With voting season in full-swing in the Northern Territory, here at NIT we’ve put together some information that may be helpful to voters when they hit the polling booth on the weekend.
NIT brings the NT election wrap below, covering some of the policies of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), Country Liberal Party (CLP) and new party, the Territory Alliance.
Treaty and Voice to Parliament
After the historic Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017, there have been talks of establishing a Voice to Parliament in the Australian Constitution. At the same time, current NT Treaty Commissioner Mick Dodson is looking into options for Treaty in the Territory.
Australian Labor Party (ALP)
Territory Labor has promised to develop a Treaty with Aboriginal Territorians, and have made moves to deliver on this promise made in the 2016 election.
They have since released the Treaty Discussion Paper in July 2020 with NT Treaty Commissioner Mick Dodson and have implemented a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the four NT Land Councils and current Chief Minister Michael Gunner.
In June, the Treaty Commissioner Act 2020 (NT) was passed by the Legislative Assembly with stage one consultations and the Interim Report completed in preparation of the Discussion Paper. The final report for implementing a Treaty is due in 2022.
Country Liberal Party (CLP)
Former CLP Leader Gary Higgins has questioned the effectiveness of Treaty.
“Treaty is more symbolic, as opposed to achieving real outcomes,” he said.
Instead, the CLP have a policy to “empower Aboriginal communities by establishing genuine partnerships”. This policy involves engaging with Aboriginal communities in decision-making processes to address issues like economic development, housing, health, education, employment and incarceration.
While this policy does not explicitly mention Treaty, it does mention that the CLP supports the Draft Aboriginal Justice Agreement to consult with Aboriginal Elders about a justice reform strategy and implementing recommendations of the Royal Commission that meet community expectations.
Territory Alliance have said they acknowledge and endorse the Uluru Statement from the Heart and will commit to working to establish a Treaty with First Nations peoples.
In their Aboriginal Prosperity and Rights Policy, they have pledged to establish a Chief Minister’s Aboriginal Reference Group to advise on all areas of Aboriginal policy with particular reference to Truth-Telling, Treaty and Voice.
Youth crime and community safety
The NT has the highest rates of young people in detention in Australia and the highest rates in child protection services, according to findings from the Royal Commission into the Detention of Children in the Territory. All parties have policies directed at tightening bail conditions and measures for repeat offenders, which goes against recent concerns raised about raising the age of criminal responsibility.
In ALP policy, there is a focus on increasing police resources to monitor bail conditions, implementing new laws to target adults who recruit youths to commit crimes and reinstating family responsibility agreements and orders to involve families in stopping offending behaviour.
They also pledge to break the cycle through various programs, including:
- Tailored programs for young people aged 8–13-years-old who are ‘at-risk’
- Continuing the Back on Track programs that tackle youth offending and repeat offending
- Implementing three more youth boot camps across the Territory and ongoing rehabilitation programs for youth offenders
- Continuing youth after-hour programs and services in regional areas.
CLP Leader Lia Finocchiaro pledged to overhaul youth justice and claimed the party would amend the bail act to implement harsher punishment for offenders.
Among the proposed changes is introducing a presumption against bail for youth serial offenders, defined as those convicted of two or more offences within the past two years.
The CLP also said electronic monitoring would become mandatory “where bail is granted for serious offenders”.
Territory Alliance has pledged a two-tiered approach to “administer justice commensurate with the crime”. Their policy states “while our priority … will be rehabilitation and encouraging youth to make better choices, we will not shy away from swift and impactful justice”.
Their policy outlines that for a first or second offence that is not of a serious nature, diversionary activities will be supported like boot camps, community work orders and caring for Country activities to “remove the individual from negative influences”.
For a repeated or more serious offence, “swift justice” will be administered, meaning once the offender is identified by police, the Community Court process will begin.
There have been calls for an urgent change of the NT’s drinking water legislation following a recent case where remote central communities took the NT Housing Department to court over high levels of uranium in its water.
While the case was lost, water security is a focus for all major parties ahead of this weekend’s election.
The ALP has pledged they will deliver the Northern Territory Strategic Water Plan; the Territory’s first long-term approach to sustainably manage water resources. NT Minister for Essential Services, Dale Wakefield, confirmed that if elected, Labor would look at amending the Water Act but did not expand on details.
The CLP has also pledged to increase water security and create certainty on water supply in regional communities.
The Territory Alliance’s policy outlines that if elected, they will “ensure that remote communities have access to World Health Organisation standards of water for domestic purpose”.
