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The Northern Myth

May 23, 2017

“Follow the money, bruss!” A short history of electoral funding in the NT

I'll be in Darwin next week for the first phase of my research, focussing on documentary research and getting a few interviews. Drop me a line and we can catch up ...

Late last year I applied to the wonderful people at the NT Archives for an NT History Grant for a project I somewhat facetiously gave the working title of “Follow the money, bruss!’: A short history of political fundraising in the Northern Territory 1978 to 2018.

Little did I know that shortly after I applied the (new) NT government would initiate an inquiry into election funding in the NT.

Then in early 2017 I received notice that I’d been successful …

As SBS reported in late November under the headline “NT govt to probe political donations“:

The Northern Territory Labor government will establish an inquiry into political donations to look at the “murky relationship” between the Country Liberals Party and an alleged slush fund. Chief Minister Michael Gunner brought forward a motion in parliament for the inquiry, which is expected to be completed within a year. It will examine the current disclosure system and whether there should be a cap on party campaign spending or public funding of candidates. It’ll also investigate all donations to political parties in the past 10 years, including the alleged CLP slush fund Foundation 51 and the Labor-affiliated Harold Nelson Holdings. Mr Gunner says electoral reform is crucial to restoring community trust in government after the CLP failed to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from Foundation 51 in the lead up to the 2012 election. “Deliberate and systemic breaches of the disclosure provisions are a direct attack on our Territory democracy,” he said. “The public has a right to know about the murky relationship between the CLP and Foundation 51 and their related financial arrangements.” Former CLP leader Terry Mills said Labor has also done bad things in the past and has been called out for it as well. “Pride comes before a fall,” he warned.

My grant application outlined the following proposed course of my research.

Synopsis and Outline

This project will examine the history of political fundraising from the commencement of Northern Territory self-government in 1978 (and perhaps briefly in the years prior) through to the present day. I believe that this area of NT politics has not previously been the subject of substantive research and that my project would make an important contribution to the history and conduct of political affairs in the NT.

As the section headings below indicate, while it is necessary to cast a wide net—some analysis of NT political and social history will be required—the primary focus will be the electoral fundraising efforts of the two major parties, the Country Liberal Party and the Australian Labor Party.

I have already–in the course of related research–collected a substantial amount of material on this topic generally and the history grant would provide me with funds to conduct interviews in Darwin and Alice Springs, conduct further documentary research (including at the NT Library, and NT Archives) and collate my research into a (hopefully) meaningful and relevant form.

Research methodology

1.    Collect and collate relevant documentary material, including newspaper articles, material from the NT Legislative Assembly Hansard, academic research, NT Archives, NT Electoral Commission and relevant third-party material;

2.    Establish a chronology of key political, legislative and public policy events and developments;

3.    Contact past and present NT politicians and others involved in the administration of political parties and related entities seeking contributions and comment;

4.    Conduct a brief media campaign (articles and possibly advertisements in newspapers etc) seeking broader comment from members of the public and others not identified in (3) above;

5.    Conduct a number of semi-structured interviews with key participants (relevant party-wing officers, elected members etc) in Darwin and Alice Springs;

6.    Write-up my research into draft form, identify any gaps or new lines of inquiry, finalise report for publication.

I anticipate that the project would consist of a considered examination of political fundraising in the NT – by both political parties and independents – over the past forty years. I have a working length of about 8,000 to 10,000 words.

I’ve lived in the NT since the mid-80s and for many years was an interested though distant observer of NT politics. Since 2006 I have written for the daily edition of Crikey.com.au and since 2008 have edited the Crikey blog The Northern Myth contributing upwards of 800 pieces to that site – many related to NT and national politics.

Primary research facilities – the NT Archives, the NT Public Library and political party offices etc – are located in Darwin and the effective conduct of my research will require attendance at those locations.

Proposed section/chapter headings

1.    Introduction – a brief history of politics in the NT

2.    The early years – 1978 to 1984 – Carpentaria Pty Ltd and beyond

3.    Chaos and change – the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties

4.    The “professional” era – the Stone Age and the rise of the ALP

5.    The CLP in the wilderness – 2001 to 2012

6.    The return of the CLP and the rise and fall of Foundation 51

7.    The future of electoral funding and political fundraising in the NT – discussion and conclusion

Appendixes

1.    Political parties in the NT

2.    Electoral law in the NT – an overview

3.    Electoral funding in the NT – a chronology of selected events

4.    References and bibliography

5.    Selected biographies

I’d like to thank my referees, Rolf Gerritsen, Professorial Research Fellow at the Northern Institute at Charles Darwin University based in Alice Springs; Syd Stirling, President of the Australian Labor Party and past member for Nhulunbuy, Deputy Chief Minister and more. Shane Stone, whom I’ve already caught up with in Alice Springs for an early morning chat over coffee and chuckles, was also gracious enough to provide a generous reference.

I’ll be in Darwin next week for the first phase of my research, focussing on documentary research and getting a few interviews.

If you want to catch up drop me a line at bgosford@gmail.com and we’ll see …

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Image from The New Daily: http://thenewdaily.com.au/money/finance-news/2016/12/14/end-of-100-note/

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