This is the full transcript of an interview given by the retiring Member for Namatjira in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, Alison Anderson to Rohan Barwick of ABC Local Radio in Alice Springs yesterday, 3 August 2016. She has been a member of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly since 2005, representing the electorates of MacDonnell from 2005 to 2012–which was later reconstituted as Namatjira–from 2012 to date. Alison Anderson has served as a minister for both the Australian Labor Party and Country Liberal Party and been territory leader of the Palmer United Party.
You can read more about Alison Anderson at the links to some of the many pieces here at the Northern Myth in which she has featured below. Perhaps more than any other NT politician in recent times, Alison Anderson has been fiercely loyal to her constituents, has steered her own path through the turbulent seas of NT politics and was always–and remains–a political force of nature that only a fool would underestimate or ignore. She will be missed.
Alison Anderson: Yes Rohan, its been a real pleasure for me to represent central Australia and the seats of, first of all MacDonnell and now Namatjira. I’m talking to you because I think I’ve come to a new chapter in my life where I’m closing the doors to politics and hanging up my spurs – as they say – and moving on with my life. I feel that I’ve done my time. I’ve always said that I would be a three-termer. I don’t think that a person should be in politics or Parliament forever just because they can. I think it is about contribution. Yeah …
Rohan Barwick: When did you make this decision?
AA: I made this decision … maybe a couple of weeks ago.
RB: And what were the factors in play in making this decision?
AA: Like I said, I think I’ve always said that I was always going to be a three-termer and there’s other things in people’s lives and I’m going to get on with my life and have a personal life now and share the beautiful future with Nicolas [partner Nicolas Rothwell] and yeah …
RB: Let me ask you just a few questions about your time in politics. You’ve jumped from party to party—more than any other politician possibly in Australian history. Why haven’t you been able to stay in one place?
AA: I don’t think I’ve jumped at all Rohan. I think it is the parties moving around … not being loyal to my people. I’ve stayed constantly in the same place. Any party that I’ve joined has moved away from protecting or being honest to my people.
RB: Alison Anderson its probably fair to say that you’ve made some enemies in your years, you’ve slammed [former Labor Chief Minister] Paul Henderson in the past, you’ve fought with Delia Lawrie, you called [current NT Chief Minister] Adam Giles a “little boy”, you’ve said that Tony Abbott was not the Prime Minister for indigenous Australians … do you admit that you’ve over-stepped the line at times?
AA: Oh look, absolutely not. I remain … whether things that I’ve said about people and Adam Giles is still a “little boy.”
RB: So would you say or do anything differently if you had your time again when it comes to those people I’ve mentioned or others?
AA: Absolutely not, absolutely not Rohan. I think that what’s happened, like I’ve explained to you, is [that] I’ve not moved from my position. I’m representing my constituents and my people. It’s the parties that have moved from their position of endorsing me. You know, they’ve moved away from protecting my people and the promises that they’ve made to my people. If you have a look at SIHIP [Federal government indigenous housing program], I’ve been vindicated in the whole walk-out of the Labor Party on SIHIP and I will do it again.
RB: Marion Scrymgour [former NT Labor Deputy Chief Minister], a former colleague of yours said that you are wily and smart, but that you treated politics like your plaything, like a shiny toy, and there’ll be others that share that view. What do you make of that?
AA: Oh look Rohan, I don’t really care about what other people think. They’re not the people that represent my people in central Australia and that’s why I’m giving this interview to you and you only. I grew up in the town of Alice Springs and lived all my life in central Australia and I think I owe it to central Australia to make my departure … in Alice Springs … and to you.
RB: Do you believe that your electorate of Namatjira, as it is now, is better or worse off than when you became a member in 2005?
AA: I think they’ve got little bits and piece of some things but they’ve been punished along with me. So every time I walked out of a party – whether it’s the Labor Party or the conservative party – communities in my electorate were punished because of me. So it’s not service delivery based on need, its service delivery based on who represents you.
RB: So surely, if that’s the case you should’ve stayed … with the one party? If you are saying that you’re electorate has been punished each time you left.
AA: Well, they shouldn’t punish your electorate because of an individual person. They should be delivering the services based on need.
RB: But if you’re representing those people and you are saying they’ve been punished each time you left a party, then surely it would have been in the interests of your electors for you to stay in the one party and to work with that one party to get better outcomes for Namatjira.
AA: Absolutely not Rohan, I think you are absolutely wrong here. Like I said – SIHIP – I was vindicated on SIHIP. If you’ve got huge amounts of money given to you by the Federal government and you’re misusing it, they are continuing to misuse it – if you have a look at Barry Hansen’s report. It continues to say that indigenous money is being diverted into the northern suburbs of Darwin. And we are going to continue to see the misfortunes of Aboriginal children, the misfortunes of Aboriginal people, the lack of service delivery if the Commonwealth doesn’t step in and start tieing that money. And Aboriginal people have been talking about tieing the money that comes from the Commonwealth to the Northern Territory government for decades.
RB: Could you have done more in your time for Namatjira?
AA: Oh look, I’ve always said that I’ll be a three-termer and like I said Rohan it is time to close that chapter in my life and move with my life …
RB: No, but in terms … I guess I’m talking in terms of better education outcomes, better health outcomes and better infrastructure outcomes for those living in Namatjira?
