Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Northern Territory: January to June 2005

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Northern Territory: January to June 2005

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Northern Territory election of 18 June dominated the period under review. While most observers anticipated that Clare Martin's Labor government would be returned, few expected the electoral landslide that eventuated. The opposition Country Liberal Party (CLP), Australia's most successful political party before its defeat in 2001, lost most of its Legislative Assembly seats and faced a bleak future.

The Election Prelude

It appeared on 8 January that the CLP might make race an election issue when the Leader of the Opposition, Terry Mills, asserted that Territory residents would lose access to their national parks if, as the government planned, title to them was transferred to traditional Indigenous owners. The Chief Minister, Clare Martin, disputed this, arguing that Mills's claim ought to become an election issue. On 17 February the Legislative Assembly passed legislation that the government proclaimed secured the future existence of twenty-seven national parks. Mills's successor as Leader of the Opposition, Denis Burke, however, accused Martin of "rushing through the legislation to pass her secret deal with Aboriginal people on the parks handover" (Northern Territory News, 18 February 2005). In a rare display of agreement on Indigenous affairs, on 5 April the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister, John Howard, signed a historic agreement that set out how Indigenous services in the Northern Territory would be handled following the dismantling of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). New arrangements could lead to private ownership of Aboriginal land.

Economic matters seemed likely to be important in an election. Some observers predicted difficulties for the government when it was revealed on 14 January that Woodside Petroleum had shelved the $7 billion Greater Sunrise gas project in the Timor Sea due to the unresolved border dispute between Australia and East Timor. Better news came on 26 January when Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showed that the Territory had the lowest inflation in the country. Following a newspaper campaign alleging that fuel prices were too high in the Territory, the government announced on 2 February that an independent inquiry would be held on the prices. The Chief Minister acknowledged that Territory residents were paying significantly more for fuel than in other parts of the country. Treasurer Syd Stirling announced the Northern Territory's $2.7 million Budget on 3 May, variously described as "modest", "neutral" and "conservative". Budget winners included first home-buyers, who saved up to $3160 each under stamp duty changes. Opposition Leader Burke warned that the budget showed that Northern Territory debt would increase by over $128 million during the next four years. The Northern Territory News, however, editorialised on 4 May that the Treasurer was "cautious to a fault [...] The Government has reaped a windfall from GST money and should have passed more of that on to Territory taxpayers". On 9 May the government signed off on the deal for the $1.1 billion Darwin City Waterfront development, which the Chief Minister described as "a most magnificent project for Darwin" (Northern Territory News, 10 May 2005).

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions on 25 January laid twenty-one charges against a prominent Territory man. Due to a court suppression order the media in the Territory, but not outside it, were not permitted to publish the name of the accused unless he was committed to stand trial over the alleged offences. It became known on 8 February that, following a request from the Chief Minister, the Police Commissioner, Paul White, personally briefed her regarding the case on the night before a court hearing on it on 11 January. The new Leader of the Opposition, Denis Burke, asked in parliament on 8 February whether there was any government involvement in the issuing of the suppression order. …

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