Adam Giles' squandered opportunity


Adam Giles wooed Alison Anderson to join the CLP, yet in government has not known how to work with her. The current debacle is a very poor reflection on his leadership and on the Territory’s political culture.
I say the Territory, rather than Country Liberal, because Labor did not know how to work with her either. Does this mean she is impossible? If that’s your conclusion then you’re admitting defeat in one of the most important challenges facing the Territory, just at a time when it looked like progress was being made.
The progress as I see it was this: that the conservative side of politics seemed to have changed its spots and successfully fielded four Aboriginal candidates with strong roots in their bush electorates who then became part of the government. Aboriginal political representation was no longer the preserve of the left. The Territory was starting to look less deeply divided along racial and ideological lines.
Now it seems that the change was only skin deep. With the departure of Alison Anderson and her Top End colleagues Larissa Lee and Francis Xavier Kurrupuwu, the government has lost a deep line of communication into the bush, notwithstanding the survival of Bess Price.
I have no experience of either of the Top End members, but I do have some of Alison Anderson. I travelled with her on some of the journeys into her electorate when she was galvanised by what then looked like a once-in-a-generation opportunity – Mal Brough’s Intervention. She saw hope in it for “the little people on the ground” to break with the corrosive legacy of welfare dependency. She made it her mission to explain that opportunity to them, to take the fear out of it, regardless of the affront of the then Martin Labor Government to which she belonged.
Everyone was important. The old women sitting in the sun, the young mothers with their babies straggling towards the shop, the clinic staff, their patients, the serious old men, the council staff, the young men at footy training, the children in the playground, the police, the teachers. She knew everyone’s name, their story, who was related to whom. She knew their languages, slipping from one to another to English and back again with joyful ease.
I saw these same qualities in action in the run-up to the last election. Long after I was asleep in my swag, she would still be doing the rounds, visiting people into the small hours and then up again with first light. The political promise was representation. She knew what people’s lives were like and she would be able to communicate this in government. That’s quite something to bring to the table in the Territory, something that means a whole lot more than the supposed vision of either party.
In not knowing how to make the most of the affiliation of Alison Anderson and her two Top End colleagues, Adam Giles has squandered an opportunity for the Territory to show political and social maturity.
PHOTO: Alison Anderson in 2007 at her home community of Papunya in the early days of the Intervention.


  1. Mal Brough’s Intervention program attempted to include the issuing of reasonable leases within communities to enable responsibility, self-management, with opportunity for development through enabling tenants the possibility of lease-ownership.
    Which Serviced Land Available Plans (or similar) display where in communities land has leases issued, with types of leases?
    Can MacDonnell and other shire councils display their leases, obtained and still being negotiated? Such leases are essential for their long term provision of services and support facilities.
    Without leases there is no long term, at any moment they may be removed.
    Until lease information is freely available, general development remains difficult.
    Obstruction to leases being issued is controlled from Canberra.
    Canberra also controls the corrosive legacy of welfare dependency.
    For Alison Anderson, Larissa Lee and Francis Xavier Kurrupuwu to see progress, Canberra needs to be convinced to improve circumstances.

  2. @ Paul. Further investigation and you will find land councils are the controlling voice of the shires not Canberra. Read deeper for the truth. Alison and her Co are working in conjunction with land councils against the elders.

  3. Well done Kieran. Finally a true journalist that has actually explored, grasp and conveyed their findings against the mainstream flow. Popular or not. I too have seen Alison on the ground in the communities and right you are. Fundamentally the difference between Alison and Adam, is skin, care and maturity. This is easily seen from the way they conduct themselves. If only your story was published more widely for more people to read. My prediction on Adam’s political fate: Alison will still be around long after Adam is gone – just like Clare, Marion, Paul and other knockers who didn’t care to truly listen, understand and act.

  4. Being able to communicate with people is a handy skill but only if you have something worthwhile to communicate.
    How many chances does a politician need to achieve something, anything? Hopefully the time has come when Aboriginal politicians and leaders understand that solutions to very difficult problems only come with damned hard work and that resources are scarce and need to be distributed with some sort of justice and balance and that’s not an easy thing to do when there are so many competing demands and loud demanders.
    Dummy spitting achieves absolutely nothing. We are one community in the NT and it is only as one community that we will find solutions to our problems.
    Those who keep trying to divide us work against achieving anything. Loyalty is a virtue and a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.
    Alison Anderson has actively worked to undermine her Aboriginal colleagues in two governments as well as the white easy targets.
    Marion Scrymgour still holds the record for the highest political office held by an Aboriginal woman in our history.
    Adam Giles is the first indigenous Australian to lead a government in our history. Both are leaders of principle who never used their Aboriginality to grandstand and dummy spit but rather got on with the job as Territorians committed to the welfare of all of us.
    Both have been grievously insulted by Alison when she was supposed to be their colleague. Marion is absolutely right. What Aboriginal communities and organisations need is stability to allow government to get on with the job.
    So do the rest of us. Maybe now we can do that.

  5. I can’t see much evidence for the claim that we are “one community” much as that can seem desirable. The reality is that along the racial / demographic divide there are many conflicting interests.
    The idea that one homogenous government could ever encompass these divergent interests is unrealistic and in that light the disruptions within Government should not be seen as a failure but as inevitable.
    It is damaging to NT politics and all of us to dismiss Alison as someone with nothing worthwhile to say. Alison does represent her constituents and I hear them saying that she alone is worth listening to. Alison is creating a new political party that will be a force to be reckoned with.
    She will soon be able to negotiate from a base that is far more effective than the one she had within government.


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