NT Minister for Indigenous Policy, Alison Anderson quits

Chris Graham | www.crikey.com.au | Tuesday, 4 August 2009 + RELATED ARTICLES

The Northern Territory government hangs in the balance this afternoon after Minister for Indigenous Policy, Alison Anderson has walked out on her cabinet post, and her party.

Anderson attended a cabinet meeting this morning, and sources who spoke to Crikey confirmed she told staff that she was going to resign about 20 minutes into the meeting. Anderson reportedly left the cabinet meeting as promised.

This is the second time in as many months that an Aboriginal MLA has walked away from Labor. In June, Marion Scrymgour, the former deputy Chief Minister and one of four black Labor MLAs, resigned from the party in protest at the government’s outstations policy, a program which critics say is aimed at driving Aboriginal people off their country and into larger urban centres.

At the time, Labor held a one-seat majority in the 25-seat Territory parliament.

Scrymgour now sits as an independent on the backbench, but for the time-being at least has assured the government it has her support.

The numbers yesterday were Labor with 12 seats, the CLP with 11 seats and two seats held by independents. But today it could be a different story. With Anderson’s dseparture, Labor would only hold 11 seats, although a final tally would depend where she departs to. If she supports the CLP, it would be game over for Labor. The second independent Gerry Wood leans to the CLP.

This afternoon no one knows how the numbers will fall.

Anderson has kept her colleagues guessing for more than a week amid accusations that both federal and Territory Labor had completely botched the NT intervention, in particular the emergency housing package.

The National Indigenous Times and Crikey revealed on July 22 that Jenny Macklin had been warned via a private office memo that the $672 million Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program (SIHIP) the most expensive plank of the NT intervention?—?would not deliver any housing until 2011, and would drive up the cost of construction.

The story sparked a media storm, and two days later, Anderson revealed to The Australian newspaper that an NT government briefing estimated that up to 70 percent of SIHIP funds would be spent on administration.

The Henderson government quickly denied the story, claiming the briefing was ³inaccurate². But Anderson threatened to quit unless she received an assurance the housing money and intervention more generally were brought back on track.

It culminated in the ridiculous situation of Anderson being promised a briefing update every three days, in exchange for her ongoing support of the ALP.

It was clearly shaky ground we’ll likely all know later this afternoon just how shaky.

Anderson won the seat of Macdonnell for the ALP in 2005, and again in 2008.

She is a former ATSIC Commissioner, and was born and raised amongst the grinding poverty of the desert community Papunya.

This is by no means Anderson¹s first show of strength, nor the first time the black MLAs have flexed their political muscle.

In May 2007, Anderson risked expulsion from the ALP after she crossed the floor with Barbara McCarthy and Karl Hampton to vote against mining legislation at the McArthur River, near Borroloola.

Even if Anderson hasn’t walked, this crisis is still reverberating outside the Northern Territory.

Jenny Macklin is being blamed, to varying extents, for growing fears Labor’s housing program and the NT intervention will collapse. Indeed, Macklin is sweating on the outcome of a court challenge this afternoon to the compulsory acquisition of the Alice Springs town camps after nugling the process twice in two months.

Town camper Barbara Shaw is seeking an injunction against the acquisition.

If Macklin loses and we¹ll likely know this afternoon?—?it will be just another disaster in the unfolding train wreck that is Labor¹s handling of Indigenous affairs.

The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Treaty Republic

Full statement released by Alison Anderson
www.theage.com.au | August 4, 2009

Today I am walking out of the Labor Party and turning my back on the Government of Paul Henderson.

I will not stand by a leader and a party that fails to defend me when the race card is played. Last Saturday’s Northern Territory News article by Nigel Adlam attacking me and my indigenous ministerial colleagues was blatantly racist: the Chief Minister’s office knew what was in it before it was published.

Three days have gone by – the whole long weekend – and Paul Henderson has not spoken out in our defence. Not a word. He has allowed a racist attack to stand unchecked. That silence was the dog-whistle to the electorate. It was the signal that it’s OK to beat up on black politicians. The Chief Minister has abandoned his indigenous colleagues. The day that article came out was the day everything changed, and we began sliding back to dark days of the past.

