— 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