysis and ground breaking announcements here.
Senator Scullion even told a joke to the same audience twice, the second time for the benefit of Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, whose own address was in the same general vein: carbon tax, immigration, live exports, honesty (or otherwise) in government. ‘The Liberals are great, Labor is awful’ was the very broad message.