By MARK J SMITH
Can Territory Alliance (TA), led by former CLP Chief Minister Terry Mills, become a real third force or is it just another minority protest group that is destined to join the historical spicks and specks of political parties left far behind?
Mr Mills (at right) making himself heard in 2012.
And if people are voting for independents then what are they really getting?
A vote for TA might ensure that nobody can from a majority government, meaning that every major decision will have to be a deal. This will make decision making slow.
A glance at the initial TA policy statements reveals some general positions, but nothing specifically targeted at Central Australia. This may change in coming months.
TA aims to address youth crime so that by 2025 it is a small issue, not the biggest issue.
TA wants the Community Court to administer swift justice with total turn-around time measured in days. TA would like Victim Offender Conferencing to be instigated for every matter before the Community Court.
TA would like to see a restitution activity for every sentence. TA suggests offenders must, in some way make up for the offending behaviour by recompensing the victims or the community.
For example, offenders may pay with their own funds to repair damage caused by their offending or ordered to clean and restore any mess they have made.
Where appropriate, offenders may be ordered to complete stints at boot camps specifically set up to teach young offenders to comply with expected standards of behaviour.
In line with TA’s law and order focus, candidates include a former NT police detective and a law academic. To date pre-selections have been mostly in urban and Darwin based electorates held by Labor.
Given the initial focus on Darwin and Top End seats it should be asked what TA can offer to Central Australia.
Mr Mills on the hustings in August 2012 with Robyn Lambley (2nd from left) and reporters.
It could be argued that TA already has an ally in the Member for Araluen Robyn Lambley who served as Deputy Chief Minister under Mr Mills and has been supportive of the two attempted advances to take the formal opposition responsibility from the CLP.
The first was in February 2019, when Ms Lambley was part of a coalition with fellow Independent Yingiya Guyula. That effort came after Mr Mills and Ms Lambley failed to take Opposition in October 2018 through the creation of the North Australia Party.
TA have now announced five candidates for the 2020 election.
Sanderson, Casuarina and Johnston are entirely urban seats in Darwin. Drysdale is an urban electorate covering north-western Palmerston and the suburbs of Driver, Gray, Yarrawonga and most of Moulden.
The only regional seat with a TA candidate is Daly held by CLP leader Gary Higgins with a 2.1% margin.
Regina McCarthy, who ran as an independent in 2016 securing only 128 votes, will run for TA this time. She attended the local school at Daly River until Year 6 and has worked with the Nauiyu Nambiyu Community Government Council (Daly River) and Ironbark Aboriginal Corporation.
Amelia Nuku will stand for TA in Sanderson, covering Darwin suburbs of Anula, Marrara, Wulagi and part of Malak.
She will take on Labor’s Kate Worden who gained more than 60% of the vote in 2016 on a swing of over 13%.
Ms Worden has a background in local government as an Alderman on the City of Darwin Council and worked in the public service at the NT Department of Housing overseeing complaints and compliance.
Ms Nuku has made an initial focus on Vocational, Education and Training (VET). In the statement announcing her candidacy she says the further education system “needs strengthening to ensure VET investment supports our local workforce and businesses.
“I want to do more within the business sector with investment in employment programs and incentivising employers. I also want to provide independent oversight for all VET investment and expenditure.”
Ms Lambley, Mr Mills and Matt Conlan.
She also said: “A Territory Alliance government will ensure VET investment is industry driven and will ensure transparency, fairness and accountability.”
This indicates that TA is aiming to win majority government. A bold ambition.
NT Police detective Sergeant Andrew Bedwell is standing in Drysdale won by Labor in 2016 on the back of a CLP primary vote drop of over 20% by Eva Lawler.
She became only the second Labor member ever to win the seat and since June 2018 has been Minister for Environment and Natural Resources and Minister for Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics.
Mr Bedwell has over 17 years of experience working in remote WA and NT locations as part of police operations targeting criminal drug networks and major crimes. Mr Bedwell has indicated he wants to reconnect at the grassroots community level.
“There are authentic and trusted leaders already working tirelessly within the community who are not being listened to or respected by government,” he says.
“They know the issues affecting their part of the world and more importantly, they generally know what is required to address them. These people are not interested in party politics or bureaucratic methods.”
