Alison Anderson: rebel with a cause

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

Alison Anderson has long operated under the motto: If you can’t join them, beat them.

 

Right: Ms Anderson with Kathy Satour (at left in the photo) in Alice Springs this morning.

 

She speaks five Indigenous languages, has breathed the rarefied air of Canberra as an ATSIC commissioner, worked in local government in her home town Papunya well before the shires were imposed, and when the CLP government shut the power off in the community because people – encouraged by her – wouldn’t pay their electricity bills, she joined collectors of firewood for heat and light and told Darwin to jump in a lake.

 

She had a hatchet job done on her in a book by Melbourne journalist Russell Skelton, and seamlessly transitioned from Labor and  Independent to CLP and now the Palmer United Party (PUP) while one crucial factor remained constant: overwhelming support from the constituents in her electorate of Namatjira (formerly MacDonnell), half as big again as Great Britain, and in return her loyalty to them.

 

Ms Anderson entered the NT Parliament with a bang in 2005, defeating the sitting CLP candidate John Elferink – now a Darwin MLA and Minister for Justice – with 61% to 38% of the vote after preferences.

 

In 2008 she was re-elected unopposed. No-one would take her on.

 

In 2012 she stood for the CLP, beating Labor’s Des Rogers 68% to 31%.

 

Ms Anderson’s take on politics in the Territory is feisty: “You add up the salary of the Chief Minister, his deputy, all his ministers, his backbenchers, then all the staff on level five, plus the 20,000 bureaucrats, and the result of that is that health, education and crime indicators are failing everybody in the Northern Territory, tourism is dying, and few can afford decent housing. We really need the Commonwealth to come in and take over again. And these people will be unemployable.”

 

NEWS: The new Tony Abbott rules would mean Chief Minister Adam Giles would be on six months’ training to qualify for the dole?

 

ANDERSON: He’s safe. He’s over 30.

 

After a stint on the front bench, from which she was sacked by Mr Giles after calling him “just a boy”, Ms Anderson quit the CLP because “they have not done anything whatsoever” about fulfilling election promises to the bush. Larisa Lee (Arnhem) and Francis Xavier (Arafura) joined her, leaving the CLP with a paper thin margin.

 

“They went to the election 20 months ago with so much stuff for Aboriginal people. They have not done anything whatsoever.”

 

She says, for example, in Daly the 2014/15 Budget allocates $20m for sealing just 18 km of the Port Keats road between Peppimenarti and Palumpa, when $200m is needed for the whole road. “Why would you bother?”

 

She says about the government: “They are very arrogant. They don’t listen to people. It’s hard to get appointments with them. People get five minutes or they won’t get an appointment for three months.”

 

When the relationship with the government broke down, it was she who got in touch with Clive Palmer, says Ms Anderson.

 

“We had a talk to Bob Katter as well. We weighed up our options about security, with someone we could really work with.”

 

They chose Palmer.

 

NEWS: Why? Because he has money?

 

ANDERSON: It has nothing to do with his money whatsoever. It was the fact that he’s been winning elections in other jurisdictions, such as in WA, Tasmania and Queensland, and that gives us a bigger hope in the NT. It also gives Territorians a choice. People may say, we’ve given the CLP and the ALP a go in the past, let’s give these guys a shot.

 

NEWS: Does Palmer have an Aboriginal policy?

 

ANDERSON: It’s a work in progress. He’s been quite open, an Aboriginal policy should be developed by ourselves, the three Indigenous PUP members. We started talking to people four weeks ago, about a policy not specifically about Indigenous people, but how we can get people up, move them forwards, socially and economically.

Overwhelming support from constituents: Ms Anderson on the road in the 2012 election campaign talking to men from Areyonga.  

 

NEWS: Australia wide?

 

ANDERSON: No, just in the Territory. We are 36% of the population. We own 50% of the landmass under land rights. We can call on another 48% under native title which is your pastoral leases.

