Archive for the 'Politics' Category


My experiences with media

Since my involvement with local government one of the most interesting experiences is media engagement.  This is because instead of being an observor or reader I’m embroiled in it.  A lesson I’ve learnt of late (mid Aug 2010) is that I can advocate a certain position concerning policy development, and in the process use precious time and know that I’m using (and drawing down) trust and authority from others, and have that position completely undermined by media.  It is very frustrating because it makes me question the efforts of good people around me.  The challenge in Alice Springs is that newsworthy stories are often split on racial lines.  Journalists are tempted to drive these splits because it serves their purpose.  Ethics often becomes irrelevant.  Having observed closely the misconceptions fuelled directly from media stories too often I see this as a big issue for the direction of the town (but an issue that is very hard to address mainly because elected members at any level should never hold media to account).   

The following is a list of experiences that I update only after a long length of time passes…

In a letter to the editor I submitted the words ‘As an urban Indigenous person’ and then proceeded to criticise the playing of the race card by a prominent Alice Springs person.  The newspaper changed the ‘as’ to ‘to’, completely changing the meaning and context of the letter.  My intention was to start where I’m coming and whilst I have no problem referring to my circumstances as ‘urban’ I certainly would not refer to others the same way because everyone has a different angle.  One word can change the whole context.  This experience made me lose all faith in the idea of writing letters to the editor.    

When I was first elected a local journalist asked me about what it meant to have two Aboriginal Alderman.  I repeated the lines (because he kept on seeking a different response) that ‘I was proud to be associated with a Council with Alderman from a diverse range of identities and industries’.  I didn’t want to be drawn into a race-based analysis.  The next day my words were printed along the lines of being ‘proud to be’ on a Council with two Aboriginal Alderman and how this would make a big difference (it may have, but I didn’t want to be drawn on it).  This was my first direct experience.  It made an immediate impression.

Following my election as Deputy Mayor I held a lengthy interview where I said a core focus would be to argue for recognition of Local Government in the constitution that evokes Statehood (the document that formalises a new State for the NT).  I said that the new constitution can protect the interests of regions, and Local Government, because of its geographic spread, was one way to do this.  I said that the efforts of Local Government for recognition in the ‘national’ constitution was not worth the time or effort.  The media report said my ambition was for recognition of Local Government in the ‘national’ constitution.  Subsequent media reports made similar claims.  These articles were directly against the message I gave, they were the direct opposite.

In another media piece an interviewer asked me about my family heritage.  I told him the links.  He wasn’t familiar with those names so I explained more familiar family names that branched from a common ancestor.  I said that those more familiar names are not my direct family and I would prefer the original names I said, my reasoning was to avoid any potential sensitivities and to give him familiar names so he could see how all the families linked up.  When he referred to my family links he said the names I asked him not to. 

On a completely different topic the following is a Stateline interview, my first foray into tv journalism: 

MELINDA JAMES: They’ve been described as racist, unconstitutional and even wacky. Alice Springs Town Council has proposed eighty four new by-laws that have stirred up angry public debate. The by-laws cover a range of issues including a prohibition on people sleeping in the dry Todd River bed, drinking alcohol in public and demonstrating without a permit.

Alice Springs Deputy Mayor John Rawnsley says the aim of the by-laws is to improve the town. I spoke with him earlier today.

MELINDA JAMES: John Rawnsley, welcome to Stateline.

JOHN RAWNSLEY – Deputy Mayor, Alice Springs: Hi Melinda, how are you?

MELINDA JAMES: It’s fair to say that these proposed by-laws have caused quite a stir in Alice Springs, isn’t it?

JOHN RAWNSLEY: Oh look, it’s been twenty years since the by-laws have been revised. Recent changes to the local government act give local councils and shires more powers in relation to creating their own by-laws. This is a big project that were working on, previously we worked on by-laws in relation to trolleys and of course council’s got a lot of great initiatives such as the cash-for-cans scheme amongst one. But, you know, we encourage public discussion in relation to a wide range of issues and so we’ve taken the course of putting these draft by-laws out for public comment.

Continue reading ‘My experiences with media’


Embedding regionalisation in the Statehood constitution

At the Full Council meeting on 28th October the following motion was passed unanimously:

That Council prepare a discussion paper for Statehood.

That the discussion paper examine, amongst other possibilities, recognition of Local Government including its powers and responsibilities and an equitable formula for the distribution of funds to be embedded in the constitution that evokes Statehood.

That this paper, if necessary, utilise funding allocated in this years budget for further analysis of population figures and mobility with a view of ascertaining an accurate formula.

That this paper consider the unique position of regions within the Territory.

That Council give impetus to the Mayor to consult with Local Government across the Territory,
particularly the regions, with a view of seeking support for the principles embodied in the paper.

Moved: John Rawnsley
Seconded: Jane Clark

This motion calls on Council to actively contribute to the direction of Statehood by promoting the
principle of regionalisation. The aim is to embed this interest in the document that evokes

Regionalisation holds two aspects.

More over the fold.

Continue reading ‘Embedding regionalisation in the Statehood constitution’


Alison Anderson elected unopposed

Alison Anderson has won the seat of Macdonnell unopposed at the 2008 Territory election.  There is no voting in this seat as she was the only nominating candidate. 

Malcolm Mackerras writes in

At the November 1963 House of Representatives only general election John Norman Nelson (Labor) was returned unopposed for the Northern Territory. It then went entirely out of fashion for any member of the House of Representatives to be returned unopposed.

However, unopposed returns continued at state elections. In South Australia in March 1965 there were unopposed returns in Albert, Angas and Light. In Queensland in May 1966 there were unopposed returns in Mackenzie and Warrego. In New South Wales in September 1981 there was an unopposed return in South Coast. In Western Australia in February 1983 there was an unopposed return in Narrogin.