All my life I have fought against racism: I have spoken out against it, and I have watched us move on as a society. I believe in the Northern Territory, and the goodwill of Territorians. I believe we can all build a future together, and respect each other. For four years as a member of the Legislative Assembly and for one year as a minister I have spoken up for all Territorians – all Territorians, regardless of race or creed.

I treat everyone on their merits, and I expect to be treated that way. I am nauseated by what the Chief Minister’s silence shows: how could he not speak out for his own colleagues? How close do the links go between the NT News and the government political advisers on Level Five? What is the inside story?

Maybe you should ask Paul Henderson for his answer! Here, today, I call on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to condemn Territory Labor, and condemn Paul Henderson, and stand up for Aboriginal rights. Mr Henderson has the dirt of racial politics on his hands. He is a diminished figure. He stands now for division, spin and manipulation along with his media mates.

I see very well that Territory Labor is no longer the best friend of Aboriginal politicians and Aboriginal voters. Labor only came to power with black votes, and only stays there with black votes. It lives on Aboriginal funding from Canberra. And what has changed for Aboriginal people under them?

A new political age now dawns. A new time, when we must build a new architecture for the Territory, and a new way of governing. More open, honest, decent, fair.

I hope we can move beyond the pointless, bitter name-calling of party politics. I hope we can see government by coalition and agreement, government that better suits these times of challenge. We face a deep social crisis in the Territory. I commit myself to fighting for a better future. I believe that today we begin the journey from the darkness into the light.

How Scrymgour and homelands might undo NT Labor

ONLINE ARCHIVES: Bob Gosford | www.crikey.com.au | Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Marion Scrymgour was Australia’s most powerful elected black politician?—?that is until illness got the better of her and forced her resignation from her several Ministries back in February this year and that mantle was handed to her arch-political rival and enemy?—?Labor member of Macdonnell, Alison Anderson.

Since then Scrymgour has undergone treatment in Adelaide. The accepted wisdom was that she would sit quietly on the backbenches until August this year when her parliamentary pension matured and would then retire.

But it seems that sometime during her treatment and recovery that she has had a Damascene conversion that recent NT government policies on blackfellas have been built on lies and deception.

As the ABC News website reports, “I feel strongly because we have lied to Aboriginal people,” she said. “We have said we would go back and talk to them before we made that policy.”

“That policy” is the recently announced “Working Futures” policy that will withdraw essential services from the many small homeland communities across the NT and force residents to move or travel to larger “hub” communities to receive those services.

And it seems that Scrymgour has also changed her mind about her own rushed and fundamentally flawed policy that would gut the remnants of the once proud bilingual education system in the NT, a policy that Scrymgour saw fit to vigorously defend here at Crikey from the views of a “cabal of self-important whitefellas”.

Working Future dates back to the decision in September 2007 by former Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough to hand responsibility for homeland policy and funding to the NT Government.

Scrymgour was responsible for developing the NT government policy on homelands and remote community development and commissioned a discussion paper and a team, led by Pat Dodson, to take submissions and conduct community consultation.

Dodson’s “Community Engagement Report” was given to the NT government in January and was publicly released late last month.

Following Scrymgour’s sudden resignation in February, Alison Anderson inherited the Indigenous Affairs Ministry.

On 20 May Anderson released a policy, a ghost-written op-ed piece in her favourite paper, The Australian and a bare-bones website.

The recommendations in Dodson’s report have been effectively ignored and the promises of a further consultative process with affected Aboriginal people living in remote towns in the NT, following the development of a draft policy, have been abandoned.

If Working Future is ever implemented, as Lindsay Murdoch reported in The Age it will mean that:

Thousands of Aborigines living on their remote Northern Territory homelands will be forced to move to larger communities to receive key government services in a radical shake-up of indigenous policy. The NT Government is set to announce that 20 communities will be developed into regional economic hubs with a wide range of government services such as housing, schools and clinics.

