These are Introductory Remarks from the NT Governance Summit co-organisers Ken Parish and Danial Kelly, senior lecturers at the Charles Darwin University.

The conference program lists speakers and has links to the comprehensive background material usefully provided by the organisers.

I’ll be tweeting via @TheNorthernMyth and @bgosford during the course of the summit.

This Summit arose out of a conviction by convenors Ken Parish and Dr Danial Kelly that after almost 40 years of self-government it is time for thoughtful and systematic reflection by all Territorians about the Territory’s governance model and institutions.

The Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act, which is effectively the Territory’s constitution,  was enacted by the Federal Parliament in 1978 after fairly minimal consultation with Territorians themselves.

They gave us a model that is effectively the same as the governance structures of the 6 much larger states, with the notable omission of an Upper House or Legislative Council.  After almost 40 years of experience, we can draw some conclusions about how appropriate that model is for the Northern Territory.

The Territory may require a different model for the following reasons:

  • a tiny population of just 250,000 people spread sparsely over 20% of Australia’s land mass, although with the great majority living in Darwin and Alice Springs;
  • 1/3 of its population is Aboriginal people many of whom are living in remote and still fairly poorly serviced communities, and suffering in many cases from extreme poverty and disadvantage in all its manifestations;
  • a very narrow economy that is subject to a large boom-bust cycle;
  • a transient non-Aboriginal population, although less transient than it used to be, with a resulting lower level of interest in long-term issues than in the more established states with more stable populations.

Although the Territory has experienced two abortive attempts at achieving statehood, both driven by the politicians, we seem further away from statehood than ever. In fact among many Territorians the word “statehood” is a tired joke worthy only of cynicism and sneers. We don’t agree, but accept that it is likely to take quite a while yet to achieve.

The Summit will not be focused on the possibility of the NT achieving statehood.  We don’t need to be a state to work on improving the quality and structures of governance, although improving governance will itself enhance NT claims for statehood.  Similarly, this is not an economic summit, although we are proposing a session giving a platform for business, union interests and the like.

The political instability, division and in some cases poor ethical behaviour  that have been evident especially over the last 4 years but to an extent over the last decade indicate that there is a need for stronger governance safeguards ensuring greater levels of accountability and transparency from our politicians.

We want the Summit to focus strongly on identifying and discussing constructive governance reforms that may help to remedy some of those problems.  We don’t want the Summit to get bogged down in partisan point-scoring or squabbling, recriminations, muck-raking or rehashing the recent political controversies entertainingly recounted by Ben Smee and Christopher Walsh in their book Crocs in the Cabinet.  With that in mind our session moderators, each of whom is a seasoned media professional, will be ensuring that discussion stays on track, civil and mutually respectful.

Moderators will be addressing questions to the panellists after their short opening statements, as well as encouraging discussion between the panellists.  They will also be taking questions from the audience in the auditorium in Darwin and from Internet viewers throughout Australia and maybe elsewhere on Facebook Live where the Summit is being streamed live.

And so without further ado, let the conversation begin!