The NT Labor Govt has again been teetering on the edge of oblivion thanks to some aspects of its Indigenous policy, and yet again so at the hands of one of its Indigenous MLA’s and Ministers, this time Alison Anderson.
It all started last week when the Minister for Indigenous Policy reacted to what she believed was news that 70% of the SIHIP funding was going into administration costs. It wasn’t, but it was an event that got the ball rolling, leading to her resignation from the Labor Party and NT Government today. How this came about isn’t clear, but one possibility is that Anderson was briefed on progress to date and might well have been told that 70% of expenditure to date has been on ‘administration’ ,which would cover a gamut of activities such as the housing surveys which are finding out what exactly is required on each house in terms of maintenence and repairs.
Anderson’s sudden disappointment over SIHIP is pretty odd given that hers was the face that co-launched the NT Govt’s new remote township policy just 6 weeks ago. And there have been no changes in the SIHIP program, and it all seems to running roughly to plan. Anderson’s concern that it won’t be adequate to address the housing issues is exceedingly odd, as that has always been obvious. SIHIP is a $600 m program, but that is roughly quarter the amount required for a comprehensive solution to housing issues in remote communities. As a result, a list of 16 priority communities was drawn up and they are first cabs off the rank . There are going to be plenty of disappointed people in remote communities waiting for some time for any change to their housing. As Minister for Indigenous Policy, Anderson should have been well aware of this. But given the number of people criticising SIHIP on procedural and administrative matters, maybe plenty of people aren’t.
But in a strange twist it wasn’t this that prompted her resignation, but this article in the NT News. It was critical of the political style of Anderson and her fellow Indigenous MLA’s. And again it’s not precisely this article itself, but the failure of the Chief Minister to defend her publicly from the criticisms in it, and she hinted that she believed the article was informed from within the Labor Government (local politics tip: the author of the article is married to an advisor in the NT Government). Anderson branded the article “racist”, but I think she was off the mark with this. Though it is certainly very wrong in its take on the political style of Indigenous MLA’s, describing them as “one-issue” and “self-centered”. There is some difference in political style which I’d attribute to a fairly robust Indigenous political environment, but that is a generalisation. It is apparent in Alison Anderson , much less so with Marion Scrymgour and not at all with Malindirri McCarthy. Anderson has a style which I call ‘crash-through or crash’, which I’ve seen a few times. And criticising the interest of the Indigenous MLA’s in Indigenous affairs as “one-issue” politics is quite something. I can only relate my personal experience with Malindirri McCarthy on this matter – she became the minister in my work area less than 12 months ago, but in that time we have had her visit our offices twice, just to meet staff and get a feel for the work area and what goes on – and that is two visits more than all other ministers combined over my 15 years.
The whole affair has exposed Anderson as being not particularly astute. It’s not clear what she hoped to gain from her resignation and, before it happened, whether or not it was just an idle threat. Perhaps she hoped to join with the CLP to change the government, but that hasn’t happened. But what did happen should have been obvious to her – within a few hours the other rebel ex-Labor MLA, Marion Scrymgour, rejoined the Labor Party and kept Labor’s slender majority alive. The NT Labor Government though does find itself in a weaker position. With Scrymgour as an independent it could still count on her vote for all important matters. That is less clearly so with Anderson. The biggest loser appears to be Anderson herself. While she is now one of two balance of power MLAs, she is no longer Minister for Indigenous Policy and is in a far weaker position to influence government policy on a day to day basis.
SIHIP will continue, renovations are on-going and the first new houses are due to start on Groote Eylandt in the coming weeks. This won’t be the last controversy over the new housing program, but until they focus on the manifest inadequacy of SIHIP, despite it being the largest Indigenous housing program in the countries history, it will all be a bit like arguing over the deck-chairs on the Titanic.