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Northern Territory: a failed jurisdiction? « Previous | |Next »
October 28, 2009

My image of the Northern Territory is that it is the frontier land, the land of eco-tourism, crocodiles everywhere, big resource development, entrenched racism, failed dreams, a tabloid Murdoch press, and an callous indifference to the wellbeing of its large indigenous population.

ochre cave painting, Kakadu National Park

I also have a vague sense from my Canberra days of structural flaws in governance-- the bureaucrats systematically channel federal funding to improve indigenous disadvantage to the white electorates in Darwin. In The Australian's Inquirer Nicolas Rothwell makes explicit the corruption inherent in the governance of the Northern Territory.

He says:

the Territory is best understood as an interlocking set of interest groups. It is heavily dependent on outside funding, the bureaucracy is shot through with politics, almost all medium-sized business relies on public sector contracts and the entire system is founded on the administration of an Aboriginal underclass.The original act of dispossession is echoed today by a permanent process of pillage, in which the Territory helps itself to special-purpose federal funding meant to alleviate remote area disadvantage, then delivers grossly inadequate services to the indigenous societies of the bush.

He adds that governance in the NT is steered by the prevailing ideology of its first political generations, an ideology of development, based on the idea that an advanced society can be built in the tropical north, founded on large-scale resources projects, increased settlement and rapid population growth.

The Territory government aims at development, and its desire is for Darwin to become a regional centre and resources industry service town, buoyed by sectoral growth and linked to Asian neighbours. The political logic of the state dictates that the administration lavishly funds the needs of the white majority whilst ensuring that the indigenous minority lives in poor conditions. Consequently,

Darwin is full of facades rather than real structures: an Environmental Protection Authority without powers, an indigenous advisory panel without input, a climate change portfolio without policies, a museum with insufficient funds. Such facade institutions, and the philosophy behind them, infect the air. They create a fantasy approach to administration, where Canberra always lurks, saviour-like, in the wings, and the declaration of a policy is sufficient to change the world.

The Territory's raft of newly proclaimed indigenous policies, on homelands, on education, on the formation of 20 bush towns, are all just more facades, worthless pieces of paper, unfunded expressions of good intent, reliant on yet more federal money for their realisation.

The reality is a dispersed and devastated indigenous culture, which is still reeling from the effects of colonial settlement and a generation's worth of harmful welfare policies, struggling to survive, while constantly subjected to strange shifts in direction and control from Darwin.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:51 AM | | Comments (2)


I dont usually watch 60 minutes but the promos for it this week suggest that they are covering communities from the angle of; You have had $100 M spent here where have you spent it(?) as the camera pans a shanty town.

Am glad came back and read this.
These are things that are usually left unsaid.