NT Election: Mediocrity, Cynicism, Hypocrisy The Only Winners

THE LANDSLIDE recorded by the ALP at yesterday’s Northern Territory election should be a cause for despair for anyone interested in sound governance in Australia; on the one hand, a fractious conservative administration with a penchant for self-immolation has been ejected from office with the force of a missile, whilst a Labor Party responsible for shocking miscarriages of justice has been restored. There is nothing to celebrate here.

I wasn’t going to even bother commenting on the circus that is NT politics, but lest ALP triumphalism spiral out of control, a few passing comments are probably warranted.

They say things are done differently in the NT, but as I see it, politics there are following the same cynical trajectory as is being pursued elsewhere in the country: and the same disastrous consequences — not least, the continued disenfranchisement of increasingly jaded voters — are likely to ensue.

Just as this column declined to publish so much as a congratulatory syllable after the Coalition “victory” at the 2 July double dissolution, we similarly see little reason to do so in relation to Territory Labor today; the ALP may indeed have prevailed in elections for what passes as the Territorian equivalent of a state government, but the circumstances in which it has done so are tasteless in the extreme.

In the blue corner sits the Country Liberal Party: racked by divisions and the competing agendas of misplaced egos, elected four years ago and ravaged by leadership ructions ever since, the CLP has paid a predictable price for self-indulgence, petty bickering, and the utter political ineptitude that now seems to permanently infect conservative administrations comprised of MPs determined on factional grounds rather than merit, and aided and abetted by advisers who in the main are bereft of a skerrick of political judgement, strategic or tactical nous, or the ability to convincingly sell ideas or policies to an electorate that expects better of its parliamentary representatives.

In the red corner sits a Labor Party which, like its interstate and federal counterparts, boasts precisely nothing to recommend it: a classic illustration of the adage about oppositions not winning elections and governments losing them, the new ALP Chief Minister — the aptly named Michael Gunner — may come to rue the fact his election triumph was sealed in a controversy over prison abuses that were perpetrated on his own party’s watch in office several years ago.

The defeat of the CLP — never in any doubt — was almost certainly amplified by some appallingly partisan “investigative” journalism by the ABC, which saw its way clear to run an explosive expose about the torture of young offenders in the NT and other outrages on its Four Corners programme just as the NT election approached: never mind the fact these excesses occurred during the last administration Labor formed, and never mind observing quaint notions of impartiality like declining to broadcast such material during an election campaign; the result of the Four Corners production was to ensure the fallout hit the CLP with laser-like precision, as intended. The kneejerk reaction of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in announcing a Royal Commission into the affair, made it a certainty.

Territory politics are notoriously volatile, and — since the end of almost 30 unbroken years of CLP rule — have been a template for instability. The projected 18 of 25 seats Labor is expected to finish with will guarantee it one term only, and whilst a further term must be considered likely, such is the nature of the beast that the resurrection of the CLP after a single term, whilst difficult to foresee today, cannot be ruled out.

But in this sense, the NT is merely following the pattern of politics that is starting to become entrenched everywhere else in Australia these days.

We have arrived at the point at which the ALP and, by extension, a broad coalition of like interests — the unions, the Communist Party Greens, the teachers, the churches and the welfare lobby, among others — simply refuse to acknowledge or accept the election of conservative governments and, whenever such a government holds office, the singular priority of these groups is to destroy it.

Aside from extending the reach of unions and kowtowing to the faceless thugs who run them, the Labor governments subsequently formed either achieve nothing or (as in the case of the Andrews government in Victoria) cause massive economic and social division, as inept MPs propelled by self-interest and greed for power prove spectacularly unsuited to the task to which they have been elected.

This is also a theme that will continue to play out across Australia in the years to come.

I’m not interested in the welfare or good fortune of the parties of the Left and their fellow travellers; even so, the ascent of the ALP in a minor regional assembly merely underlines even further the challenges faced by parties of the Right and their seeming inability to grasp them, let alone resolve them.

An abjectly pathetic approach to electoral politics, in which the hierarchy of the Liberal Party is run as a clubhouse rather than a bona fide war machine, means the actual business of winning elections and prosecuting arguments is relegated to an afterthought as alliances and crony cohorts are elevated above ensuring the best possible people are installed to engineer the triumph of right-of-centre policies and the sustained success that increasingly eludes it.

