The election and ‘The Intervention’

From today’s Crikey!

Brough, Pearson, Yunupingu rejected by Aboriginal voters

Editor of the National Indigenous Times, Chris Graham, writes:

I never quite understood how Mal Brough managed to escape genuine mainstream media scrutiny so often during his brief but, shall we say, “exciting” time in Indigenous affairs. I always just put it down to the “conga line of suckholes” phenomena identified by Mark Latham (albeit as a “Liberal” inclination in dealings with Americans… but as we all know a trait which also besets some in the media when confronted with a “Minister”).

The media liked Brough known as “Sideshow Mal” within Indigenous affairs – because he was always prepared to “say anything, do anything” to get a headline. That makes for great copy. Unfortunately for Brough, however, the media didnt get to decide the outcome of the contest for his parliamentary seat.

That privilege was afforded the fine residents of the federal electorate of Longman who, it turns out, decided that Mal Brough was even more odious than the “average” Queensland Coalition member… which is quite something.

Across the state, Queenslanders registered an eight percent swing against the Howard government. But in Longman, the swing against Brough was almost 11 percent. Even worse, of the 29 seats up for grabs in Queensland, only three recorded swings to Labor above 11 percent, and two of those were in seats where the sitting Coalition member had retired.

I accept that opposition to the NT intervention did not translate to any significant swing against the Coalition at a national level. But given the huge swing against Brough personally, its hard to escape the conclusion that his boys own adventure in the NT didnt play a part, albeit a relatively small one.

Perhaps, when it came time to vote, at least some of the good people of Longman stopped to think about the NT intervention and decided that using the sexual abuse of children for your own personal/political gain was really quite… well… disgusting. Either that or the Longman punters decided that Mal Brough was just a really shit local member.

As for the Aboriginal vote in the Northern Territory, well they also got to cast judgement on Brough (and Howard). And what a judgement they delivered! Conveniently, one federal seat Lingiari encompasses all of the 73 Aboriginal communities affected by the NT intervention.

Media have correctly noted that “Aboriginal booths” in Lingiari delivered votes to the ALP in the 90 percentile range. True enough, but once again the reporting has been sub-par. Just quoting the percentages from a few booths doesnt come close to telling the real story.

Its correct to say that at the Wadeye booth, for example, the ALP collected about 95 percent of the vote. But what does that actually mean in real numbers? Of the 723 people who cast a ballot, just 26 of them voted for the CLP. 26! And doubtless almost every one of those was white.

In Angkarripa, in central Australia, the CLP managed just five primary votes out of a potential 503. Thats 0.99 percent of the total vote.
But the really big story one which went begging for the media – was from a small booth in Arnhem Land. Yirrikala is home to Galarrwuy Yunupingu, the prominent Aboriginal leader who outraged colleagues by reversing his opposition to the NT intervention on the eve of the official start to the election campaign.

Brough, no doubt, thought he had an ally in Yunupingu, but the electoral returns reveal otherwise. Of the 266 votes up for grabs, the CLP secured just two of them – 0.75 percent of the primary vote.
And what of the other great story that went begging? The vote for the ALP in the booth of Hopevale Noel Pearsons hometown. 75%.

One of the great hypocrisies not just of media coverage of Indigenous issues, but of Australian thinking generally is our inability to apply the “good for the goose, good for the gander” principle when it comes to black issues. For example, WorkChoices. The Australian public rejected it. No ones debating the mandate to wind it back. Yet the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory overwhelmingly, comprehensively, spectacularly reject the NT intervention, and were all still arguing about whether it too should be scaled back.

The fact is, Aboriginal people still want the $1.3 billion spent in their communities, plus a lot more to make up the massive gaps in health, housing and education that have grown amid decades of appalling government neglect. They just dont see why they have to give up their basic human rights in the process.

Aboriginal people rejected the methods of the intervention. They want consultation, not confrontation. They want assistance, not insistence.

And they want to be heard. As usual, Aboriginal Territorians have spoken loud and clear at this federal election, but I fear that as usual, not enough people are listening.

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27 Responses to The election and ‘The Intervention’

  1. Jacques Chester says:

    They just dont see why they have to give up their basic human rights in the process.

    Which human rights, pray tell?

    As usual, Aboriginal Territorians have spoken loud and clear at this federal election, but I fear that as usual, not enough people are listening.

    It’s because they same the same thing at every election: We Vote ALP. The safest ALP seats in the NT are aboriginal seats.

    What annoys me is that “consultation” usually translates as “doing what the land council wants”. What also annoys me is that competing voices struggle to get their message into the communities because the land councils can use the permit system to stop anyone they don’t like getting in.

    It’s dodgy in all directions.

  2. Jacques,

    As you know, I’m not unsympathetic to what you’re saying. That having been said, if the intervention was being done with genuinely good intentions, the big press conference that announced it would have announced a set of firm intentions which would be implemented after urgent consultations. It would not have been done in the Tampa style way it was done.

