By ALEX NELSON
Senator Nigel Scullion wasn’t the first political figure in the NT to almost trip up on British citizenship.
Although now long forgotten, 30 years ago a foreign nationality oversight triggered a bitterly fought by-election campaign for the seat of Barkly.
The Northern Territory went to the polls on March 7, 1987.
It was a hard fought campaign as the incumbent CLP had to compete not only with the Labor Opposition but also against the rebel conservative party, the NT Nationals, led by the deeply embittered Member for Barkly, former Chief Minister Ian Tuxworth.
The CLP, bruised and battered, managed to win the campaign; and Tuxworth was the only successful NT Nationals candidate.
He won by a narrow margin of just 19 votes ahead of independent candidate Maggie Hickey after the distribution of preferences from Labor’s Keith Hallet and the CLP’s Gary Smith.
Maggie Hickey was a former branch member of the ALP who rose to prominence in 1986 leading the fight against the proposal for a national toxic waste incinerator located near Tennant Creek – an idea promoted by Tuxworth when he was still a CLP member.
So what’s all this got to do with foreign citizenship?
Maggie Hickey challenged the validity of the election result in Barkly when she revealed that the Labor candidate Keith Hallet was a British citizen, and not Australian.
Hickey appealed to the Election Tribunal; and on July 30, 1987 was vindicated when Justice John Nader ruled that the election result in Barkly was void due to Keith Hallet’s British citizenship.
Although Hallet had lost, Justice Nader pointed out the votes he had received could have affected the election outcome in such a tight result.
Now here’s a twist – Keith Hallet had also been the Labor candidate for Barkly in the NT elections of December 3, 1983. Was he ineligible to stand for election on that earlier occasion?
Possibly not – at the time he was a British subject in common with Australian citizens, too.
National citizenship laws were changed the next year, removing the status of British subject from Australian citizenship.
It’s a moot point too, as there were only two candidates for Barkly in 1983, and Tuxworth (a senior CLP minister) won an absolute majority of votes.
However, it’s interesting to speculate what might have happened if Hallet had been victorious in 1983 and then was discovered to be a British citizen only, after the law changed in 1984.
Most likely a by-election would have been required for Barkly. As it happened, that’s exactly what occurred in 1987.
Barkly voters returned to the polls in a by-election on September 5 after a fiercely contested campaign between Tuxworth, Maggie Hickey (now the endorsed Labor candidate), the CLP’s Malcolm Holt, and independent Kevin Conway.
Tuxworth won comfortably this time with the aid of preferences against Maggie Hickey but it was to prove his final election victory in a long political career.
CARTOON by Butch Peverill, Centralian Advocate September 11, 1987.
By ALEX NELSON