Lingiari covers 1.4 million square kilometres, more than five times the size of Great Britain.
About half of the electorate is Aboriginal freehold land. Yet turning this massive holding into an asset that would lift its owners out of their poverty, especially in the south, continues to elude our political leaders.
For nearly 30 years Warren Snowdon has been its Federal Member. The seat’s name has changed but not the geography, except for that speck in the north that is Darwin, which now is no longer part of it.
Lingiari’s capital is Alice Springs, picturesque, comfortable, its hand deep in Canberra’s pocket, as most people are paid from the public purse, directly or indirectly, and like the rest of the NT, receiving from Federal coffers five times as much as the rest of the nation.
To a troubling extent these public servants’ clients are people driven into town by tedium and misery in the bush. They are duly processed through the law enforcement, health and education machines, supplemented by a gaggle of NGOs, mostly also government funded.
And so the Aboriginal Industry is booming fuelled by the raw material of massive unemployment amongst Aboriginal people, alcohol consumption about 35% greater than the nation’s, 10 times Australia’s homicide rate, poor school results and huge truancy rates, sickness. The list goes on.
As for Mr Snowdon, apart from stints in the Central Land Council in those two years since 1987 when he was not seat warming in Canberra, he has just continued to keep score with dollar signs at the head – taxpayers’ dollars, that is. No-one has really cared about the endemic failure to achieve.
In the 2013 election Country Liberal Party candidate Tina MacFarlane achieved a 4% swing against him, narrowing his margin to 0.9%.
On Saturday, with nine candidates vying for his seat, including Green Rob Hoad, 1Territory president Braedon Earley, standing as an Independent, and Yolnju man Yingiya Guyula, the time may be coming for Mr Snowdon to take his trademark hat and go.
He has not responded to requests for an interview with the Alice Springs News Online.
Editor ERWIN CHLANDA spoke with Ms MacFarlane, former farmer and cattle station owner from Mataranka, standing again for the Country Liberals who in Canberra usually sit with the Coalition.
NEWS: We’ve got lots of land, plenty of water, much idle labour and low-cost backloading on south-bound road and rail – why is the bush not booming with tourism and agriculture?
MacFARLANE (providing this explanation in writing): Under s19 of the Land Rights Act, leases over land held under Aboriginal inalienable freehold can be issued for up to 99 years. Traditional owners can provide leases to any person or legal entity. The land trust grant the leases on direction of the land council. The land council can only give that direction if it is satisfied traditional owners consent and affected Aboriginal people are consulted. Transferability is restricted under s19 because transfers must have the same consents as the original grant of the lease. Once granted they can be used a loan collateral, at the discretion of the lender.
NEWS: Does that work?
MacFARLANE: The process is cumbersome. You may have taken out a lease and invested a million dollars. If at a later time you want to sell the lease, due to illness or unforeseen circumstances, the intending buyer of the lease would need to re-negotiate the original consent. The lease would not be automatically transferred. If consent is refused the million dollars would be lost to the initial lessee. This system of trasnferability needs to be reformed to work. As it stands it creates a lot of uncertainty. This may be contributing to the slow uptake of leases and hamper commercial development in the bush.
NEWS: Parks Australia, a Federal instrumentality, leases and manages the Uluru national park. Would you make sure climbing The Rock isn’t banned as it is being threatened periodically?
MacFARLANE: I think that has to be totally in the power of the traditional owners of The Rock. It’s something they have identified as something that is sacred and precious to them. It’s their decision.
NEWS: We have what’s loosely called the Aboriginal Industry. Are these people productive, are they achieving anything? Or is it business as usual, on a never ending basis?
MacFARLANE: I feel very strongly about this. I’ve been travelling with the Indigenous Affairs Minister, our NT Senator Nigel Scullion. Out on the communities he’s driving the working up of skills, to encourage people to stay on communities, and increase services out there, caring for their own people, making them comfortable in their own environment.
NEWS: Does that extend to housing?
MacFARLANE: We want to engage young people in our $350m housing program, which is existing money that can now be spent over a number of years. Local people will have a say in what kind of housing they want, and be encouraged to put forward young people for complete apprenticeships – not just a couple of months.
NEWS: Is it showing results?
MacFARLANE: The Yellow Shirt program, getting kids to attend school, has been running for two and a half years with 70% of the 39 schools in the NT recoding increases in attendance, particularly in the Top End. The improvements range from a few per cent to as much as 16%. It’s mums and dads going ’round and getting their kids to school. It’s not a big stick approach. It’s working together, rather than outsiders coming in. It may take 10, 20 years but it is a positive move, heading in the right direction.
NEWS: In the provision of housing, is there a mandated participation by the end users? They provide half the labour and half the cash, from royalties, for example.
MacFARLANE: There will be a partnership, with the senior people, for example. I don’t know details of the agreements, but it’s about them having a fair say about the direction a project is going, the design of a house and how many apprentices they will provide.
NEWS: What exactly will the Aboriginal people contribute to the partnership?
MacFARLANE: They are not contributing any money. The money is already there, from the former SIHIP program.
NEWS: Is there a formula for a mandatory contribution? What exactly does each party contribute to the partnership?
MacFARLANE: You have government and the community working together, input into the design. Young people getting an opportunity. They might then build the next house, or do the repairs and maintenance instead of getting outside people in. My understanding is there is no mandatory element in the partnership. It’s not the big stick approach any more, all these rules and regulations.
NEWS: Back to education, will there be an expectation of self-help, of parents getting kids to school, and will there be sanctions if they don’t. After all, it’s the law.
