COMMENT by KIERAN FINNANE
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.
COMMENT by KIERAN FINNANE