(Transcript from World News Radio)
Three Indigenous members of the ruling Country Liberals Party have walked out of Parliament just days before a crucial by-election.
They’re claiming discrimination and a failure to deliver on election promises prompted their move.
As Verica Jokic reports, without the three backbenchers’ support, the CLP’s hold on power is in jeopardy.
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The problem for the Country Liberals Party began last week when the three Indigenous members, Alison Anderson, Larisa Lee and Francis Xavier held a meeting with the Chief Minister Adam Giles.
It’s emerged the three presented demands to the Chief Minister, including ministerial positions for two of them, who claimed they were coming under pressure from constituents in the bush for delivery of election promises.
Alison Anderson says they attended two meetings with Mr Giles to express their concerns, and those meetings were initially friendly and constructive.
“We came out of it thinking it was a really really good meeting. Yes we were saying that he should put in a whole department just focus on Indigenous affairs, yes there was asking for two ministries for myself and for Larisa and also for our colleague Francis to be Parliamentary Secretary to be in an investigating role of Francis checking to see where all the Indigenous money’s going and I think it’s an absolutely fantastic idea. His staff seemed to agree with it. “
But Ms Anderson says Mr Giles then changed his mind and that’s what prompted the walk out during Question time on Thursday, 27 March.
“We did it because we saw things not working for our people. We went into the first consultation, we thought it was ok. We started getting question packs that was forcing us to ask questions about the amount of money and the stuff that this government was doing for people which we knew was untrue. So we decided as a three that we would go in there for prayers and we would stand up for our people with pride and honour and walk out.”
It was a development not wasted on the leader of the Northern Territory Opposition, Delia Lawrie.
“Three members of your own party, your own government have just literally walked out of this chamber. It is unprecedented in Territory politcal history.You have lost the numbers to govern. What have you got to say to Territorians about this debacle?”
The walkout prompted calls within the CLP for Alison Anderson’s suspension from the parliamentary wing.
On Friday, Mr Giles announced disciplinary measures for her criticism of his government.
“I will not allow the Northern Territory to be held to ransom by one particular member of parliament. To that vein, this afternoon I have tried to make contact with Member for Namatjira, Alison Anderson, to advise that she will now be suspended from the parliamentary wing until further notice. It’s got to a point in time where it’s simply a joke. Alison Anderson and others, I believe, have a gun to our head, and I won’t tolerate it.”
The latest bitter dispute follows claims by Ms Anderson that she was verbally abused by Minister for Central Australia Matt Conlan during a meeting.
Mr Conlan has apologised, but it’s unclear what for exactly.
Despite the bitter internal disputes, fellow Country Liberals member and Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion has blamed his party’s problems on the previous Northern Territory Labor government.
“I know Larisa and Alison and Xavier very well and they’re good local members. They want the Northern Territory government to build more roads, build better schools, do things for the bush, but with a $1.5 billion structural deficit for a population of less than Bondi that’s what they”ve been given. And it will be the challenge of every government for some time in the Northern Territory to try to trade their way out of the last Labor disaster.”
Larisa Lee and Francis Xavier have been told by the party they can rejoin the government, but the attempt to split them from Alison Anderson seems to have failed with Ms Lee saying they’ll stand by their fellow remote member.
“This fight is not about us. It’s about the people in the bush who voted for us and put this government in power. How are we supposed to deliver to our people if our voices are not in government. There’s no hope for Aboriginal people in this party, there isn’t. They’re narrowing it down to the individual. They’re trying to divide and conquer us. Well, it’s not going to work.”
If the three Indigenous members leave the CLP, and the party loses the Blain by-election on April 12, it will rely on the Independent Gerry Wood to form a minority government.
It’s a similar scenario to that faced by the former Labor Government when Alison Anderson walked out on it.
A former Labor minister, Ms Anderson’s walkout on that occasion, and her eventual defection to the Country Liberals, forced Labor to rely on Mr Wood’s support to retain power.
The Country Liberals hold Blain comfortably with an 18 per cent swing against them required for it to change hands.