But about 580 smaller communities will be deprived of many government services, threatening the fruits of what became known in the 1970s as the homelands movement when thousands of Aboriginal people moved back to their ancestral lands.

Scrymgour’s electorate of Arafura contains a large number of homeland communities?—?small hamlets deep in the heart of traditional Aboriginal lands occupied by family and clan groups that have chosen to live a simpler, safer and healthier life away from the babylonian chaos that typifies many of the larger Aboriginal townships scattered across the NT.

Now, as Murray McLaughlin reported on The 7.30 Report last night:

Marion Scrymgour has thrown the Territory Labor government into crisis over her complaint that the outstations policy was announced prematurely ignoring the process that she had laid out when she was Indigenous Affairs Minister. Marion Scrymgour has told Chief Minister Paul Henderson that she’s prepared to go to the cross-benches over the issue.

Scrymgour: I’m not discounting anything but I’m saying very clearly that I will do everything in my power as a member of the government to make sure that government meets its responsibilities to Aboriginal people.

As Crikey noted back in February:

There is a long history of mutual antipathy between Scrymgour and Anderson, including a stoush in late 2007 that followed Scrymgour’s description of the Howard/Brough NT Intervention as a ‘black Tampa’ motivated by naked political opportunism.

And, as Henderson well knows, it is Anderson and Scrymgour who may well hold the fate of his “crumbling”, one-seat majority government in their hands.

Anderson, who, as evidenced by her vocal support for the Brough/Howard Intervention and outspokenness on matters sensitive to government, is widely regarded as a loose cannon perhaps more closely aligned to the CLP Opposition than to the centre and left of NT Labor. While she may be happy with her Ministerial appointments for now, there is the very real threat that she could jump ship, either as an independent or to surface as a member of the CLP, and force a change of government.

Crikey understands that Scrymgour warned Henderson of her concerns with Anderson’s policy soon after it emerged but that he chose to ignore her.

Since Henderson’s Labor government was re-elected with a single seat majority in August of last year an informal book has been running on just how long his government will last?—?the best money was that he might be lucky, very lucky, to make it to August?—?when a number of Labor members are eligible for their generous super payouts.

But this latest fight changes the odds substantially?—?Crikey reckons you’d be lucky to get much better than evens on Henderson’s government surviving the month.

Henderson’s failures are all his own doing, led by a poor set of polices that attack his electoral heartland and a supine surrender to the Federal government’s directions?—?but he hasn’t been helped by the loose cannons rolling around the deck of what passes for the sinking ship of state in the NT.

The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Treaty Republic

General profile by Australian

Jared Owens | www.theaustralian.com.au | August 05, 2009

When Alison Anderson was on the verge of entering politics in 2004, her Country Liberal Party opponent made what has turned out to be a prophetic observation.

"Alison has demonstrated that she has a very individual mind and if she stands for Labor, toeing the party line will probably cause her some grief," John Elferink said.

Ms Anderson's personal history is one of passionate advocacy and fierce independence.

Born in Haasts Bluff, a poor community outside Papunya in the Northern Territory, Ms Anderson was educated in Alice Springs and left school after Year 10 to work in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

As Papunya community administrator for more than a decade, she became renowned for her struggles with the Country Liberal government over services to her community -- one of Australia's most impoverished.

In the 1980s, while still administrator of Papunya, Ms Anderson represented central Australia on the Aboriginal Development Commission and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. She served on ATSIC until the body was dissolved by the Howard government in 2004.

Ms Anderson considered entering politics in 2001 and was preselected for the territory seat of MacDonnell, but withdrew her candidature.

In 2004, she was again preselected for MacDonnell and easily won the seat with a swing of 20.3 per cent.

She was re-elected unopposed last year, serving as Minister for Indigenous Policy, Environment and Heritage, Parks and Wildlife and Natural Resources. An accomplished artist, she was also named Minister for Arts and Museums.

'Selfish' rebel MP must quit: Northern Land Council

Lindsay Murdoch | www.theage.com.au | August 10, 2009
Australia's most powerful indigenous organisation today called on rebel Aboriginal MP Alison Anderson to quit the Northern Territory Parliament in a growing backlash against her attempt to bring down Paul Henderson's Labor Government.