  3. harry clarke says:

    I think Mal Brough was one of the moral and committed people in the Liberal Party and that despite your innuendo and irrelevant asides you do not establish otherwise.

    Who said he had that name within indigenous affairs? More innuendo or your Labor mates?

    That he sought to limit the sexual exploitation of young children for his own gain. I don’t believe it or you. It is a snide inappropriate allegation.

    And since when have aboriginals voted Liberal in the NT? And didn’t Rudd back the intervention? Did he do it too for electoral gain?

    You should rethink the issue of attaching motives and grow up.

  4. Alphonse says:

    According to George Megalogenis, the demographic in Brough’s electorate was hit hard by his other notable baby – Welfare to Work – on top of Work Choices being disproportionately odious in Qld.

    I don’t think Brough should be necessarily condemned for sharing Howard’s opportunistic approach to aboriginal issues. He’s just a good soldier and, from most accounts, a pretty decent bloke.

  5. Ken Parish says:

    Chris Graham’s article is simplistic and silly, as is most of what he writes in the Indigenous Times. The ALP always wins the remote Aboriginal mobile booths overwhelmingly. In the 2004 election Labor won 76.4% of the 2PP vote on the Lingiari mobiles. This time it looks to be a bit higher, possibly around 83 or 84% (see here). No doubt the increase is largely due to adverse reaction to the bullying , non-consultative manner of the intervention, but it’s hardly the sort of stark, simple picture Graham tries to create.

    The more interesting questions, which I intend dealing with in a post when I finish marking (tomorrow some time??) revolve around which bits of the Brough intervention should be retained, which are worthwhile with modification, and what more effective ways there might be to engender training, jobs and enterprise among remote indigenous people, which alone can transform the culture of idleness, drunken violence and welfare dependency which converge in the outcome of horrific child abuse highlighted in “Little Children are Sacred”. I’ve seen nothing that Chris Graham has ever written that suggests he has any clues about any of this, other than to keep sprouting the tired, failed left/”progressive” rhetoric about empowerment, self-determination and pouring more and more sit-down money down the plughole with no consideration of the sorts of mutual obligation principles that Noel Pearson advocates when not succumbing completely to Howardian bluster, hubris and pomposity.

  6. Spiros says:

    So Ken, Graham’s got it wrong, Brough got it wrong, Pearson’s got it wrong.

    Who has got it right?

  7. Ken Parish says:

    I don’t think Pearson has it wrong in his Cape York policies at all. They represent IMO an excellent blueprint with potential for wider adaptation (albeit they’re not a complete prescription). When talking about Pearson’s hubris etc I mean his wider Howardian political pronouncements of late that Ingolf Eide has analysed extensively recently here at Troppo. I don’t regard them as invalidating Pearson’s indigenous policy concepts, although they certainly undermine my trust in his political judgment more generally. Brough took Pearson’s ideas, added bullying and contemptuous disrespect and subtracted the elements of consultation, persuasion and community support without which they can’t work. Graham OTO is just mouthing the old “progressive” welfarist/”self-determination” rhetoric that has led directly to the current appalling situation in remote communities.

  8. Bill Posters says:

    Chris Grahams article is simplistic and silly, as is most of what he writes in the Indigenous Times.

    How silly of him not to wait for Ken’s post, which will doubtless reveal the one true way to solve through a difficult problem, before going off half-cocked with his simplistic “facts” and so-called “figures”.

  9. Harry,

    I’m glad you have such high opinions of Mal B. Perhaps you’re right.

    If your comments were addressed to me, please address yourself to the words I used, not to something written by someone else who said some things that I found of interest and thought would be of interest here.

    For the record, though I know far less about the issues, I can’t find any difference between my own views on this and the views Ken Parish has expressed above.

  10. observa says:

    “So Ken, Grahams got it wrong, Brough got it wrong, Pearsons got it wrong.

    Who has got it right?”

    That will be the the bloke who says sorry so we can all move on.

  11. Nabakov says:

    So this issue is not as black and white as some seem to think?

  12. Ken Parish says:

    That’s more a Homer Paxton comment than a Nabakov special. More tired and emotional than usual? BTW we haven’t forgotten the photos for the album, just buried under marking and finishing essays (in Jen’s case). But both almost finished.

  13. Kevin Rennie says:

    When Cyclone Monica struck the Arnhem community of Maningrida on 24 April 2006, Mal Brough was visiting Wadeye in the NT. Chief Minister Clare Martin and her successor Paul Henderson visited the devastated area almost immediately, but Brough showed no interest. His office even declined to comment a month later. There were no votes in a community which was clearly helping itself. I understand that the vote was 94% ALP there on Saturday. More than 10% of the voters are not indigenous.

