GBM Greg Dowd, IEO Joseph Thomas & Olga Havnen at Wadeye

Yesterday morning Northern Territory Indigenous Advancement Minister Alison Anderson sacked Olga Havnen, the NT’s Coordinator General for Remote Services and abolished the office in support of the job that she had created three years ago.

That Anderson would sack Havnen was foreshadowed a week ago in this report in the Alice Springs News blog that reported Anderson’s views on the on-going security of Havnen’s Office and related government programs:

She is not sure now if she will maintain it. Nor will she make a commitment yet on the prominent policy initiative of her Labor Ministry, Working Future and the associated Growth Towns.

Anderson has sent mixed messages on why Havnen was sacked and her office closed. In a press release she said  that the Office of Coordinator-General for Remote Services had been “shelved” and that the responsibilities of the independent Office would now be performed by the CEO of her Department.

Later she was more succinct, telling ABC Radio that the Office had been axed to save costs.

Three and a half years ago – in a florid opinion piece in The Australian, Anderson described the crisis in NT service delivery and what her recently appointed Coordinator General for Remote Services, Bob Beadman, would do about it:

Transparency, fairness and certainty always underpin the successful delivery of local services. At present our remote towns and communities are hamstrung by a multitude of short-term funding arrangements and associated red tape.This makes proper planning near impossible and sees too much money wasted before it hits the ground. We have appointed a territory co-ordinator-general of remote service delivery – working with the federal Government and leading a team of people based throughout the territory – to ensure that resources reach the people and services are provided with long-term certainty.

To me, it seems like Anderson’s sacking of Havnen will be seen as another example of her poor political judgement. At her rare best Anderson can be a devastatingly effective politician, but for mine at her worst she is little more than a loose cannon on the decks of power, blinded by hubris and self-importance.

As I noted here a fortnight ago, the previous NT Labor government had – rightfully in my view – effectively ignored the four reports by Havnen’s predecessor Bob Beadman.

Havnen had one more year of her contract to run and Anderson and the new CLP government could have treated Havnen and her report with that same as Labor did Beadman disdain at minimal political cost. After all, Havnen’s office – as she noted to some dismay in her Report – had little in the way of persuasive powers over NT government departments and Anderson could have just allowed Havnen’s Office to wither on the vine.

Instead Anderson may have drawn unnecessary attention to herself and Havnen’s report and given every indication that Havnen’s report contains more substance than it may do.

Yesterday Nigel Adlam in the local NT News picked up on the tensions between Anderson and Havnen, which one wag characterised as being like two strong hens in a hen-house big enough only for one:

… the NT News has been told that her detailed recommendations on how to solve the crisis irritated Ms Anderson. “The Minister thought it should have been left to her to say what should be done,” an informed source said. “She didn’t like having the limelight taken away by a public servant.”

For mine another example of Anderson’s poor judgement is the stoush she has picked with the Federal Minister most important to the NT’s future – and purse-strings – Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin.

Two weeks ago Anderson told The Australian’s Amos Aikman that:

 “Jenny Macklin talks as though she’s closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, but she’s in ‘La La Land‘ if she thinks that’s the case,” she said. “She’s naive. She’s not being informed properly, because the gap is widening. She hasn’t got her finger on the pulse …

It didn’t get much better a week later, when Kieran Finnane of the Alice Springs News blog asked Anderson whether she should perhaps be more diplomatic in her comments about Jenny Macklin. Anderson responded:

“I can only be diplomatic to people I know [who] have been around and seen things. I don’t think she has. I think she’s getting really poor advice from her people and she needs to start coming out and seeing the real world.”

For Macklin these comments would be akin to being taught how to suck eggs.

For mine the best comment on Anderson’s judgement comes from the Canberra-based Endeavour Consulting Group, which each month issues a summary of political analysis across Federal and State governments. Crikey has seen their latest and of the CLP’s and Anderson’s approach to Federal – State relationships it notes that:

The collision between campaign rhetoric and political reality is already occurring with aggressive demands from former Labor MP and now CLP Minister for Indigenous Advancement, Alison Anderson, for additional funding from the Commonwealth for indigenous programs and more power sharing in delivering existing programs. While there is obviously a strong argument for sorting out the shambles of Commonwealth service delivery at the local level, it is a very safe bet that the Commonwealth will not be providing any funding additional to the billions already spent or appropriated for the NT. Ms Anderson seems to think that the Commonwealth Minister will respond to political abuse, backed up by pressure from News Limited’s Australian. She is wasting her time on that; more significantly she is unlikely even to secure any traction on new spending from her Coalition colleagues in Canberra.

The hottest tickets in Darwin and Alice Springs later this week will be to the public community briefings by Olga Havnen on her report – and more. If the CLP government thought that they could silence Havnen by sacking her on Monday and that this would stop her running public forums on her work later in the week then they have underestimated her resolve and commitment.

Havnen will present her “Community Briefings on Remote Service Delivery and Closing the Gap” on Thursday 11th October at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Mitchell Street, Darwin between 12.00-2.00pm and at the same pub in Alice Springs the next day.

Both should be fascinating events. Crikey will have our eyes peeled for representatives from both the Federal and Territory governments.

They’ll be easy to spot – their ears will be burning …

I had a long conversation with Olga Havnen yesterday and will present the best of that here soon.