 

NEWS: This leaves two percent.

 

ANDERSON: That’s right. Yet the stakeholders are at the bottom of the human rubbish dump, when you have a look at it. When you look at the education outcomes, where are we? Are we in the top 20%? The top 50%? I don’t think so. When you have a look at the health outcomes are we anywhere to be seen in the top 60%? No. Training and employment? We’re are at the bottom of every indicator. We need to make sure we put our land to use now.

 

NEWS: What will be the top issues?

 

ANDERSON: Economic drivers; tourism which is mainly focused on Aboriginal land and parks. What’s happened to the 99 year joint partnerships in those parks? Where is the indigenous employment in the parks? There is absolutely nothing. The parks are all just sitting idle, the West Macs, Ellery, Boggy Hole. There are hundreds of places like that, not just Uluru and Kakadu.

 

We have lots of resources, tourism opportunities. We can make the NT the pinnacle for not just resources, but in the tourism industry, the place where everybody wants to come to. We must make sure we have the best hotels [and cater for] international travellers, and the backpacker and self-drive markets.

 

NEWS: How could PUP help with that?

 

ANDERSON: We’ll be offering policies.

 

NEWS: Given that Palmer is in mining and Aboriginal land is where mining is likely to be taking place, is there an agenda other that politics in the PUP deal?

 

ANDERSON: Absolutely not. There are rules and regulations about mining. You can’t just say to a local politician, I want to mine on this land. There are the Northern Land Council and the Central Land Council in the NT and Clive Palmer would be obligated under the law to go though those processes.

 

NEWS: At the end of the day it’s up to the traditional owners to say yes or no to mining. So if you were to influence them, could that be to the advantage of Palmer?

 

ANDERSON: There is not one person, Indigenous or not, that can influence the Indigenous population, the TOs.

 

NEWS: Never happened before, do you think?

 

ANDERSON: No. And Clive Palmer does not have a mining lease on my country. And I am one out of 826 traditional owners.

 

NEWS: In the Papunya area.

 

ANDERSON: Yes. And I couldn’t go and influence people wherever he’s got his mining leases. That’s just not the way things are done. There are laws, rules and regulations around that stuff.

 

NEWS: Palmer never offered any money?

 

ANDERSON: No. Absolutely nothing. Zero. Not a penny.

 

NEWS: Stuart MLA Bess Price is the odd one out [of the Indigenous bush members], she stayed with the government, yet you were instrumental in her getting the seat. Is that a fair way of putting it?

 

ANDERSON: I think a lot of us had a lot to do with getting Bess elected, myself and Larisa. Bess picked up lots of votes in Beswick and Barunga. It’s because Larisa did a lot of work for her in that area.

 

NEWS: Is there tension between the three of you and Bess?

 

ANDERSON: Well, look, she is always going to have to play the card of the CLP and we are going to play the cards of our people who got the CLP elected. We will always hold them accountable.

 

NEWS: What’s the likelihood of more current MLAs joining PUP?

 

ANDERSON: If Members think we can give them a better option they are quite welcome to come and join. There is still instability within the CLP. Members have said they wouldn’t be joining us but there could be a leadership challenge.

 

NEWS: How would that play out?

 

ANDERSON: It’s obvious the two top blokes, Giles and Tollner, would need to be kicked out.

 

NEWS: Is Mr Giles denying you a seat on the five-member Standing Committee of Public Accounts?

 

ANDERSON: The Chief Minister can change the standing orders at the stroke of a pen but he refuses to do it. It is the committee that scrutinises expenditures and the estimates [and consists of Labor and CLP members and the Independent Gerry Wood]. We now have to ask the Opposition Leader and Mr Wood whether they would be kind enough to take our questions or give us a couple of hours of their questioning time.

 

NEWS: Does that mean that the constituents in the seats now held by PUP Members have fewer rights [via their representatives] than others?