MacFARLANE: In the real world, out in the communities, the approach the Minister is taking with these yellow shirts, parents get the kids to school who get rewarded for their attendance, you know, it might be some fresh fruit, or whatever. It’s that sort of system. The big stick and throwing money at a problem is not working. Communities have to get ownership. Kids want to go to school, they want to learn, be a productive part of the community. If we can achieve that they will want to be economically independent, and have the capacity to contribute a lot more, be self-sufficient and drive their own industries in the future.
NEWS: How will the people of Alice Springs benefit if you became the Member for Lingiari?
MacFARLANE: I have a strong background in small business and have experience in local government. I was there when businesses were destroyed by the live export ban. I know what it’s like when the government gets it wrong. I can bring a lot of passion to the table. I worked out in the bush and I worked in the town areas. I’m proud that my daughter spent her primary school years on the Katherine School of the Air. I’ve been on the roads and I know how critical they are to all. I’ve been on corrugated roads where your car nearly falls to pieces. This impacts the urban areas. This is where all comes together. Tourism, the cattle industry, the communities – they all shop in town, use its health services, and so on. Our politicians have become too complacent. I don’t feel the NT is being represented.
NEWS: The industries you’re talking about need labour.
MacFARLANE: If I’m elected I will be seeking a total reversal of the backpackers’ tax and push for some sort of agricultural visa, to allow farmers to have access to workers during the season, when local labour is not available.
NEWS: Will the government, if re-elected, do something about unemployed people who do not accept work they are offered? The profitable Rocky Hill vineyard has to bring in pruners and pickers from the Riverland, yet within a few kilometres there are dozens if not hundreds of people getting the dole. The Ali Curung watermelon plantation relies on backpackers.
MacFARLANE: There needs to be more accountability. If there is work available and there is the capacity of work … but there is an exemption for remote communities, as I understand it.
NEWS: Should this exemption be stopped?
MacFARLANE: Yes, it should be. There should be accountability. That is my personal view, but the only way to drive this change is in consultation with communities, even towns and regional centres. You really need to show you’ve gone out to do that job you were offered. As I understand it, there is no accountability at all at the moment. I’ve spoken to farmers in areas of high unemployment and they can’t source local labour. Or the local labour doesn’t want to come every day. Mangoes don’t stop maturing because someone hasn’t turned up to work.
NEWS: What should be done?
MacFARLANE: There are experiments in a couple of communities with the Basics Card, decreasing the cash from 50% to 20%, but the last thing we want is to see disadvantaged people being more disadvantaged.
NEWS: Canberra’s huge proposed expenditure to save the Great Barrier Reef is very likely throwing good money after bad. Should we not seek to divert Queensland’s $6.4b nature tourism from the reef to Central Australia?
MacFARLANE: I think that would be fantastic, absolutely fantastic. I would be a huge advocate of that. That’s why I like the Turnbull Government – nothing’s off the table, any innovative idea, any way we can expand and develop our economy, it would just be fantastic.
NEWS: Would you say to the government, let’s not spend the money on a lost cause but divert it to Central Australia?
MacFARLANE: No, I would not say let’s not worry about the reef but let’s look at the opportunities here. I don’t think Canberra has a good understanding of this region.
Above: Local attention is once again being drawn to Pine Gap. This photograph by Kristian Laemmle-Ruff was highly commended in this year’s Alice Prize and the artist will return to Alice Springs in September, to show his exhibition, Mind the Gap, at Watch This Space.
NEWS: Pine Gap is smack bang in your electorate. There are credible assertions that it is a link in global eavesdropping by the USA, and in extra-judicial killings – which is a nice word for murder – in several countries, using drones. Is Australia complicit and should Pine Gap be shut down?
MacFARLANE: I don’t have any specific information about its role so I can simply not comment on this at all. It is a national security issue. It is confidential. You and I don’t get a lot to find out about it.
NEWS: There is a minority on Alice Springs concerned about the space base, and the more that comes out about it this may change. Would you put these people’s concerns to the government, as the Member for Lingiari?
MacFARLANE: It is something I would definitely keep an eye on. Because of its high level of security it is something that is not being discussed. We send troops overseas and you probably can’t let others know what we are doing.
NEWS: What’s your take on what Warren Snowdon has done for what is now Lingiari, in nearly 30 years as the Member of Parliament. What’s your take on his achievements or failures?
MacFARLANE: I am very disappointed. He has been very complacent. The regions have been neglected. I don’t see anyone in Canberra fighting for the Territory. You know, the fire. We were in the cattle game. The live ban imposed by the Labor Government just turned my gut in a knot. The Territory is built on the back of the cattle. The regions rely on the cattle industry, in combination, obviously, with the tourism industry. It’s the fabric. And yet he was part of the government, he agreed with the live export ban, he decimated so many parts of the industry, and a lot of private people, a lot of the small businesses, and the hurt is still ongoing now. Stations became overstocked, they could not find markets. You had your big producers who could offload cattle interstate and to Queensland. It’s the smaller producers who really suffered. They had cattle which overgrazed. The growers didn’t have the money, because they had no income, to protect the country, muster, get your weaners off different paddocks. And the repercussions are still being felt now, the devastating impact. I just can’t understand for the life of me why Warren Snowdon didn’t stand up for the Territory.
PHOTOS from top: Election posters in Telegraph Terrace, with a little addition courtesy the anti-fracking movement • Ms MacFarlane on Stylo Station, which her family sold last December, amidst controversy.