Northern Territory Council of Social Service

We all want the Territory to be the comeback capital, but Darwin also needs to deliver – Deborah Di Natale in the NT News

We have a new Government that is a lot like the old one, but not quite.

For those of us working in the community sector, one big change is that Kate Worden is now the Minister for Territory Families and Selena Uibo is Attorney-General and Minister for Justice. They have a big reform agenda to complete, already well underway, and we look forward to working with them to achieve these crucial changes.

But before we dust our hands of the election and get on with the business of policy for a few years, the past month threw into stark relief the very serious problem the Territory has with capturing remote, and in particular remote Aboriginal, votes.

Around 40 percent of Territorians live in remote and very remote areas, compared to 2.6 percent in QLD and 6 percent in WA, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2016 Census. And that Census, which was online and crashed, may not even paint the full picture of our less than digitally connected remote communities.

That’s a lot of Territorians. A lot of Territorians who didn’t vote.

Poor remote polling is nothing new. But even by those low standards, this election was bad. NT Electoral Commissioner Iain Loganathan has said coronavirus cannot be blamed, and this election was not a good sign for the future of democracy in the NT. I can only agree.

In Darwin or Alice we have the luxury of weeks to wander into a polling booth at our convenience and cast our vote. In Maningrida they had a day, which extended to two when the remote polling team turned up to find no one home. In the end, only 24 per cent of the 1,529 enrolled residents at Maningrida voted. That’s one of the largest remote towns in the Territory. And that’s simply not good enough.

I was lucky enough to visit remote communities in the Barkly in the leadup to the election with the consultation team for the Aboriginal Justice Agreement. The disengagement of voters was palpable. I was told that change is too slow. Nothing gets better. Promises are always broken. And you can read the result in the voter turnout.

So I cannot start a briefing document to the new government without starting there. We have a crisis. It needs urgent attention. Already we have lost a Federal seat. There is now a single seat for the NT.  That hardly inspires political engagement.  The electorate of Clark in Tasmania, one of Tasmania’s five Federal seats, has 73,846 people and is 292 sqm.  The electorate of the Northern Territory is 1, 348, 240 sqm and our single Federal MP will have to represent 244,761 people.   The PM may yet reverse this appalling decision, but little wonder there is a lack of faith in politics.

This Government must take action.  It’s not simple, but more needs to be done to meaningfully engage with remote communities, and to make it easier for them to vote.  The Federal Government cut the Australian Electoral Commission, which manages the NT electoral roll, moving staff to Queensland and stopping our remote enrolment program.  It is a travesty – and the Federal and NT Government must work together to fix it.

Our other priority areas of action are familiar, and the main message is to stay the course.

We all need real change, and this Government has undertaken significant work to achieve it. The reforms to date have helped make the NT stronger and fairer, and there is more to be done.  There has been a term of work towards introducing a Single Act for Children, incorporating care, protection and justice.  Let’s work together to deliver it.   There has been a term of extensive and valuable consultation developing the Aboriginal Justice Agreement.  Let’s work together to deliver it .  We now have a 10 year Framework to address Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence.  Let’s deliver it.  The NT has the lowest energy efficiency building requirements in the nation.  We can do better.  The NT has strong renewables and zero emissions targets. Let’s hit those targets.

We all want the Territory to be the comeback capital, but Darwin also needs to deliver.