COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA
The chief financial executive of a five billion dollar a year operation is forced to resign because he makes a crass remark to an acquaintance at a private party. Although he apologised for what he had said, it is leaked to a newspaper.
Would you buy shares in a corporation with so little control over its affairs? Hardly.
Yet you’re stuck with your shares in the Northern Territory Government, which spends your tax money, controls many facets of your life and which will celebrate its birthday tomorrow amidst speculation that its second leader in as many years may get the chop.
Ex-Treasurer Dave Tollner’s “shirt lifter” and “pillow biter” seems mild compared to Matt Conlan’s verbal assault, in a Parliamentary wing meeting, upon his Ministerial colleague at the time, Alison Anderson, Member for Namatjira. “Why don’t you f… off , you c…,” he is not denying to have said. Mr Conlan, a lesser political scalp than the former Treasurer, is still a Minister.
Then again, the former Treasurer was not learning his lessons about ‘foot in the mouth’. His demeaning mocking of the Member for Namatjira went around the country, reinforcing the cowboy image of the Northern Territory.
Two years ago Alice Springs expected milk and honey to flow in its streets. After 11 years of a high spending Labor government, with little to show for it but debt, the CLP would end stagnation and despair.
Mr Giles had tons of good will, especially in The Centre: he lives here, all Members of Parliament in the region were on his side, and a friendly government was poised to take power in Canberra with his mate Nigel Scullion holding the key Indigenous Affairs portfolio.
All the ducks were in line, the electorate thought. Alice Springs – languishing in a slump while Darwin was in a head spinning boom from the natural gas investments – would at long last be doing well.
We have spoken to five Alice Springs community leaders about their views of the CLP government’s first two years. What was good and what was bad, we asked Alice Mayor Damien Ryan; CLP vice-president Daniel Davis; Congress CEO Donna Ah Chee; Arid Lands Environment Centre CEO Jimmy Cocking, and Chamber of Commerce vice-president Neil McLeod. We also invited Tourism Central Australia to comment but haven’t received a response by deadline. We will publish it when and if we get it.
For us, in our third year as a newspaper exclusively online (after 17 years in print), dealing with the CLP government has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. We had – and have – good relationships with Ministers including John Elferink, Robyn Lambley, Peter Chandler, Bess Price, Alison Anderson (now heading up the Palmer Untied Party in the NT), Dave Tollner and Willem Westra Van Holte and their staffs.
But with Mr Giles we have experienced significant low points in our quest for informing the public about what his government is doing. Contrary to ready and cheerful access while he was in Opposition, we found have him thin-skinned and short-tempered – not a good look for a politician, let alone a statesman. Here are a few examples:
Ahead of the election Alice Springs News Online‘s Kieran Finnane gave him a pretty good run in a 1650 word report on his campaign, published on July 5, 2012. But Backgrounding his political career, she termed as “naive” his slogan in his 2007 campaign for the Federal seat of Lingiari. It was “No more sitdown money” which, as Finnane observed, “went down like a lead balloon in the largely bush electorate with high levels of welfare dependence”.
Mr Giles’ nose was out of joint for quite some time.
I wrote a story on March 1 last year, saying: If the government wants 100 residential blocks in Kilgariff ready for sale “off the plan” by July – the target date, according to minister Adam Giles – then they’ll have to get a wriggle-on.
I sent a draft to Mr Giles – a courtesy few journalists afford their sources. “I don’t like it. I just read it on my iPhone and I deleted it” was his response, or words to the effect. The Kilgariff blocks went on sale a year later than promised.
Mr Giles’ government has some minders who are professional and diligent – no more than one would expect them to be. But it also has many minders who are arrogant and obstructionist. Some politicians hide behind them, and let them take control of what is meant to be a free flow of information in a democratic system.
No different to the Labor regime past, the Country Liberals’ touted ‘accountable government’ soon shrank to “send me an email and I’ll give you some lines”. This drags out news gathering task that should take 10 minutes to days and weeks. Our requests to talk first-hand to the elected person rather than receiving massaged material is too often ignored.
Mr Giles was at this year’s Alice Springs Show. He attended as an elected person, representing the Territory government, at a public event. I was filming him for what in TV is called “overlay” – footage to run over narration introducing an interview we posted on YouTube. He was taken aside by his minder, they had a low voice conversation and then he told me … well, here it is.
Mr Giles later did give us the interview, to reporter Rachel McFadden, who worked for us as an intern at the time. The footage gives us a clue to how Mr Giles likes media to behave. He shakes the hand of Centralian Advocate staffer Steven Menzies who calls him “Sir” and tells him he liked his speech.
Last week Mr Giles – under Parliamentary privilege – accused the Alice Springs News Online of publishing material that is “slanderous and incorrect”.
Member for Namatjira Alison Anderson brought this to my attention and invited me to provide a statement in reply that she would present to the Parliament.
This is what I said in it: “I stand by my story. It accurately quotes my sources. All of them are named. With their permission I recorded the face-to-face interview.
“Neither in his minder’s reply to the Alice Springs News Online, given in response to our offer of the right of reply and published by us, nor in what he told the Parliament (so far as I can see), did Mr Giles deny that he rang Mr Tickner and Mr Bray.
“He does not say in which way the Alice Springs News Online is incorrect.
“His account of the meeting in his office does not diverge from our account of it.
“For Mr Giles to call our report ‘slanderous and incorrect’ without substantiation is reprehensible.”
With the defection of three bush Members to the Palmer United Party, the Treasurer and Business Minister moving to the back bench, and a torrent of rumours of further turmoil in the CLP, the ducks, to be sure, are in a line no more.
COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA