Live audio Territory politics punditry

Readers with an interest in NT politics might care to tune into the streaming audio version of  this morning’s ABC Local Radio morning program, where (among others) yours truly discussed a sudden outbreak of ill-discipline in the Martin government backbench.   A memo from indigenous MLA Matthew Bonson to his 4 Aboriginal colleagues  has been  leaked to the media, in which  Bonson reflected on widespread unhappiness with the Martin government in the Aboriginal community and  touted  a joint demand that Chief Minister Clare Martin hand over the Indigenous Affairs portfolio to an indigenous MLA.  

You can hear my contribution here (Real Player) or here (Windows Media Player), starting at the 9:30 minutes point of a 30 minute audio (the whole  program is worth listening to if you’ve got the time).   I also reflect briefly on federal Health Minister Tony Abbott’s  call in  an opinion piece in this morning’s SMH for a “new paternalism” in the administration of remote indigenous communities.

Update – News Online carries the predictable Pavlovian  federal Labor and Greens reaction to Abbott’s  “new form of paternalism” remark.   Abbott would no doubt be pleased; the dog whistle worked again  (to mix a metaphor).   However, if we read behind the calculated cynicism of his “paternalism” rhetoric, Abbott’s  basic point is quite a sensible one.   Board or committee members of Aboriginal councils and associations frequently (maybe even usually) lack a clear understanding of their role, and in particular the fact that a board generally does not interfere in the day-to-day management of the enterprise.  

There are some whitefella organisations  I have advised that also don’t understand this principle (not to mention some blogosphere commentators about the ABC Board).   But it’s more serious in Aboriginal communities,  because voluntary community associations fulfil functions that  usually involve administration of  hundreds of thousands of dollars and the very basic wellbeing of a vulnerable community.   Boards or committees frequently oscillate between boredom and non-attendance at meetings (even when offered very generous “sitting fees”), and  interference in the day-to-day management of even relatively well run organisations.   This interference all too often  implements or perpetuates decisions involving cronyism, patronage and even outright corruption.   Employed managers usually have no viable choice but to resign or take the line of least resistance when subjected to such demands.   Some white managers are actively complicit in such behaviour or even initiate it.

I certainly wouldn’t have any problem with federal government imposition of  an accountability structure on Aboriginal communities  that ensured that boards and committees understood and adhered to their proper role of policy and overall budgetary  oversight, together with  decisions on hiring and firing employed managers, though with carefully designed protections to ensure that managers could not be sacked for refusing to facilitate cronyism and corruption.    Of course, what I’m talking about here is a form of protection for managers in Aboriginal communities  from harsh and oppressive termination of employment.   If that’s what Abbott has in mind,  it certainly involves an unintended irony.    

There would also need to be some form of systematic vetting of suitability for appointment as a community manager/administrator.   That would not necessarily involve undermining principles of indigenous  self-determination.    You would simply establish a licensing system for indgenous community managers/administrators, so that community councils and associations would be obliged to select from a field of only licensed candidates.   That should largely eliminate a phenomenon  I have sometimes observed where a manager known or strongly suspected of corrupt behaviour at a previous community nevertheless finds little difficulty being  employed somewhere else because the “bush telegraph” didn’t operate.   Such people are usually very  adept at manipulating and ingratiating themselves into the favour of community members.  

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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17 years ago

Appreciate your posts on this subject Ken (especially good for uninformed urban dwellers like me). One thing though, is self-determination really a solution? Why on earth can every Australian expect to have some basic services whereas some of these remote communities have to go it alone? Is that what self-determination was meant to produce? Or is that just a function of remoteness, economic unviability, social problems etc? (Mind you people workingon stations are pretty isolated but fair better). Having said that, if I leave Abbott’s track record and grubby politics to the side, his comments do have merit.

Geoff R
17 years ago

Bit like some of the problems of student organisations. Perhaps this is an example of the general principle that organisations with grand aspirations and missions but little real resources or power are not likely to work well: consider the Palestinian Authority.

17 years ago

Hmm, did you mean UN? The problems with the PA would seem to lie in different domains, one of which is perhaps the UN, most of which are probably more mundane.

17 years ago

PA or UN is irrelevant. The same principles apply.

Otherwise it’s like expecting an electrician to rewire your place without granting them authority to enter your property. Or else asking a first year plumbing apprentice to rewire your house instead.

Responsibility + resources + authority etc have to all be there.

17 years ago

“Pavlovian” Bah!

Pavlovian is the predictable barking Abbott gives off whenever an opportunity to take the conservative low ground comes along.

Dog spit is in the eye of the beholder…

Bill Posters
Bill Posters
17 years ago

However, if we read behind the calculated cynicism of his “paternalism”

17 years ago

Isn’t the key point that the organisations need to work properly? How that happens is the hard part.