By ERWIN CHLANDA
Alison Anderson has long operated under the motto: If you can’t join them, beat them.
Right: Ms Anderson with Kathy Satour (at left in the photo) in Alice Springs this morning.
She speaks five Indigenous languages, has breathed the rarefied air of Canberra as an ATSIC commissioner, worked in local government in her home town Papunya well before the shires were imposed, and when the CLP government shut the power off in the community because people – encouraged by her – wouldn’t pay their electricity bills, she joined collectors of firewood for heat and light and told Darwin to jump in a lake.
She had a hatchet job done on her in a book by Melbourne journalist Russell Skelton, and seamlessly transitioned from Labor and Independent to CLP and now the Palmer United Party (PUP) while one crucial factor remained constant: overwhelming support from the constituents in her electorate of Namatjira (formerly MacDonnell), half as big again as Great Britain, and in return her loyalty to them.
Ms Anderson entered the NT Parliament with a bang in 2005, defeating the sitting CLP candidate John Elferink – now a Darwin MLA and Minister for Justice – with 61% to 38% of the vote after preferences.
In 2008 she was re-elected unopposed. No-one would take her on.
In 2012 she stood for the CLP, beating Labor’s Des Rogers 68% to 31%.
Ms Anderson’s take on politics in the Territory is feisty: “You add up the salary of the Chief Minister, his deputy, all his ministers, his backbenchers, then all the staff on level five, plus the 20,000 bureaucrats, and the result of that is that health, education and crime indicators are failing everybody in the Northern Territory, tourism is dying, and few can afford decent housing. We really need the Commonwealth to come in and take over again. And these people will be unemployable.”
NEWS: The new Tony Abbott rules would mean Chief Minister Adam Giles would be on six months’ training to qualify for the dole?
ANDERSON: He’s safe. He’s over 30.
After a stint on the front bench, from which she was sacked by Mr Giles after calling him “just a boy”, Ms Anderson quit the CLP because “they have not done anything whatsoever” about fulfilling election promises to the bush. Larisa Lee (Arnhem) and Francis Xavier (Arafura) joined her, leaving the CLP with a paper thin margin.
“They went to the election 20 months ago with so much stuff for Aboriginal people. They have not done anything whatsoever.”
She says, for example, in Daly the 2014/15 Budget allocates $20m for sealing just 18 km of the Port Keats road between Peppimenarti and Palumpa, when $200m is needed for the whole road. “Why would you bother?”
She says about the government: “They are very arrogant. They don’t listen to people. It’s hard to get appointments with them. People get five minutes or they won’t get an appointment for three months.”
When the relationship with the government broke down, it was she who got in touch with Clive Palmer, says Ms Anderson.
“We had a talk to Bob Katter as well. We weighed up our options about security, with someone we could really work with.”
They chose Palmer.
NEWS: Why? Because he has money?
ANDERSON: It has nothing to do with his money whatsoever. It was the fact that he’s been winning elections in other jurisdictions, such as in WA, Tasmania and Queensland, and that gives us a bigger hope in the NT. It also gives Territorians a choice. People may say, we’ve given the CLP and the ALP a go in the past, let’s give these guys a shot.
NEWS: Does Palmer have an Aboriginal policy?
ANDERSON: It’s a work in progress. He’s been quite open, an Aboriginal policy should be developed by ourselves, the three Indigenous PUP members. We started talking to people four weeks ago, about a policy not specifically about Indigenous people, but how we can get people up, move them forwards, socially and economically.
Overwhelming support from constituents: Ms Anderson on the road in the 2012 election campaign talking to men from Areyonga.
NEWS: Australia wide?
ANDERSON: No, just in the Territory. We are 36% of the population. We own 50% of the landmass under land rights. We can call on another 48% under native title which is your pastoral leases.
NEWS: This leaves two percent.
ANDERSON: That’s right. Yet the stakeholders are at the bottom of the human rubbish dump, when you have a look at it. When you look at the education outcomes, where are we? Are we in the top 20%? The top 50%? I don’t think so. When you have a look at the health outcomes are we anywhere to be seen in the top 60%? No. Training and employment? We’re are at the bottom of every indicator. We need to make sure we put our land to use now.
NEWS: What will be the top issues?
ANDERSON: Economic drivers; tourism which is mainly focused on Aboriginal land and parks. What’s happened to the 99 year joint partnerships in those parks? Where is the indigenous employment in the parks? There is absolutely nothing. The parks are all just sitting idle, the West Macs, Ellery, Boggy Hole. There are hundreds of places like that, not just Uluru and Kakadu.
We have lots of resources, tourism opportunities. We can make the NT the pinnacle for not just resources, but in the tourism industry, the place where everybody wants to come to. We must make sure we have the best hotels [and cater for] international travellers, and the backpacker and self-drive markets.
NEWS: How could PUP help with that?
ANDERSON: We’ll be offering policies.