Kim Hill, chief executive of the Northern Land Council, said that Ms Anderson's “selfish actions and self indulgence have delivered instability and chaos – not peace, order and good government”.

“If Ms Anderson truly believes, as she has said, that the feds (Federal Government) should come and take over governing the Territory, then she has no choice but to resign immediately. Full stop,” Mr Hill said.

“She has also been a minister of the crown, presiding over indigenous affairs, and in the Westminster system the buck stops with her, so she must take responsibility for not delivering indigenous programs,” he said.

The Northern Land Council represents most Aboriginal groups in northern Australia.

Mr Hill's comments follow blunt criticism of Ms Anderson at the weekend by respected Aboriginal leader Yananymul Mununggurr, the chief executive of Laynhapuy Homelands, which provides services to 1200 Yolngu people in north-east Arnhem Land.

Opposition leader Terry Mills is expected to give notice to move a motion of no confidence in Mr Henderson's Government in Parliament today.

A vote on the motion is expected on Friday.

The Government's fate appears certain to rest with conservative-leaning former chicken farmer and UFO spotter Gerry Wood, who says going back to the polls 12 months after the last election is one option to end the impasse.

Ms Anderson quit as indigenous minister last week and made scathing criticisms of Mr Henderson and his Government's handling of indigenous issues.

The Government now holds 12 seats in the 25 seat-Parliament, not enough to govern if Ms Anderson and Mr Wood support Mr Mills' Country Liberals party.

Aborigines divided over MP's split from Labor

Lindsay Murdoch | www.smh.com.au | August 10, 2009
The defection of the Aboriginal MP Alison Anderson from the Northern Territory Labor Government, which could lose power as early this week, has divided indigenous leaders and traditional clan groups.

Yananymul Mununggurr, a respected leader in north-eastern Arnhem Land, said Ms Anderson's actions were disgraceful and seemed to be ''more self-serving than really protecting the interests" of Aboriginal people.

Ms Mununggurr, the chief executive officer of the Laynhapuy Homelands, which represents 1200 people, said her members were upset by the political destabilisation in the territory, where 30 per cent of the population is indigenous.

Speaking at the annual GARMA indigenous festival at Gulkula, in Arnhem Land, Ms Mununggurr said indigenous people were "yet again being used as political footballs, this time by an indigenous woman who is determined to bring down the Government at all costs".

"Our communities have been stressed and disrupted to the point of harm by the constant policy and administrative changes of recent years," she said.

"The very last thing we need now is a change of government. We do not want politicians or individuals capitalising on our disadvantage, in order to push their own personal agendas."

The Government's fate will be decided by Ms Anderson and the conservative-leaning independent Gerry Wood, a former chicken farmer and UFO spotter.

Ms Anderson has repeatedly criticised Labor and the Chief Minister, Paul Henderson, over the handling of indigenous housing policy since she quit and walked out of a cabinet meeting last week.

The Opposition Leader, Terry Mills, will move a vote of no-confidence in the Government in Parliament this afternoon.

The Government now holds 12 seats in the 25-seat Parliament, not enough to retain power if Ms Anderson and Mr Wood agree to back the Country Liberals, who hold 11 seats.

Both parties say they do not want to go back to the polls only a year after the last election, but Mr Wood has said this remains an option to end the impasse.

Ms Anderson's defection brought to the surface long-simmering hostility between her and Marion Scrymgour, another Aboriginal MP, who has rejoined the Government after quitting in June over its handling of indigenous issues.

The two woman are divided over the controversial policy pushed by Ms Anderson when she was indigenous policy minister to turn 20 territory towns into growth hubs.

Critics of the policy say it will starve 500 outstations, or homelands, of funding, forcing residents into the towns where they will be exposed to alcohol and substance abuse and lose their culture and traditions.

Ms Scrymgour, also a former indigenous policy minister, has been involved in negotiations to send a delegation of indigenous representatives to Canberra to try to convince the Federal Government to support the homelands.

