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The Northern Myth

Feb 24, 2017

The Northern Territory is the most corrupt jurisdiction in Australia. Discuss.

My punch-bowl moment at yesterday's first day of the NT governance summit—that the NT is the most corrupt jurisdiction in the country—drew a few audible groans and mutters of protest from the good-and-locally-great and protests that, well, Queensland, Joh and Eddie Obeid. Yeah, well, they would say that.

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Well, that was the turd that I dropped into the first day of the NT Governance Summit punchbowl at the Charles Darwin University Law faculty’s waterfront campus yesterday.

It was a long day that kicked off at 8.30AM with Curtis Roman’s funny welcome-to-Larrakia-country-that-wasn’t and they were still gas-bagging when I scuttled off for a beer with mates at 6.30PM.

The pre-morning tea sessions focussed on personal perspectives on 39 years of NT self-government and—apart from a few dissident ratbags like myself, Jon Altman, Darwin-based accountant Barry Hansen and Charles Darwin Uni professor Rolf Gerritsen—consisted of ex-politicians looking backwards at their glory days.

Rose-coloured glasses must have sold out in D-town in the days leading up to the summit because there was a lot of mutual back-slapping and reflective musing on really important subjects like the economy, the railway, the Aboriginal Problem—how-we-tried-our-best-but-failed-but-it-wasn’t-my-fault and why everybody down south hates us/doesn’t understand us/can’t-get-with-the-NT-program.

Oh, and that the NT should be a full-blown state with control over Aboriginal land and with a full contingent of twelve senators. Groans aplenty at that one.

You get the drift. My punch-bowl moment—that the NT is the most corrupt jurisdiction in the country—also drew a few audible groans and mutters of protest from the good-and-locally-great and protests that, well Queensland, Joh and Eddie Obeid.

My point here was that the soon-coming-and-long-overdue-and-patched-together NT ICAC-lite may only partially address the endemic localised culture of small scale, lower case “c” corruption that pervades NT administrations at all levels—from Aboriginal organisations, business large and small and dealings at all three levels of government. Concentrating on capital “C” big-fish corruption—parliamentarians, political parties and state administration—misses what may well be the main game of substantial under-the-radar corruption on a local scale.

I made a few points about the failure of both major parties to take on the entrenched organised labour—public sector unions like the NT Police Association and the CPSU are sacred cows for the Labor Party and barely touched—though whinged about without measure—by the Country Liberals when they are in power. Piss off a couple of hundred public servants in a Darwin north suburban electorate and you can kiss goodbye to your chances of re-election.

The pre-lunch session on Aboriginal Territorians and self-government suffered for quality and numbers due to a scheduling problem—which will also affect today’s session on the relationships between the NT government and the “fifth estate” in NT politics—the two Aboriginal big land councils and heavy hitting blackfellas were at a constitutional recognition gabfest out of town (well, the satellite city of Palmerston).

But Member for Arnhem Selena Uibo—for mine the rising star in local politics that I’ll tip now as the first black woman Chief Minister of the NT (if she doesn’t get snaffled by Federal Labor first)—did turn up and made a very useful contribution that cut through a somewhat confused discussion.

I skived off to the NT Public Library for a couple of hours to do some research on three long-term projects on early developments around the time of NT self-government—the use of the NT as a destination and base for drug-trafficking and cannabis cultivation from the 1970s and beyond; the role of the precursor to the CLP’s now defunct slush fund Foundation 51  and the as yet untold story of the NT as a stamp duty tax haven from the early 1970s through to the mid-1980s.

I made it back to the waterfront for what for me was the highlight of the day, a very good post-lunch panel on the media’s view of self-government with the ABC’s Julia Christensen and Alyssa Betts, Matt Cunningham from Sky News, Amos Aikman from The Oz and Christopher Walsh from the NT News.

Following a number of very funny and droll observations (and some not-so-funny) from the panel on life as a working stiff in the NT’s media circus I threw the “c” word out again for discussion. There followed a useful discussion about the utility—or lack thereof—of the NT’s FoI legislation, the difficulties of chasing local corruption when the legion of  government spinners cut across access through delay and obfuscation and the long-standing problems with politicisation of the local public service.

Matt Cunningham from Sky (an ex-NT News journo and editor) made the valid point that the NT News, a small regional daily with ever-shrinking resources and budgets punches well above its weight, particularly in political writing and, through solid journalists like Craig Dunlop, in the coverage of the ever fascinating underbelly of the NT criminal milieu.

The final session on “growth, development and jobs” had a bunch of local property and land developers and was dull beyond my patience. I made a run for the door after asking a question about infrastructure, the growing and apparently unserviced or recognised needs for effective planning and infrastructure in the bush, i.e. in Aboriginal communities, and just how the panel members might assist in addressing these urgent needs.

The response was underwhelming. And I forgot to ask the very pertinent question as to whether NT property developers should, as in New South Wales, be barred from making political donations.

I’ll be off for day two after a shower and breakfast at my favourite cafe–a shoutout to Patty & Phoebe!– The Roma Bar. Between a trip back to the NT Supreme Court and Public Libraries for more digging in the micro-films archives of the NT News I’ll be interested in the morning session on electoral reform and the afternoon sessions on broader governance issues.

You can see the live feed of the summit (and hopefully yesterday’s sessions) at the NT Governance Summit’s FB page here and follow the action on Twitter at the #ntgovsummit tag. The summit’s web page has no end of useful resources for the interested.

Oh, and the wonderful image at the top is from fellow curmudgeon and renowned artist Chips Mackinolty from 1998.

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One thought on “The Northern Territory is the most corrupt jurisdiction in Australia. Discuss.

  1. Geoff Powell

    “Piss off a couple of hundred public servants in a Darwin north suburban electorate and you can kiss goodbye to your chances of re-election.” The joys of single-member electorates. Minorities calling the shots.

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