    Whitlam and Fraser visited Maningrida as PM and are fondly remembered by elders. If Howard and Brough had treated people with respect, things might have been different for them.

  14. David Coles says:

    Just to keep things in perspective Jacques and Harry, the people of Wadeye have historically voted for the CLP rather than the ALP. The place was established as a Catholic mission and there was always strong support for the CLP.

    The people of Wadeye were subjected to the full force of Mal Brough and, on the weekend, they made their views clear.

    The intervention is clearly not all bad. Whether it was a cynical political move or a real attempt to make a change is not terribly relevant at this time. The money needs to keep coming and some of the programs can be made to work. On the other hand, destroying CDEP just so a person’s money can be taken is blind stupidity. Much of the money being spent is being wasted and that, in a situation where every dollar is valuable, is a crime.

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  16. derrida derider says:

    I don’t think Mal Brough was a good Minister – too much of the military in him. He never understood that complex problems always have a simple solution, and that that simple soluton is always wrong. Nor did he understand that you can’t get people in civilian life to just obey orders.

    But questioning his good faith in this is deeply unfair – the military has also imbued him with a lot of personal integrity. Plotting all this for political gain just would not occur to him.

    But questioning the former PM’s good faith in this is another kettle of fish …

  17. Backroom Girl says:

    DD – I think I agree with your assessment of Brough, though I haven’t had any personal experience of him as a Minister. Funny how army types think the military approach can solve everything isn’t it? Perhaps they have less capacity than other types to imagine that other people see things differently. But I guess anyone who is genuinely attracted to military life is going to want to either tell others what to do or want to be told, or both. Coming up with one’s own solutions to problems is not high on the agenda, in any case.

    However, I often despair at the capacity of some people to only see evil and malign intent on the other side of politics (and, it goes without saying, the opposite on their own). While I hope that the Rudd government does knock some of the rougher edges off the NT intervention, I hope they won’t walk away from the issues for another generation. I agree with Ken that many of Noel Pearson’s ideas have a lot of merit, especially if implemented in such a way as to genuinely build people’s capacity to take care of themselves in the longer term.

    I would like to think that the incoming government was more into capacity-building than the previous one, but I’m not sure that is the case.

  18. I don’t think Rudd will walk away from the hard issues in this area. While I remain a strong supporter of Pearson’s ideas in this area, his anti-left stuff is overweening. I think he’s quite right about the latte left and many of the foot-soldiers in the left of centre parties. But most of the people at the top of these parties are unsentimental hard heads.

  19. David Coles says:

    I agree that Rudd wont stop the intervention but I am sure that he will change it. Rudd’s managerial style requires that positive outcomes, particularly where the inputs are considerable. The current process is not generating a sufficient level of positive outcomes so it will have to change.

    With any luck there will be good advice flowing forward about how the process can be changed and, with any luck, there wont be any more simplistic solutions offered up. Change in this area requires flexibility, commitment, courage and the capacity to show respect where it is due.

    Peter Garret as a new Minister would be a choice that could demonstrate that there is a new approach. He has sky high credibility with people living in remote areas and could get support for tough action where others will struggle.

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  21. Michael says:

    I don’t think there was much “democratic repudiation” of the intervention, but the total absence of a democratic embrace of it is nearly as damning.

    Hopefully we’ll get a minister less interesting in creating headlines and more concerned with creating partnerships to address the all too obvious problems.

    The NTG should re-send their letter of June 2006 to the PM asking for a co-operative Territory-Commonwealth “significant and sustained” focus on remote communities.

  22. Robert says:

    I hope Rudd delegates this well. This requires special attention, and may there be someone with a golden heart and exemplary managerial skills to assess this, rework it, and move it forward. I’d like to see some healing, too, in that this for all it’s announced intentions was bloody brutal.

    The country is too raw just now for Rudd to be the mover and shaker here. This is about groundwork. Politics and selling of same can take a back seat now, surely?

    Let’s hope we can see this move away from the politics focus, and see and hear from those affected heartwarming results over the months ahead.

  23. FDB says:

    Give it Garrett, I say.

  24. FDB says:

    I can has ‘to’?

  25. Bill Posters says:

    Has Ken posted his One True Solution yet? I want to print it out and send it by pony to the new minister.

  26. John Greenfield says:

    They just dont see why they have to give up their basic human rights in the process.

    Somebody needs to remind Mr. Graham that Australia is not a society based on that empty trope “human rights.” It is a society based on the Australian Constitution, the State Constitutions, and the parliaments. With this basic education in civics perhaps more nuanced articles might flow from mr. Graham’s keyboard for future issues of the National Indigenous Times.

  27. David Coles says:

    I assumed that Chris Graham was talking about the proposed breach of the constitutional requirement for the removal of property otherwise than on just terms. This was a major plank in the intervention but has apparently been dropping in priority as the recognition develops that constitutional challenges are likely.

    But perhaps I am being too charitable?

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