NATIONAL: The Northern Territory election last month is the most historic in our nation, for one simple reason: it’s the first time Aboriginal people have ever changed a government in Australia. Tracker writer BRIAN JOHNSTONE analyses an electoral result that changes everything.
Saturday, August 25. 2012. It was the day the Northern Territory’s political landscape was turned on its head.
It was the day Aboriginal voters in squalid impoverished communities in the remote dustbowls of Central Australia and the swamp lands of Arnhem Land handed Government to a backwater Country Party.
A party which had previously held power for an unchallenged 26 years of ceaseless black bashing and race-based campaigns, while Aboriginal communities were left to fester in poverty. It’s a fractured party which had spent the past 11 years in the political wilderness.
In doing so, those voters consigned the minority Henderson Labor Government to electoral oblivion.
It is the first time in Australia’s electoral history Aboriginal voters have determined the outcome of a general election in any state or territory.
The shock result is all the more astonishing, particularly to southern political commentators and observers, when you consider government changed hands on the back of just over two thousand primary votes across five bush electorates in the 25-seat parliament.
It will be the first time in NT electoral history the Country Liberal Party has governed the smallest polity and parliament in the country with a swag of mostly freshly-minted Aboriginal MP’s.
It will also be the first time since 1978 the Australian Labor Party will be represented, in opposition or government, without a significant Aboriginal presence on the floor of the sole chamber of NT parliament, the Legislative Assembly.
For the first time ever the Tories have claimed a mandate to talk on behalf of the Territory’s first peoples in government, instead of seeking power by bashing, marginalising and ignoring them.
The election result defied the predictions of all but a handful of pundits. The bookies and the smart money, as usual, got it dead right. There was a general expectation the Henderson Government had done enough to win the ALP a fourth term in government after 11 years in power.
All previous NT elections have been a tale of two campaigns; firmly divided between the bush and the ‘burbs.
All have been won or lost in Darwin’s northern suburbs.
The Country Liberal Party, since the granting of self-government in the late 1970’s, have chased and secured the white town vote; the Australian Labor Party has held a political mortgage on the black bush vote.
The town vote kept the CLP in power, and the Territory as a one party state, for more than a quarter of a century up until 2001 when Clare Martin became the Territory’s first Labor Chief Minister.
This campaign was different.
For the first time a well-planned, resourced and executed CLP bush campaign won the day. Claims are beginning to surface of dirty tricks. Time will tell, of course. But in any event the CLP delivered it government by decimating Labor’s bush vote.
The CLP, for the first time ever, pre-selected strong Aboriginal candidates against sitting Aboriginal Labor members.
Election night casualties included three high profile Aboriginal ministers.
The shock and awe in Labor campaign HQ on election night can be fully appreciated when you consider the history of the seats that tumbled to the Tories, the tiny remote and pastoral electorates of Arnhem, Arafura, Stuart, Daly and Namatjira (formerly MacDonnell).