Remember the joke when self-government in the Territory was still young? “As a boy Chief Minister Paul Everingham wanted a cowboy outfit for Christmas. He finished up with the NT Government.” Four decades later the nation is still laughing at us, but the tone has changed from fun to derision.
The panel of ABC TVs Insiders program yesterday (pictured above), after a montage of snippets from the unbelievable events in the CLP last week, burst into raucous laughter. BARRIE CASSIDY: They are calling it the CooCooCoup in the Northern Territory … are any lessons there for Tony Abbott?
ANNABEL CRABB: It is an option just to stick around. I’m not going. Ah, well, all right then. Many things didn’t make sense … one of these is how at the end of all this, it’s the lady that loses the job.
BELOW: Darwin artist Chips Mackinolty produced this 25 years ago.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
A handful of CLP politicians were prepared to destroy the Territory’s elected government if Adam Giles could not remain Chief Minister.
That was the “breathtaking hypocrisy” underlying the coup in Darwin, says Rolf Gerritsen (pictured), at the end of a tumultuous week in Territory politics.
The CDU professor says it was “exactly the same argument” when Mr Giles overthrew Chief Minister Terry Mills while he was in Japan on government business.
Mr Giles “would take his cricket bat away if he wasn’t [made] the captain.
“No-one is going to stop me. He stared them down. You won’t be able to play.”
Prof Gerritsen says a handful of CLP members “gave up, afraid they might lose their seats and their super”.
Meanwhile a group of conservative activists in Alice Springs is moving to form a new party as the CLP is “disintegrating,” as a spokesman puts it.
The new party could not be affiliated with the national Liberal Party which has an agreement with the CLP not to start branches in the Territory.
But the new party would have similar philosophies, and may be called Centre Party, giving a voice to the traditionally predominant non-Labor voters in Alice Springs who are now “disgusted with the disgraceful mess the CLP is in”.
Meanwhile an unauthorised voice recording of the Alice Springs CLP last week has surfaced, leaked to The Australian newspaper.
The paper quotes Mr Giles as advocating the elimination of the seat held by PUP MLA Alison Anderson: “Probably down the left-hand side of the Territory we will have the seat of Stuart, and down the right-hand side we will have the seat of Barkley — and there will be no Namatjira,” Mr Giles is quoted as saying.
Prof Gerritsen says Ms Anderson would probably be able to win either seat: She is “the only hero blackfellers have got because she ignores the whitefellers. She can campaign wherever she likes.”
She speaks five Aboriginal languages – Stuart MLA Bess Price speaks only Warlpiri. Ms Price won her seat with the help of Ms Anderson in the south and the other PUP MLA, Larisa Lee, also a CLP member at the time, in the north.
Ms Price is now the most vulnerable MLA, says Prof Gerritsen.
He says Mr Giles has been “very punitive” towards sacked frontbencher Robyn Lambley (Araluen) but “she may have more support than they realise”.
It is clear that with the growth of Darwin and the stagnation of rural areas one bush seat will need to go. If that were in the south of the NT it would mean a lesser representation in electorates there that are already vast, geographically.
Much would depend on which seat Tennant Creek would be in.
“The stable Labor days of Neil Bell and Peter Toyne are gone,” says Prof Gerritsen.
“Aboriginal people have voted against expectations in the last two elections.”
Asked about Mr Giles’ apparent confidence in controlling decisions of the Electoral Commission, Mr Gerritsen said: “It depends on the gumption of the Electoral Commissioner.
“The CLP can make submissions to the commission, propose things. What do you take into account in a redistribution? Transport? Cultural links?”
[The commissioner last year refused to investigate reports that Mr Giles had failed to declare substantial campaign donations.]
Prof Gerritsen says the CLP has suffered a massive decline in membership. In the early 1980s it had some 5000 members, “a true mass party,” a per-capita membership better than Chairman Mao’s Chinese Communist Party.
Then some 10% of the electorate were CLP members. Now that’s down to about half a per cent.
In Alice Springs the transient nature of the population plays a big role. Some 25% of the voters in the next election would not have been here for the last one. In the past many Labor voters coming into town would switch to the CLP in six months. Not necessarily so these days.
“Aborigines are now voting according to interest. They have broken the pattern. If they don’t like someone they won’t vote for them.”
Mr Giles hasn’t been around for long, doesn’t have much of an image – except for always wearing a suit.
On the other hand, Labor has become “a Darwin-Palmerston Party”.
“Delia Lawrie would be comfortable in Balmain [inner Sydney]. She is unelectable as a leader here.”
And so, “until the football season starts, Territory politics is more entertaining than anything else,” says Prof Gerritsen.
“It’s outdoor relief for people who can’t get a job. It makes the Community Development Employment Program look excellent.”