'The crisis we face is deep'

Alison Anderson | The Australian | August 14, 2009

Text of Alison Anderson's speech to the Northern Territory parliament
on 14th August 2009

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak tonight as a proud Territorian, a desert woman, alone, without party or advisers. I rise to speak plainly about what I have seen, and to defend what I believe in: truth, honest government, fairness for my people and all Territorians. I rise to tell you what I feel about the Government we have today a government I know very well from the inside.

I came into Territory politics not out of vanity or desire for position or power, but to work for the good of people. I believed that we in government could help bring the Territory forward: I believed that the Territory could grow and prosper in harmony. It has always been my dream that we all, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, can work together for a better future. It is still my hope that this Territory can be the jewel of Australia. We can only do this if we look after each other, speak up for each other, care for one another. The best hope for us as a Territory is if we look each other in the eye, and support each other. The place of our birth or the colour of our skin are not things that should divide us.

When I was elected by the people of MacDonnell, I gave them my word that I would always fight for their interests. I promised them I would speak out for them. I spent many months in this Parliament, watching, listening, learning the way the system worked, getting to know the character of my colleagues.
And when I was made a minister after the election last year, I did the same. I watched, and listened, for months. It has taken me almost a year at the heart of the Government machine to lose my illusions, and to question all my hopes. Let me tell you a little of that story, by way of explaining the reasons for my vote today.

I have sat round the Cabinet table, week after week, together with my former ministerial colleagues, and seen just how things work. And I have come to understand what is at the heart of the Government. I will not betray any secrets or details of those meetings. I never have, and I never will. But I will tell you, Madam Speaker, how my part in those meetings made me feel, over time, as I came to understand the system.

Madam Speaker, I was made the Minister for the Environment almost a year ago and how happy I was to take that post! I come from the land, I am of the land, and my dearest wish is to protect it and use it well.
I decided at once to work co-operatively with the opposition and with the independent member for Nelson. Things changed in the Environment department. We gave open briefings to the opposition. We worked in co-operation. That was what I saw as good government. I believed we could do good for all Territorians.

But above all, I worried for my people: the Aboriginal people in remote communities the poorest, most disadvantaged people among us. I dreamed that I could help change things for Aboriginal people in the bush. I believed the Labor party cared about Aboriginal issues. That Labor was the party for the Aboriginal cause. After four years in the system, I know that I was wrong. Labor lives on the Aboriginal vote, it talks constantly about Aboriginal people, but what it is really good at is spending Aboriginal money.

What has changed for Aboriginal people in the eight years since Labor came to power? What is better today? Nothing to speak of. Some of you in this House may say we now have high schools in the bush: but I know them: they are gammon schools, the kind of schools you give people when you pity them, but dont believe they can really learn. There is money being spent, always money, rivers of money but it never seems to reach the people on the ground.

I want to tell you a little about the example in everyones thoughts today: the SIHIP program. SIHIP was designed as the great answer to the remote housing crisis that is crippling my people. It was the heart and core of the Commonwealths 3Emergency Response,4 after the Little Children Are Sacred report was made public. It was the one big chance to change the way things are on communities. We politicians said that we would build the houses that were needed - 750 houses.

Late last year I began to receive briefings about the program. I knew things were going wrong. I raised my concerns with my colleagues. I struggled to get action. I appealed to them. I could see the disaster in the making. I could see the money being swallowed up on consultation, on training costs, on administration. At meeting after meeting I warned my ministerial colleagues. I did everything I could to resolve this matter inside the party.
I was unsuccessful. There was no urgency. They didnt care. I came to understand then that they were quite content to just continue administering Aboriginal communities taking the money from Canberra. It was just business as usual for them.