Craig Emerson, Market Democrats and the IK economy

Craig Emerson delivered a speech to the Sydney Institute outlining a broad platform to further reform the Australian welfare state.  The speech presented a mainstream construct of an emerging yet well-founded philosophy: that social democracy is relevant where it can influence markets for the public good.  Emerson refers to supporters of this line of thought as Market Democrats.  

I’m a supporter of this broad philosophy.  My concern is the lack of debate in relation to the role of markets in indigenous policy.  My concern is the paucity of debate concerning the relationships between indigenous peoples, markets and social policy. 

Emerson claims that:

Governments must not imprison the disadvantaged by subjugating them to the state, robbing them of self-esteem and condemning them to a life of dependency; governments must liberate them by providing opportunity for all in a truly fair society. Let us not make the disadvantaged the experiments of social engineers yearning for a different social order but lacking the stomach to practise it in their own lives. It is this social experimentation of romanticising traditional life in the harsh outback that has caused Australia’s most vulnerable – indigenous people – to be trapped in misery.

Emerson is correct in asserting that the contemporary welfare state has ‘subjugated’ indigenous peoples to State dependance, but I am not convinced that it is the ‘romanticisation’ of ‘traditional life’ that has allowed welfare dependance to flourish.  In the post-Whitlam period indigenous people were entitled to welfare provision on the basis of equal rights and equal entitlements.  This formed part of an international process aimed at removing discrimination.  When the welfare state was reformed, and where mainstream welfare structures integrated notions of reciprocity and mutual obligation, indigenous-specific programs were excluded from such reforms.  I am not convinced that this exclusion was not confined to reasons of the ‘romanticisation’ of ‘traditional life’ argument.  For example, many conservative political forces sceptical of the ‘romanticisation’ argument supported excluding such programs as a way to stem Aboriginal migration to regional centres.   

Where Emerson is correct, and where other advocates lack focus, is the connection between the State, markets and social policy.  The benefit of adopting the Market Democrat notion to indigenous policy is to look at how to harmonise the relationship between markets and the pluralism of indigenous identity.  I refer to this as the Indigenous Knowledge economy.

More over the fold. 

Continue reading ‘Craig Emerson, Market Democrats and the IK economy’


The term ‘urban Aboriginal’

ABC News reports comments by the dean of Indigenous Research and Education at CDU, Prof MaryAnn Bin-Sallik, that descriptions like ‘urban indigenous, traditional indigenous and persons of Aboriginal descent’ are insulting in the extreme. 

ABC reports:

[that Professor Bin-Sallik] says the term ‘urban indigenous’ is racist because it being based on the colour of people’s skin.  She says even Aboriginal people have started identifying with the ‘toxic labels’.  She wants all levels of Australian governments to stop using racist language, and instead describe indigenous Australians as Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders.

I disagree on three grounds (over the fold).

Continue reading ‘The term ‘urban Aboriginal’’


Blogging and local politics

The popularity of blogging has increased rapidly in recent years.  The tools available from host sites (e.g. google, wordpress) are incredibly versatile and user-friendly.  While there is still contested debate about its impact one fact that is recognised is its use in the local political arena.   

Fellow Alderman Jane Clark has had a blog for a number of years.  As far as I’m aware there is no other blog with Centralian content with relevance to politics.


Pearson, Steele & Obama

In December last year I posted here in reference to a review of Shelby Steele’s book, A Bound Man

Noel Pearson’s essay in the Monthly offers an intriguing analysis of Steele’s insight into contemporary race relations in America.  There are several compelling paragraphs that refer to responsibility, opportunity, and how uplift occurs in dominant-minority populations.  After reading the essay I was disappointed at what I saw as deficiencies in Pearson’s core argument.

Pearson argues that Obama has not pursued strongly enough the radical centre that integrates core notions (or a contemporary understanding) of responsibility.  Pearson contends that Obama should ‘radically revise’ his account of such issues at the Democratic National Convention in August.   

Obama is being misrepresented.  My observations are that he has pursued the radical centre by offering a style of politics that is untested at the national level in the United States.  This necessarily involves merging notions of opportunity (that inevitably give rise to questions of race and equality) and responsibility.  Promoting notions of ‘black responsibility’ (as Pearson refers) is why Obama has been able to attract such strong support amongst the African-American Democratic base, many independents and a number of Republicans (this strategy is more difficult to pursuit for a non-African-American candidate). 

Pearson holds that ‘the main shortcoming of Obama’s philosophy is that he does not recognise, as Steele has, that the nature of black Americans struggle changed fundamentally after the civil rights victories of the ‘60s’.  A reading of a number of Obama’s work, whether it is his original Dreams of my Father or The Audacity of Hope, or a number of speeches would reveal that he does.   

Pearson goes on to say:

Shelby Steele writes in A Bound Man: ‘despite the fact that Obama clearly seems to accept the importance of individual responsibility in social reform…he offers no thinking on how to build incentives to responsibility into actual social policy.’  There is time enough for Obama to correct his analysis and to move beyond the critical shortcomings of his Philadelphia speech. 

Obama’s work contradicts this assertion.  In The Audacity of Hope, Obama explains that affirmative action policies post 1960s have not displaced the primacy of responsibility amongst the uplifting black middle class.  He notes the true feelings of resentment felt by those excluded from affirmative action.  Obama argues that because it is the responsibility-uplifting paradigm (combined with the removal of institutional racism) that has served to enlarge the black middle class it is the failed complimentary policy, affirmative action, which has compounded the dilemma. 

Continued over the fold.

Continue reading ‘Pearson, Steele & Obama’

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