The Territory’s peak body for housing and homelessness, NT Shelter, are calling on the future government to create a housing and homelessness policy. The rate of homelessness in the NT is 12 times the national average, with an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 houses needed over the next five years to address the shortfall in housing.
The Gunner Government’s $1.1 billion ten-year remote housing program is currently in place. NT Shelter has claimed far more needs to be done to deliver close to the housing shortfall.
ALP is yet to announce a detailed housing policy.
The CLP has promised they are committed to providing “safe and amenable public housing to vulnerable Territorians” and are “strictly” enforcing a four-pronged plan to tackle anti-social behaviour and damage to housing. The plan includes:
- Empowering public housing safety officers
- Strictly enforcing a six demerit point system on an escalating basis depending on the severity of the breaches of tenancy agreement, the most serious of which may result in eviction
- Increasing tenancy support
- Visitors being held accountable for damage.
Within their policy to “empower Aboriginal communities”, the CLP promises their actions for remote housing will ensure that an Aboriginal community-controlled peak housing body will advise and work with the government to streamline Aboriginal housing policies.
Territory Alliance’s policy on housing and homelessness has received the approval from NT Shelter. The policy outlines commitments to delivering a plan to build 8,000-12,000 additional public houses by 2025 and increasing funding to the specialist homelessness sector by $2.5 million each year.
The Alliance also claims to “press hard” to renegotiate funding for homelessness services from the Commonwealth, as the NT currently receives the smallest amount in the nation.
Gamba grass eradication
All three major parties have developed policies on how to eradicate the highly flammable and invasive weed, Gamba grass. Originally from Africa, the grass was introduced to the NT in the 1930s as cattle feed.
The weed has since infested an estimated 1.5 million hectares, including 20 per cent of Litchfield National Park. It poses a significant fire threat to the Darwin rural area and residents fear it could be the cause of dangerous bushfires.
The ALP plans to eradicate Gamba grass through the establishment of a “Gamba army” to be deployed to mitigate the weed across the Top End.
Half a million dollars was recently allocated for the establishment of the army, which will also help create 43 new local jobs, training and equipment. Labor has pledged an additional investment of $225,000 per year to create a unit focused on reducing the risks of unmanaged Gamba grass.
The party will also commit to a further investment of $50,000 into a new Fire Mitigation Assistance Scheme for rural landholders to address land management matters related to firebreaks and Gamba grass fuel loads on their properties.
The CLP has a three-point plan in place to eradicate Gamba grass from all Crown land. Finocchiaro said a CLP Government would:
- Empower and resource the Weeds Branch of the Department of Environment to develop and oversee a comprehensive Crown land eradication plan
- Work with private landholders to ensure they are up to date with management and supported with the appropriate equipment and herbicide
- Form a Gamba Management Network consisting of local government, Aboriginal rangers, environmental organisations and community groups.
The CLP has said it can implement the policy “within the current budget” of the department by repurposing resources.
Party leader Terry Mills announced the Territory Alliance would spend $20 million across four years to eradicate the weed.
The party said they will establish a Gamba Control Taskforce overseen by a Gamba Reduction Minister to support and coordinate a community-led approach to control the weed.
The taskforce will have five representatives from communities in affected areas with representatives from the following agencies:
- Department of Primary Industries
- Department of Environment
- Department of Infrastructure and Planning
- Parks and Wildlife NT
- Bushfires NT
- Aboriginal organisations.
Recreational fishing makes up a large part of employment, lifestyle and tourism opportunities in the Territory. All major parties have policies addressing access, improvement and safeguarding of recreational fishing.
The ALP has said they will increase access to recreational fishing and tourism opportunities in remote areas in order to provide employment for local people, ranger groups and economic opportunities for Traditional Owners.
They pledge to safeguard cultural heritage and continue the Recreational Fishing Small Grants Scheme which offers funding to eligible organisations for projects that improve recreational fishing in the Territory.
The CLP has plans to “safeguard and enhance recreational fishing” in the Territory. They have pledged to fast-track the upgrade of Point Stuart Road to allow better access to the boat ramp and aid in the growth of fishing tourism.
Territory Alliance has pledged to continually improve new and existing fishing infrastructure, encourage recreational fishing opportunities and extend research to sustainably manage fish populations for future generations.
The party have said they will spend $40 million over four years to improve infrastructure in prioritised areas of Nightcliff and Dundee.
The NT election will be held on August 22, with early polling options underway for most areas.
By Grace Crivellaro