In the process, Labor becomes more and more the default choice of voters, thanks to compulsory preferences that reward the ineptitude and indulgences of the Liberals in office with defeat.

It doesn’t matter that Labor is guiltier of the same sins, or is demonstrably incompetent when it comes to the business of government: the Coalition parties across Australia is increasingly incapable of carrying even those arguments publicly. This result in the Northern Territory is simply further proof of it.

Turnbull can probably feel lucky in that directly at least, the NT can inflict no further damage on the federal Coalition; Labor controls the Territory assembly, and holds both federal electorates as well as one of the two NT Senate spots.

But any national interpretation of the result can only invite the conclusion that the Liberal Party’s current decline is not just continuing, but accelerating.

Of the remaining Liberal state governments, the one in WA is likely to fall when it goes to the polls early next year; the one in Tasmania appears to have run aground in a state not noted for goodwill toward the conservative parties, and in which the perennial threat of minority ALP-Greens administrations seems once again poised to consign the Liberals to opposition. Mike Baird in NSW is beginning to look as if his party is readying to surrender office to a discredited ALP just two terms after claiming office, as did the Greiner-Fahey outfit 20 years ago.

Liberal oppositions in SA and Victoria — for different reasons — seem certain to remain in opposition in 2018. What happens in Queensland, where Labor has rigged future elections by abolishing its own system of optional preferential voting with neither consultation nor a mandate, is anyone’s guess.

What is certain is that the only victors from yesterday’s field trip to the polls in the NT are the forces of mediocrity, cynicism and hypocrisy: and today at least, that means unjust reward for the ALP, which will simply be emboldened everywhere else.

Once again, the real losers are the poor bastards forced to choose between two unpalatable options.

If anyone finds this state of affairs worthy of celebration, it says much about the insidious narcissism and obsession with power at any price — with flagrant disregard for the consequences — that continues to infect politics and elections in this country.

Make no mistake, there is nothing to celebrate here. It is a reality that the predictably shattered CLP, the more decent adherents of the ALP, and their counterparts across Australia would do well to contemplate.


Making A Big Mistake Bigger: Nova Peris Endorsed By ALP

Following last week’s announcement by Julia Gillard that former Olympian Nova Peris would run for the Senate for Labor in the Northern Territory, the deal has been sealed in the ALP backroom; the Prime Minister might be smiling today, but this ridiculous stunt will cost her party dearly.

As readers will recall, this time last week as the barely believable news broke that Gillard was acting as both executioner of one of her MPs and unilateral commissioner of the replacement, I described the move as autocratic, self-obsessed and completely undemocratic.

And as events in the subsequent week have shown, those observations are correct.

The outrage with which the Prime Minister’s announcement has been met — from the Opposition, sections of the media, the aboriginal community and even from within her own party — has been almost universal in its condemnation of the move, and utterly contemptuous of Gillard and the sledgehammer tactics she has employed.

It hasn’t helped that the axed Senator Crossin is a supporter of deposed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd; although there is no suggestion of a further vote on the ALP leadership, Gillard has been seen to enact further retribution upon her bitter enemy by proxy.

Indeed, many ALP MPs, and especially those supportive of Rudd, are said to be worried about the prospect of Gillard exercising further so-called “Captain’s Picks” to depose and replace them with pliant and complicit alternative candidates.

(At time of writing, one of them — Sydney-based MP Robert McClelland — has announced he won’t recontest his seat; it would surprise nobody if many more were to follow).

I think their fears are reasonable; Gillard has now shown there are no depths too low for her to stoop to in her pursuit of control over her party, and of power.

As has been widely touted over the past few days, a number of additional candidates contested the “preselection ballot” staged by Labor’s national executive today; these were shafted incumbent Trish Crossin, indigenous former deputy chief minister Marion Scrymgour, indigenous former NT minister Karl Hampton, and an unsuccessful indigenous candidate at the last NT election, Des Rogers.

This “ballot” was, of course, a sham, engineered merely to rubber-stamp an anti-democratic act, although it should be noted — as an article in The Australian reports — that  at least two of those on the executive did not vote for Nova Peris.