NEWS: Given that Palmer is in mining and Aboriginal land is where mining is likely to be taking place, is there an agenda other that politics in the PUP deal?
ANDERSON: Absolutely not. There are rules and regulations about mining. You can’t just say to a local politician, I want to mine on this land. There are the Northern Land Council and the Central Land Council in the NT and Clive Palmer would be obligated under the law to go though those processes.
NEWS: At the end of the day it’s up to the traditional owners to say yes or no to mining. So if you were to influence them, could that be to the advantage of Palmer?
ANDERSON: There is not one person, Indigenous or not, that can influence the Indigenous population, the TOs.
NEWS: Never happened before, do you think?
ANDERSON: No. And Clive Palmer does not have a mining lease on my country. And I am one out of 826 traditional owners.
NEWS: In the Papunya area.
ANDERSON: Yes. And I couldn’t go and influence people wherever he’s got his mining leases. That’s just not the way things are done. There are laws, rules and regulations around that stuff.
NEWS: Palmer never offered any money?
ANDERSON: No. Absolutely nothing. Zero. Not a penny.
NEWS: Stuart MLA Bess Price is the odd one out [of the Indigenous bush members], she stayed with the government, yet you were instrumental in her getting the seat. Is that a fair way of putting it?
ANDERSON: I think a lot of us had a lot to do with getting Bess elected, myself and Larisa. Bess picked up lots of votes in Beswick and Barunga. It’s because Larisa did a lot of work for her in that area.
NEWS: Is there tension between the three of you and Bess?
ANDERSON: Well, look, she is always going to have to play the card of the CLP and we are going to play the cards of our people who got the CLP elected. We will always hold them accountable.
NEWS: What’s the likelihood of more current MLAs joining PUP?
ANDERSON: If Members think we can give them a better option they are quite welcome to come and join. There is still instability within the CLP. Members have said they wouldn’t be joining us but there could be a leadership challenge.
NEWS: How would that play out?
ANDERSON: It’s obvious the two top blokes, Giles and Tollner, would need to be kicked out.
NEWS: Is Mr Giles denying you a seat on the five-member Standing Committee of Public Accounts?
ANDERSON: The Chief Minister can change the standing orders at the stroke of a pen but he refuses to do it. It is the committee that scrutinises expenditures and the estimates [and consists of Labor and CLP members and the Independent Gerry Wood]. We now have to ask the Opposition Leader and Mr Wood whether they would be kind enough to take our questions or give us a couple of hours of their questioning time.
NEWS: Does that mean that the constituents in the seats now held by PUP Members have fewer rights [via their representatives] than others?
ANDERSON: Absolutely. Have a look at the land mass that we three represent, it’s more than half of the NT. And we are denied due process of sitting on the Estimates Committee. It is absolutely outrageous.
NEWS: How come the administration that is getting, per head of population, five times as much money from Canberra as the rest of the nation, is in such financial difficulty? Aren’t we really swimming in money?
ANDERSON: Absolutely. Around 80% of our money comes from Canberra. Maybe what we should try is asking the Feds to take us back over. Maybe we’ll get better results. Close down this gammon Parliament.
NEWS: Have you talked about that with Clive Palmer?
ANDERSON: No. [Laughs.]
NEWS: What control will Palmer have over you, Larisa and Francis Xavier?
ANDERSON: So far we’ve been in contact with him, maybe, twice, and I got a couple of text messages from him, abut programs he’s doing. That’s about it. There is absolutely no control.
NEWS: He’s waiting for your input?
NEWS: What about issues of work and passive welfare?
ANDERSON: Passive welfare is something only the Feds can change. Clive’s going to have the balance of power come June, July in the Senate. When we do passive welfare reform we need to do it across the country. Unemployment figures in Salisbury [SA], for example, amongst whitefellers, is as high as it is amongst Indigenous people in the NT. If we want to unite the country we have to have one law.
NEWS: Will you seek to influence Clive Palmer when it comes to initiatives by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion, like amendments to the Land Rights Act?
ANDERSON: I haven’t had a talk to him about it. I’m talking to my colleagues about it and certainly to lots of Aboriginal people.
NEWS: How do you get on with Sen Scullion?
ANDERSON: I think I still get on all right with Nigel – unless you know otherwise [laughs].
NEWS: What’s the relationship between the CLP branches and the politicians? With either party, at times it seems a handful of people with a limited grasp on reality are selecting people with inadequate qualifications to spend six thousand million of taxpayers’ dollars a year on our behalf.
ANDERSON: The branches are stacked. Branch stacking everywhere.
NEWS: Who stacks them?
ANDERSON: The leaders of the branches.
NEWS: In favour of whom?
ANDERSON: In favour of whomever they want, like Adam. The Alice Springs branch is completely his branch.
NEWS: How big is the Alice Springs branch?
ANDERSON: Not many. Probably 20, 30 people. They couldn’t get a quorum for their AGM. Three times.