Charles Darwin University (CDU) law lecturer and TA party secretary Dr Danial Kelly is standing for the seat of Casuarina, an entirely urban electorate based on Darwin currently held by Minister for Corporate and Information Services, Tourism and Culture, Lauren Moss for Labor since 2014, the youngest ever member of the NT Parliament.
A resident of Nakara for most of the last 20 years Dr Kelly has been a lecturer at CDU for the past decade and specialises in intercultural law and education with a focus on Indonesia and Australian Indigenous matters.
Dr Kelly is concerned about the need to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new CDU campus in Darwin city.
The Commonwealth has granted $97m and loaned another $150m via the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. That’s almost $250m. He is worried about what will become of the huge campus left empty at Casuarina and the impact on local jobs and businesses.
Steven Klose will contest the Johnston by-election against former Richmond footballer Joel Bowden for Labor and musician Josh Thomas for the CLP.
Mr Klose runs a building and design business and also has previous experience at the NT Electoral Commission and as a political advisor. The by-election will provide the first public indication of the extent of support that exists for TA.
But how competitive will TA be in these seats?
In August TA might achieve a strong Territory wide vote, but can that translate into winning individual seats?
This was the challenge for the high-profile Nick Xenophon’s SA Best party at the 2018 South Australian election, where his party received 148,360 votes, just over 14% of the state-wide primary vote, but failed to win any lower house seats in the Parliament.
SA Best had been considered some chance of holding the balance of power in the lead up to that election and strong on-the ground support was enough to convince Mr Xenophon to give up his seat in the Senate, ending his Federal political career.
Mr Mills at a Desert Mob exhibition with Philip Watkins, Desart CEO.
He is survived by two SA Best members in the Upper House and is arguably a much softer political force now.
Mr Mills is trying to position himself as the opposition leader in exile. He has drawn enough encouragement from his return as an independent in 2016 to kick-start a new party trying to capture those voters disillusioned with both major parties.
At the 2016 election independents secured 18,511 territory-wide votes or 18.8% of the vote translating into five seats. TA is banking on this sentiment to grow and approach the CLP total of 31,263 votes, which only delivered two seats.
If majority government is the target for TA then 62 year-old Mr Mills must first be re-elected in his seat of Blain.
In a statement on the party website he says: “It is time for a revolution in Territory politics that is squarely focused on good governance. Our focus is on serving well by solving problems rather than playing politics.”
How to pay for new policies and programs often isn’t a problem for minor parties. They never have to put together a budget. The NT budget is a key issue as the treasury drowns in debt, burning money on interest payments every day.
If TA wants to be considered as a major party then it might start being treated like one. People should genuinely be asking, how would a TA majority government pay for new projects and programs it announces with a clear allocation of new and existing budget allocation.
Voters might recall Mr Mills in 2011 offering support for an audit of the Northern Territory finances, saying that an audit will be the start of a new era of transparency in government expenditure. He reneged on this after the 2012 election.
Mr Mills has name recognition and a profile, but that profile is linked to the divisions at the heart of the rifts that divided the CLP Governments of 2012-16.
If TA is to shift from a single profile party it will need to demonstrate that they are a real alternative not just Terry Mills, former CLP Chief Minister 2.0 having another go.
Mr Mills describes this “new approach to politics” as being, “locally relevant and nationally significant”.
He proposes “a new approach focused on problem-solving to benefit the people rather than an exercise designed around a contest to win an election for the primary benefit of a political party”.
This sounds like a sensible approach, but can it work in practice? This new model encourages pragmatism over ideology.
“Instead it would favour collaboration by creating space for elected representatives to work together awake to the reality they have authority conferred upon them directly from the electorate first; ahead of any party, ideology or exclusive agenda,” Mr Mills says.
“Without a new approach we are condemned to approaching problems the same way and vainly expecting different results.”
Channeling Prime Minister Scott Morrison Mr Mills says: “I have faith in the quiet Territorians who are yearning for something different and real. I remain convinced that we can do politics better here by turning the process towards Territorians and away for the conventional approach we have endured for a couple of decades.”
As his leadership survived barley seven months from the 2012 election victory, voters were denied any right to their verdict on his leadership and his government, a bit like Kevin Rudd’s dismissal as Prime Minister in 2010, Tony Abbott’s fall before 2016 and Malcolm Turnbull’s demise in 2018 ahead of the 2019 poll.
2020 might offer voters the chance for that verdict.
[Mark J Smith was formerly a political and policy adviser to the Government of South Australia.]
By MARK J SMITH