Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Northern Territory: January to June 2002

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Northern Territory: January to June 2002

Article excerpt


The period under review witnessed the Australian Labor Party (ALP) in the Northern Territory attempting with varying degrees of success to meet the challenges of government after so many years in opposition. After five months in office, Paul Toohey critically reflected in The Weekend Australian at the end of January that Chief Minister Clare Martin seemed partial to nepotism, reluctant to pay bills and slow on social justice. Dr Bill Wilson, Lecturer in History and Politics at the Northern Territory University, said at the same time that he did not believe the "government was ready to govern" (The Weekend Australian, 26-27 January 2002). Other observers were more charitable. An editorial in the Northern Territory News a few weeks later conceded that the "ALP has had a rocky initiation to its first crack at governing the Territory" and claimed that for "most people, the jury is still out" on how the party had handled the transition to power.

Significant political topics between January and June 2002 included the election of a minister in the former Country Liberal Party (CLP) government as Lord Mayor of Darwin, the departure of prominent senior public servants, the challenges of economic development, the CLP's problems in coming to terms with opposition, controversies regarding the Legislative Assembly and its members, some legal matters, the government's only Aboriginal minister's outspoken assessment of Aboriginal issues, measures to ensure greater water safety, the protection of mangroves and English language testing at the Northern Territory University.

The Lord Mayor of Darwin

Darwin's popular Lord Mayor, George Brown, died suddenly on 8 January aged seventy-two. A colourful and often controversial figure, he was well known nationally. "Never one for stuffy tradition", the Northern Territory News editorialised, "Mr Brown could best be described as a lovable rogue who did things his way" (Northern Territory News, 9 January 2002).

Sixteen candidates contested the by-election for Lord Mayor held on 23 March. Some were members of and active in either the CLP or the ALP. Although Dawn Lawrie, a former Independent member of the Legislative Assembly, won the most primary votes, Peter Adamson, a former CLP Minister who lost his seat in parliament in 2001, was elected after the distribution of preferences and her supporters expressed anger at the preferential voting system, calling for electoral reform. In spite of his election, Adamson refused to role out contesting a Legislative Assembly seat in the future.

The Northern Territory Public Service

On 8 January the Under-Treasurer, Ken Clarke, announced his retirement although he had told the media just before Christmas that he had no intention of leaving his job. The Leader of the Opposition, Denis Burke, accused the new Labor government of targeting Clarke for removal. Dr Bill Wilson said that the announcement of Clarke's replacement would be significant. "It will", he observed, "be interesting to see whether the Territory public service has produced someone capable of taking over that position" (Northern Territory News, 11 January 2002). The Deputy Under-Treasurer, Jennifer Prince, was appointed to act in Clarke's former position until a successor was found.

In early March the Territory's Auditor-General, Iain Summers, criticised payments made to senior public servants in the wake of the re-structure of the bureaucracy in November 2001. He said on 4 March that chief executive officers who ceased employment in the wake of the restructure received "termination payments" as if the contracts had been ended. The Deputy Chief Minister, Syd Stifling, however, responded that the payments saved the Territory more than a million dollars.

The Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health, Haydn Lowe, on 10 May used electronic mail to tell employees in his department that he was quitting because he disapproved of his fellow executives' policies. …

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