I have always been a passionate politician. I speak out for what I believe in. I spoke out against the Labor Government when it took over Aboriginal land at MacArthur River. I crossed the floor with two of my indigenous colleagues. I didnt have to cross the floor then; it wasnt my people; it wasnt my land. The fact that the Labor Government extinguished the right of these Aboriginal people forever is what made me act on my principles and come to the support of the member for Arnhem on that occasion.
Two years ago I spoke out for the Federal intervention when Territory Labor wished it had never happened.
And now I have spoken out against SIHIP - the biggest scandal I have seen in my political career. I have left the Government, and given away my ministerial portfolios. I am not one to keep quiet when the well-being of my people is at stake. But my Labor colleagues were quite prepared to sweep this disaster under the carpet.
Madam Speaker, you can read the coverage of this disaster in the newspapers: you can read the story of the programs delays and confusion in Tennant Creek. The record of waste and chaos is a shame on the Government. Here the ministers sit, cool and comfortable, while Aboriginal people live crowded - twenty to a house. It is a disgrace.
Of course I have no confidence in the Government, knowing what I know about SIHIP. But I am astonished that anyone in this house can give the Government support. I have sat in the streets of Darwin for days, talking to the public. I have spoken to hundreds of Territorians, and received their text messages. I have whole books of their written messages. I have made a list of their demands. I know what they want, by a large margin. Change: by election, if possible, but above all change. And now we are about to give them the opposite!

How can we build a new future for Territorians? How can we make a road ahead? Only when we all stand together, and design a parliament of unity, beyond the faction and fight of party politics. Only when we accept that we are all brothers and sisters. Only when we dare to break the mould, and stand up for what is right.

Madam Speaker, I want to tell you what is wrong at the heart of the Labor Government. It is not so much the weak ministers, the constant fighting, or the worry about the interests of the party and its friends. It is Labors problem with truth. I always wanted to be strait with Territorians. But I was opposed in this at every turn by the political minders: the shadow men who are the real masters of this Government. If I wanted to tell Territorians anything, I had to struggle against the army of spin-doctors.

I came to realize that the truth was what the Government most feared. It feared telling the truth about its finances, about its priorities, about its connections and even about its policies. Madam Speaker, I was startled by what I found at the top of the tree. I reached the pinnacle of the Territorys political system, and I realized there was nothing good or precious there. I came to see I was in a wilderness of spin. It all went far beyond the normal habits of governments and I know this very well, because I was in national politics for 12 years at a high level before I came into this Assembly.

What I realized in the end was this: the real governing was being done by an inner group: a little secret club. On the outside, you see ministers, and departments. On the inside, you see little groups of political advisers, plotting and planning. You see consultants coming and going, you see jobs being handed out to political friends and allies. You see another world. Madam Speaker: the public has no idea of what things are like. And here the insiders all are today, packing the gallery looking down, waiting to learn their fate. They think they are friends to the Aboriginal cause.
Well, we know them for what they are. We know what they have done. We will remember them. The days of the safe black vote for Labor have gone.

Madam Speaker, what a game we are caught in! My feeling is that the Northern Territory is like a giant money game. We have no real economy to speak of, four fifths of the money comes in from Canberra, and the job of the Government is to hand it out: hand it out the way it sees fit. Or I could put it like this. The Northern Territory is like a large Aboriginal Community, and the Government is like the Council Clerk. It is the Government that decides who wins, and who loses. Who gets top-up. Who gets vehicles. Where the money goes.

The Government must bear the blame for the state of Aboriginal Territorians today. The Government has betrayed my people, and it has lost our trust. It is a little gang, and all it cares about is power: holding on to power to the bitter end. I have seen them up close, for a long time now.

Their day has come. We all know the public wants them out. We all know if an election was held now they would lose. We all know they have promised the world to keep their slender margin and we all know they will deliver nothing.

The crisis we face is deep. As a Parliament, we have the chance, today, to begin a new chapter. Let us take that chance, Madam Speaker, and tell the world we have no confidence in the Chief Minister and his machine.

Note from Treaty Republic Sub-Editor
It is believed that Alison Anderson strongly supported the NT Intervention at its initial planning stages by the then Federal Liberal Government but she appeared very unhappy with the way it was rolled out and is strongly against the push for closing down of the outstations by the current Federal Labor Government.
by Sub Editor

The views in the above articles are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Treaty Republic