Yet to rub salt into raw wounds and to spit into the eyes of those who dared attempt to stand up to Gillard, Natalie Hutchins — a Victorian state Labor MP of no significance to the general public, but a member of the ALP’s all-powerful (and notoriously faceless) national executive — chose an insultingly patronising tone, telling the media that “I’m sure the others will play their part in Labor politics one day no doubt, but Nova was by far the most outstanding candidate that we had on the ballot today.”


The most outstanding candidate?

Measured against what objectives?

Compared to whom, and based on what?

Is this assessment based on Peris’ political experience, which is precisely zero?

Is it based on her support in the rank-and-file membership of the NT ALP, which anecdotal and circumstantial evidence suggests is close to non-existent?

Is it based on her aboriginality? If it is, surely all of the three Aborigines who stood against her — Scrymgour, Hampton and Rogers — are, on any objective analysis, better qualified.

Perhaps the assessment is based on a half-baked punt on Peris’ public profile as a successful athlete and her name recognition; if so, the entire God-awful episode of knifing a sitting Senator and refusing members a vote on a replacement virtually guarantees that recognition will work against her personally, and against the ALP on a wider basis.

The problem Gillard has created in the past week is like a Hydra; cut one head off and there are plenty of others.

The situation now exists in which respected aboriginal politicians on both the Left and Right have attacked Gillard, Peris, and the exercise in general; one has scathingly likened Peris to a “maid in waiting” who will simply make the tea in Parliament; another has referred to her as “the pet Aborigine around Parliament House.”

By her actions, Gillard has galvanised fury among the ordinary members of the Labor Party in the Northern Territory; the consequences of that one remain to be seen, but any modern political party has enough trouble attracting and retaining members without embarking on the kind of misadventure Gillard has.

The aboriginal community in the NT has already shown — by its wholesale defection to the CLP at the Territory election six months ago — that it is quite prepared to desert Labor if the circumstances suit its doing so; one wonders how much direct damage they will cause the ALP at the looming election.

It may not be enough to prevent Peris’ election to the Senate (although if Labor runs a second candidate on the ticket with her, anything could happen), but it will almost certainly cost the government Warren Snowdon’s marginal seat of Lingiari — and lower house seats are a commodity Labor can ill afford to lose.

Gillard has sent a message to her MPs that nobody is safe if they cross her, and the national executive has signalled its willingness to override local members to enforce whatever Gillard demands and decrees; it’s enough to guarantee a raft of retirements before the election (which is never a good look), and it’s yet another reason for the electorate at large to throw her government from office.

And, finally, Gillard has once again shown the rest of the Australian public exactly what her true colours are: an underhanded, dictatorial autocrat who will say, do and sacrifice anything or anyone in the naked pursuit of raw power, and in her own interests — and certainly not in theirs.

I reiterate my point from last week’s article: if Gillard wanted to bring an aboriginal woman into the parliamentary ALP via a Senate seat in the Northern Territory, Marion Scrymgour was — and is — the obvious candidate.

Not least given it has emerged in the past week that Crossin was prepared to retire voluntarily in favour of such a candidate.

Instead, we have witnessed an unedifying and pig-headed brawl, which is far from finished, and which ultimately will not resolve in Gillard’s interests — one way or the other.

This column has made it very clear that there is no issue whatsoever with Nova Peris personally; on the contrary, I feel very sorry for her.

The personal harassment, vilification and muck-throwing she has endured in the last week at the hands of her own people and members of her own party is the thin edge of the wedge.

But Peris has been made the meat in the sandwich; I agree that her preselection should be an honour and something to be savoured, but Gillard and the faceless hacks of the ALP have seen to it that the week’s events are anything but.

Yet again, Gillard has shown a ruthless and duplicitous capacity for wielding the knife in her scramble to deceive and hoodwink voters into re-electing her useless government, and Peris — whether she realises it or not — is being used as a pawn in that pursuit.

Readers should be under no misapprehension that beneath the feel-good babble and weasel words based on affirmative action, positive discrimination, and all the other empty rhetoric that pours forth from her forked tongue, the only interests of any value or consequence to Gillard are her own.