AA: Not one individual person … nor me … am I responsible for better quality of education or better infrastructure. Its up to governments to deliver that service where necessary. And I don’t think one individual person should be blamed regardless of who it is.
RB: As you reach the end of your political career, it looks as though you are going to be facing questions in the future about your time in office and I’m speaking specifically in relation to the allegations of abuse that happened within Don Dale that were featured on Four Corners. Now all of these events happened while you were in office, either in government or as an independent. How much did you know about what was going on?
AA: Rohan, I don’t think I’m … I was never the justice minister, I was the child protection minister and if you have a look at the self-referrals powers that the Children’s Commissioner’s got, they got them through me when I was the child protection minister. That is what allowed the Children’s Commissioner to go out and investigate on its own without the government. So I’m very, very proud of that legislation. I was the one that gave the Children’s Commissioner the power to do that and I can’t say anymore than what I’m saying to you now because if I am going to go as any form of witness then I think I need to leave that up to the Royal Commission.
RB: And do you support the Royal Commission, because as you mention there, there is surely a likelihood you will be called to give evidence?
AA: I think there will be lots of people that will be called to give evidence, Rohan. I think, from all walks of life, from both sides of the political arena, and certainly we can’t say much now that the Royal Commission is in place.
RB: You voted against things we saw like the chair, that we saw the footage of on Four Corners, but how much did you know about the incidents of the tear-gassing and also other incidents of mistreatment in 2010?
AA: I think it is only common courtesy Rohan that I don’t answer any of those questions. There is a Royal Commission that is in place and if I’m going to be called as a witness then all that evidence will be given at the Royal Commission. RB: That is true, but I guess that I’m curious as to whether there is more information that you knew what was going on, that you believed perhaps that more could have been done from your perspective or from the government perspective to ensure that those juveniles were looked after in Don Dale?
AA: I think you are going to have to wait until I give the answers to the Royal Commission. I think it is very, very inappropriate.
RB: On the Royal Commission – do you support the commissioners, particularly Mick Gooda?
AA: Oh, look Rohan, I’m not going to answer any of those questions. Like I said the Royal Commission is in train now and like I said, I’ll answer all the questions if I get called to the Royal Commission.
RB: Surely you can give an opinion on whether you think that Mick Gooda is a good co-chair?
AA: Look, I think that Mickey Gooda is a good human being. He’s a good bloke.
RB: So you support him in that role?
AA: Like I said, Mick Gooda is a good human being and he is a good bloke … I worked with him in ATSIC and he’s a fantastic person.
RB: As you look back over your years representing Namatjira, what do you hope your legacy is … when the history books of NT politics are written and there is the chapter about Alison Anderson. What do you want to have be seen to have achieved?
AA: My legacy with my people Rohan is that, you know, how many funerals I went to, the respect I paid to my law and culture, the respect that I paid to people coming inside my office and if a person was in need of, say getting a ride back to their community I said, “No worries, I’ll take you back out there.” It doesn’t have to be the Taj Mahal. It is all the little things that count. Thank you again Rohan, thank you.
RB: Looking at the [NT] election in just a couple of weeks, why hold off until this point, when we are really just a couple of weeks away to announce this news today?
AA: It is my prerogative I think to decide what I was going to do and that’s why I’ve given you the story to say to the people of Alice Springs and particularly to my constituents that my time is up. We have to have faith in the future with young people like Chansey [Paech, Labor candidate for Namatjira]. The future is theirs. Our time has to come to an end at some stage at some stage and young people have to take over. I think that politically … politicians need to understand that the future is not necessarily for a sixty or seventy-year old person to keep having input into legislation. It’s about young kids. The future is theirs and you have to have faith and trust in them.
RB: It looks like you’ve anointed Labor’s Chansey Paech to take over from you in Namatjira … I guess that if the photos from your Facebook page are anything to go by. Is that the case?
AA: Look, Chansey’s an absolutely wonderful human being and he’s going to be a strong advocate for Namatjira and … the same with Scotty [McConnell, Labor candidate] in Stuart – they are two very, very tough candidates and they are good human beings and yes, I support both of them.
RB: So you are essentially endorsing both of the Labor candidates for both of those seats?
RB: tell me, what do you plan on doing next? You say that the political chapter is closed. No chance of a political resurrection … coming back to … a different seat or more time in Northern Territory politics?
AA: No, no, no, absolutely not. Its finished … and this interview is finished too Rohan. Thank you.
RB: OK. This is retirement for you?
RB: Alison Anderson I appreciate your time.
AA: Thank you Rohan. Bye.
Photo: NT Labor candidate Chansey Paech, Alison Anderson MLA and Alice Springs Mayor Damien Ryan
The Northern Myth, June 2009: Apology to Alison Anderson
The Northern Myth, November 2010: Alison Anderson’s ‘greatest gift’ to NT: a citizen’s right of reply
The Northern Myth, March 2013: On “boys”, “little boys” and the politics of intra-racial discrimination in the Northern Territory
The Northern Myth, September 2013: The day Alison ‘King Brown’ Anderson got bit.
The Northern Myth, April 2014: The “Typhoid Mary” of NT politics and the Blain by-election
The Northern Myth, May 2014: Alison Anderson, John Elferink and the second person accusative