 

ANDERSON: Absolutely. Have a look at the land mass that we three represent, it’s more than half of the NT. And we are denied due process of sitting on the Estimates Committee. It is absolutely outrageous.

 

NEWS: How come the administration that is getting, per head of population, five times as much money from Canberra as the rest of the nation, is in such financial difficulty? Aren’t we really swimming in money?

 

ANDERSON: Absolutely. Around 80% of our money comes from Canberra. Maybe what we should try is asking the Feds to take us back over. Maybe we’ll get better results. Close down this gammon Parliament.

 

NEWS: Have you talked about that with Clive Palmer?

 

ANDERSON: No. [Laughs.]

 

NEWS: What control will Palmer have over you, Larisa and Francis Xavier?

 

ANDERSON: So far we’ve been in contact with him, maybe, twice, and I got a couple of text messages from him, abut programs he’s doing. That’s about it. There is absolutely no control.

 

NEWS: He’s waiting for your input?

 

ANDERSON: Yes.

 

NEWS: What about issues of work and passive welfare?

 

ANDERSON: Passive welfare is something only the Feds can change. Clive’s going to have the balance of power come June, July in the Senate. When we do passive welfare reform we need to do it across the country. Unemployment figures in Salisbury [SA], for example, amongst whitefellers, is as high as it is amongst Indigenous people in the NT. If we want to unite the country we have to have one law.

 

NEWS: Will you seek to influence Clive Palmer when it comes to initiatives by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion, like amendments to the Land Rights Act?

 

ANDERSON: I haven’t had a talk to him about it. I’m talking to my colleagues about it and certainly to lots of Aboriginal people.

 

NEWS: How do you get on with Sen Scullion?

 

ANDERSON: I think I still get on all right with Nigel – unless you know otherwise [laughs].

 

NEWS: What’s the relationship between the CLP branches and the politicians? With either party, at times it seems a handful of people with a limited grasp on reality are selecting people with inadequate qualifications to spend six thousand million of taxpayers’ dollars a year on our behalf.

 

ANDERSON: The branches are stacked. Branch stacking everywhere.

 

NEWS: Who stacks them?

 

ANDERSON: The leaders of the branches.

 

NEWS: In favour of whom?

 

ANDERSON: In favour of whomever they want, like Adam. The Alice Springs branch is completely his branch.

 

NEWS: How big is the Alice Springs branch?

 

ANDERSON: Not many. Probably 20, 30 people. They couldn’t get a quorum for their AGM. Three times.

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11 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Nothing but the facts
    Posted May 23, 2014 at 4:53 am

    Good on ya Davo.

    View Comment
  2. Davo
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    Whoah, don’t believe the bullshit about “she joined collectors of firewood for heat and light and told Darwin to jump in a lake.” The truth was Alison and then husband Steve had two portable generators going at their house whilst the rest of the community had to cook on open fires and sit around in candlelight.
    The book “King Brown Country” is full of truths.

    View Comment
  3. Interested Observer
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 11:17 am

    Steve: The “Clive Palmer way?” You seem confident that you know what that is.
    So far I see PUP opposing budget measures that are bad for the economy in that they have smashed consumer and business confidence and are grossly unfair.
    Then I see PUP wisely taking a hands off approach and allowing those with local knowledge to dominate policy development. Looks good to me.

