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NT Labor counts the cost of federal and state indigenous policies

Northern Territory’s new Chief Minister Terry Mills has benefited from indigenous disenchantment with state and federal Labor policies.

The ALP losses in the Northern Territory are fairly clearly related to Aboriginal rejection of their treatment - not just what was done to them, but how it was done.

There has been little acknowledgement by ALP governments in the last few years of how major policies on both a state and federal level have roused local ire.

The Northern Territory Emergency Response group (NTER) was perceived to have failed to seriously seek and incorporate local input into Stronger Futures, the extension of the NT Intervention.

Yet the clues have been there in the content of their own recent reports on their own extensive consultations for Stronger Futures. They failed to note the clear concerns from many in more remote communities about both what was being done to them and, importantly how.

The NT Government’s introduction of super shires, which abolished 52 local community councils, was often raised as a problem in these Federal consultations and was obviously seen as part of Labor’s overall approach.

Similarly, the lack of funding for outstations was seen as a joint problem, as it was targeting of only some towns for growth.

The signs were in these reports that they chose to ignore: there were problems in how decisions were being made by both governments, so locals put local and national issues together.

The voting patterns in many of the outer communities indicate wide discontent with Labor. The booths vary enormously, reflecting local loyalties and personal factors but show the punishing of the ALP was diverse.

There were many first preferences for the Country Liberal Party (CLP) but also for Greens and the new First Nations Party in some areas. The low turnout and spread of votes suggest these electors were exploring their power in many new ways, rather than just turning conservative.

The CLP may have been seen as a least “bad” option, and it did make a serious effort to say it was prepared to change the models for making decisions. The main advantage they had was that they have not been in power for some time and they could therefore promise to do things inclusively and differently. Whether this will occur will be crucial to their maintaining these seats.

Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin needs to consider whether the presence of many Canberra bureaucrats and the ineptitude of many processes have contributed to the loss.

It is too easy to say the issues were local. The shires issue was certainly a major one, but the general lack of local respect and real partnerships displayed by a generic Labor brand can’t easily be obscured by not using the logo, or not asking any federal ministers - including the Prime Minister - to take part in the campaign.

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