A right


— Ara­fura, Arn­hem, Barkly, Daly, Na­matjira, Nhu­lun­buy, Stu­art — for the Adam Giles vs. Michael Gun­ner race last year.

In the Tiwi Is­lands di­vi­sion of Ara­fura, less than 50 per cent of en­rolled res­i­dents sub­mit­ted a vote — de­spite the fact there were two lo­cal, in­dige­nous lead­ers in the run­ning for the seat. Of those vot­ers who did show up, many cast an in­for­mal vote.

“There’s an is­sue in terms of voter dis­en­gage­ment and ap­a­thy that’s preva­lent not just in the NT, but na­tion­ally. But it seems to be more of an is­sue here,” Lo­ganathan says.

“In­dige­nous peo­ple fought hard to get the right to vote, and it’s im­por­tant that they use it. That their vote is im­por­tant. We live in a par­tic­i­pa­tive democ­racy, and the strength of our democ­racy is based on the fact that ev­ery per­son, re­gard­less of who you are, has an equal say, and it’s im­por­tant that peo­ple use that right.”

Democ­racy it may be, but it re­mains a Western, white­fella democ­racy — a “for­eign sys­tem” far re­moved from in­dige­nous ways of do­ing things, says Lar­rakia el­der and aca­demic Bi­lawara Lee.

“It’s a re­ally strange, for­eign ac­tiv­ity. We didn’t vote to elect peo­ple in our tra­di­tions,” Ms Lee says. “We had peo­ple who be­came el­ders … and they were in charge of tak­ing care of busi­ness.”

South­ern blow-ins and con­stant changes in lead­er­ship have also fu­elled “vot­ing fa­tigue” she says.

“Hav­ing peo­ple come in from wher­ever, even for­eign­ers, who can stay here for a lit­tle while and stand up and say, ‘I want to be voted in to do this, that and the other’ … It just gets con­fus­ing.”

Back­stage war games waged by Can­berra’s face­less po­lit­i­cal elite have re­sulted in three prime min­is­ters be­ing rolled and four prime min­is­ters tak­ing of­fice since Kevin Rudd apol­o­gised to the Stolen Gen­er­a­tion in 2008. And the North­ern Ter­ri­tory has had four chief min­is­ters since 2012.

Mean­while, in the bush, the so­cial chasm has only widened. Hous­ing, health, ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment all con­tinue to lag be­hind the rest of the na­tion.

Ms Lee says part of the prob­lem lies in the re­al­ity that many of the strong lead­ers in Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties, those who could best act as an elected voice for their peo­ple, are too busy try­ing to sur­vive to take up the cause.

“I can name you some Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple in the com­mu­nity, el­ders, who would be bril­liant. But there’s no way they’d be­come politi­cians. They’re just not in­ter­ested. A lot of peo­ple are so busy sur­viv­ing,” she says.

“Find­ing a roof over their heads that’s not over­crowded. Get­ting some sort of in­come, food ... some­times, you know, re­ally, vot­ing is way down the list of pri­or­i­ties.” LESS than favourable news wel­comed staff to work at the North­ern Ter­ri­tory’s Aus­tralian Elec­toral Com­mis­sion of­fice on May 10, the morn­ing af­ter the 2017 fed­eral bud­get was handed down.

The axe had come down on the branch, and cost cuts would see a re­duc­tion in staff based in the NT from 16 to three, with the bulk of AEC op­er­a­tions moved to Queens­land. Con­sid­er­ing the los­ing bat­tle in en­gag­ing re­mote Ter­ri­to­ri­ans with the sys­tem, Lo­ganathan has ques­tioned the de­ci­sion to slash ser­vices rath-

Clock­wise from top: the Abo­rig­i­nal Vot­ing Rights float dur­ing a 1967 May Day pro­ces­sion; sup­port­ers cel­e­brate af­ter the ‘Yes’ vote in the 1967 ref­er­en­dum; cam­paigner Roy Fletcher hands out fly­ers; Bill Onus takes part in a march for Abo­rig­i­nal rights

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