    View Comment
  4. Steve Brown
    Posted May 22, 2014 at 8:00 am

    I have no argument with Alison’s comments about future directions as always she demonstrates a good knowledge of what needs to be done.
    However, in attempting to implement these goals Alison has allowed her frustrations to get the better of her. This unfortunately has greatly lessened her chances of achieving anything at all, certainly in the short term.
    I’m curious if Clive Palmer is not putting any funds in, why would you go anywhere near him? An ego maniac mining magnate whom most of the country sees as a bit of a joke! Smacks of very poor advice or political judgement to me. Alison may do well to look very closely at those surrounding her.
    It seems Alison, like many locals, is frustrated by the lack of local knowledge, indeed to a fair extent any knowledge at all, amongst those we have been elected to government. There’s only one way past that, if she’s genuine: Start a party, yes, but do the work yourself!
    Don’t rely on outsiders looking to sneak their hand into the Territories cookie jar. Fill your new party with people of long term residence with a long term outlook.
    Preselect candidates on the basis of their life experience and general knowledge of the Territory, where we’ve come from, and where we should be going!
    That way with a lot of work you could begin, over time, to make a difference. The Clive Palmer way – you’ve got to be joking!

    View Comment
  5. Bev Emmott
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    If most of the NT is owned by the Aboriginals then most of the bills can be sent to them. If white Australians are going to be ignored in favour of the Aboriginals then white people should not have to pay the bills. The attitude should be we are all Australians and care should be given to those who need it no matter what race colour creed, religion or political beliefs.
    As for mining I wonder what will happen when we are all mined out – when artesian water is all drained away and there is no earth to live on. The mining magnates just don’t care – they just walk in and push others out so they can make money. When people start to think properly then they will understand what they do today will be either beneficial or detrimental to future generations. Unfortunately we have lots that cannot seem to think beyond today and that is going to leave their descendants without anything.
    We used to be the lucky country with opportunities for all – now the so called poorer countries are better off than us.

    View Comment
  6. Russell Guy
    Posted May 21, 2014 at 8:56 am

    @ Kerry Cook.
    You may be interested in regards to your Youth Training and Development Centre to know that the Game Changer group have recently partnered with Clarence Junior Football Club to reject sponsorship from junk food companies and to help change the face of sports marketing in Australia, focusing on the link between marketing of unhealthy products and Australia’s issues with obesity, teenage alcoholism, drugs and gambling.
    This arrangement is for three years with Clarence becoming the first club to partner with Game Changer.
    This is, in my opinion, a great way to change the culture. Youth need all the help they can get, more especially as they are exposed to the world online.

    View Comment
  7. Hal Duell
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    The established political order in NSW is being shaken to its roots by the Independent Commission Against Corruption. If Ms Anderson and her allies in PUP really want to do the NT a service, why not initiate an ICAC right here in the Territory?
    Let’s have ALL the dirty laundry hung up on the line. I doubt if there will be many left standing were that to happen. Then we could start again with the next generation. Does anyone really think our experiment in self-government could not be done better?

    View Comment
  8. Kerry Cook
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    I would dearly love to meet with Alison Anderson to speak about the Youth Training and Development Centre I have proposed for Alice Springs.
    Could you please send me her e-mail address. I live in Adelaide and am willing to relocate back to Alice Springs, my hometown.
    Regards Kerry Cook
    [ED – It it freely available … Alison.Anderson@nt.gov.au]

    View Comment
  9. Colin Saunders
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    I have seen Alison Anderson preform at Papunya elections and at a forum outside the Casino after Clair Martin walked off crying.
    Alison threatened another woman there for what she said. She cannot speak English as she does not know what loyality means.
    I believe the CLP were desperate to have her but the PUP are stupid and desperate. The ALP must be laughing their tits off.

    View Comment
  10. MattyDay
    Posted May 20, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    I wish Ms Anderson all the best with her political ambition and new party. It is great to see her bounce back time and time again. Maybe the PUP will become the Top Dog in the near future!

    View Comment
  11. Roger W Miller. Darwin.
    Posted May 19, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    Amazing facts of 2005 entry to politics ousting Elferink 61% to 38%. Then re-elected 2008 unopposed. Then 2012 beats Des Rogers 68% to 31%. No-one can question the loyalty from her supporters. No wonder Elferink escaped to Darwin to get the blue ribbon seat. With or without backing from ‘any’ party, AA has not been given the credibility that she is still there, when others ‘from both sides’ have failed to survive. King Brown indeed!

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