Partition off Darwin to fix NT’s urban bias: Professor


2482 Rolf Gerritsen OKA Charles Darwin University academic will propose that Darwin should be partitioned off from the rest of the Northern Territory as part of a solution to achieve better fiscal equity in the NT.
Professorial Research Fellow Rolf Gerritsen (pictured), an Alice Springs based regional economist with CDU’s Northern Institute, will tell delegates at the NTCOSS Conference in Darwin today that the Territory’s political and institutional structures need to be overhauled in order to remedy the urban bias, which he says has characterised fiscal policy in the NT since self-government.
“If we are serious about a fairer and more inclusive Northern Territory then it is time that our governance structures are reformed to allow for a better distribution of the budget to remote and regional communities,” Professor Gerritsen said.
“I’m challenging us to imagine a replacement for the current 25-seat Darwin-centric unicameral government and to dispense with Cabinet and two-party adversarial politics.
“For example, we could establish Darwin as a city-territory in a fashion similar to Canberra and the ACT. Governance for the rest of the Territory might take a form similar to the local-government model, but be designed to reward Aboriginal participation in the political system.
“Delegates acting on authority of the population would still gather in an assembly where various party political views could be represented, but within a model designed to guarantee equitable access and outcomes for non-urban areas of the Territory.”
Professor Gerritsen said the incidence of urban bias in the NT suggested that it was now an inherent bias that beneficiaries no longer realised they had.
“I’ll illustrate my point with two examples of extreme urban bias in fiscal outlay – one relating to housing and the other to the over-funding of urban schools – but it hardly matters where one looks to find examples of underspending in the bush.”
Professor Gerritsen said that while none of these examples was horrendous in isolation, accumulatively they showed that the money the NT receives from Canberra essentially subsidised the growth of Darwin.
“We can trace this back to decisions pre-dating self-government, which were premised on the assumption that the NT would become a State,” he said.
“With greater access to politicians and ministers, people in Darwin are much more readily able to influence decisions than the people in a place like Yuendumu, for example, who rarely see a politician.
“Unless we challenge the institutional basis of the Northern Territory and replace it with a system that provides people in the bush with better access to politicians, we’ll see urban bias get worse as Darwin grows, and the potential for the rest of the Territory to influence politics will be reduced.
“It may sound like a radical remedy, but I propose that the solution is to sunder the Territory.”

Contributed by Patrick Nelson, Regional Public Relations Officer, Charles Darwin University.



  1. An interesting proposal to ponder, Rolf. With 10 of the 25 electorates based in Darwin along with 3 in the Palmerston area (that’s over half), may the discussion continue. The population concentration in Darwin and Palmerston certainly gives them greater proportional representation.
    Any opportunity to explore alternative models that better reflect rural and remote influence is welcome.
    Best wishes for your presentation today.

  2. I am sure similiar problems exist in all states, an argument could be made for every state in the Commonwealth for fiscal equity.
    All state capitals have been established on or near the coast where rainfall and climate is more favourable, the chances of the powers that be changing the political system in the states is almost zero, about the same chance of this happening in the Territory.

  3. To paraphrase a former combatant in national politics, this is surely a conversation we have to have.
    Around the world, there is a crisis of government – legitimacy, accountability, and so on – and Australia is no exception.
    Good on you, Rolf, for bravely arguing for a new world.

  4. The Commonwealth may be agreeable to divide the NT into even more separately organized kingdoms as suggested by Professor Gerritsen.
    His proposal to partition Darwin off from the rest of the Northern Territory suits longer term partitioning of the NT into various separate fiefdoms, per Commonwealth’s Aboriginal Land Rights (NT).
    I doubt the NT achieving better fiscal equity is a priority to those involved.
    It appears more like ownership and control without accountability and responsibility.
    The Commonwealth is still working to partition NT into separate, self-governing, legal kingdoms, all done in accordance with various Commonwealth racist apartheid legislation guidelines.
    Elsewhere Amos Aikman recently wrote of lease difficulties to do with the case before Justice Stephen Southwood involving the Commonwealth’s ALR(NT) racially segregated and partitioned community at Santa Theresa, concerning issues around housing, rentals, repairs and leases – or lack of them, affecting tenants living there.
    This appears a repeat of Amoonguna housing issues covered earlier by the Alice Springs News, neither appear resolved.
    [Q: Did Commonwealth quietly provided required funds to repair the private corporate land-owner’s houses?]
    I admit wondering why they are suing the NT government, when the pot of gold for these is in Canberra, while in this case NT appears to act on behalf of, on instructions from, the Commonwealth, within limitations of Commonwealth’s racial segregationist policies set out in the ALR(NT), or flowing from same, makes this case more complicated than most property / tenancy cases.


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