Northern Territory: January-June 1997

Article excerpt


The period under review included a variety of interesting political developments. Among them were a changing role for the Administrator of the Northern Territory, the continuing debate on euthanasia, arguments over Aboriginal rights, allegations about political favouritism in a government grant to the wife of the Member of the House of Representatives for the Northern Territory, a dispute over politicians' travel costs, a possible acceleration of statehood, government policies to deal with alcohol abuse, differences between the Territory Government and Darwin environmental groups, the implications of the Commonwealth and Territory budgets and a politically embarrassing result of the new firearms legislation.

The Office of Administrator

On 31 December 1996 the Administrator of the Northern Territory, Austin Asche, retired. He had held the position since March 1993. A distinguished lawyer and judge, he had been particularly active as Administrator, attending an average of two functions a day and travelling to almost all parts of the Northern Territory. His successor was Dr Neil Conn, a distinguished economist and former Northern Territory Under Treasurer.

At an official farewell function held in Darwin's Parliament House on 13 February, Asche said he had found it very difficult to maintain his silence about the Commonwealth Parliament's treatment of the Territory on the issue of euthanasia legislation and described federal politicians opposing the Territory's controversial legislation as "sanctimonious, patronising pricks". Not surprisingly, his words produced a mixed response from the large audience.

The new Administrator, Conn, made it clear in a speech at the Northern Territory University on I May that he would, if necessary, have no hesitation in speaking out against the Federal Government, although he was the Commonwealth's official representative in the Territory, lie also made it obvious that he would identify closely with the views of the governing Country Liberal Party (CLP) on issues such as uranium mining and Aboriginal land rights.

On 13 February the Northern Territory Government announced that it was appointing a Deputy Administrator for the first time. The position was filled by Minna Sitzler, a prominent Alice Springs business person and longstanding CLP member. A spokesperson for the Chief Minister said that the Dew appointment was honorary and would give the Central Australia region the services of an Administrator.

Euthanasia Legislation

On 2 January cancer sufferer Janet Mills became the second person to die by legally sanctioned euthanasia in the Northern Territory. In a statement prepared before her death, she said she hoped that the Territory legislation survived a challenge in Federal Parliament.

Debate among Territorians on the measure, however, continued. At a Senate inquiry in Darwin on 24 January, Marshall Perron, the former Chief Minister, expressed hopes that other states would follow the Territory's example. The Northern Territory Council of Churches, on the other hand, opposed euthanasia on theological grounds and used traditional Aboriginal law to support its case.

The Chief Minister, Shane Stone, on 27 February conceded that the euthanasia legislation would almost certainty be overturned in the forthcoming Senate vote on Kevin Andrews' private member's bill. "Senators have", Stone regretted, "well and truly lined up against the Territory's legislation".

As Stone predicted, on 25 March the Senate passed the Andrews' bill. The vote was both praised and pilloried in the Territory. Some attacked it as cowardly and intolerant and complained that it trampled on Territory rights. Others, especially church leaders, praised it for treating human fife with reverence. Stone's initial reaction was to put pressure on the CLP to order its two federal parliamentarians, Nick Dondas and Senator Grant Tambling, to leave the Commonwealth Government and sit on the crossbenches. …