Are We Able to do Politics Differently in the Territory?

Over a year ago I wrote this piece for the Northern Territory News. Today I have revisited the article in light of recent discussion of the formation of a new party for the Northern Territory and Northern Australia.

The 2016 election result presented the Northern Territory with an opportunity to ask bigger questions than ‘what resources the Independent members should get or what offices the Opposition should have?’

Framing the question around resources implies that the two party system is the Westminster model, and that any departure from this tradition is at best a novelty and perhaps even dangerous. Well that’s what the political parties want us to think.

As an Independent with nearly two decades’ experience in the cut and thrust of the party system I am not here to promote an anti-party agenda but to encourage a discussion about quality governance so we can assess whether our system is fit for purpose.

Surely after nearly 40 years of Northern Territory Self-Government it is important to ask: What is right and wrong with our parliamentary system? An honest question enables us to answer by strengthening what works and changing what doesn’t.

It is important to be reminded that the Westminster system did not start out as an adversarial contest between two rival parties; Government and Opposition. That came later.

To ensure fulsome scrutiny of the Cabinet the entire Parliament were the testers and challengers of ministers; that was the original approach.

Today that ‘scrutiny’ or ‘test of government’ takes the form of a contest between two political groups where party loyalty can too easily override loyalty to the Parliament.

We could do better but I am not suggesting everything stop while we have a major overhaul but out of respect for Territorians who want better from our Parliament we really need to have this discussion.

It may be a smart response [for Government] to say it is entirely up to the Independents to come up with the ideas. We will try to do that, but here is an opportunity for the whole Parliament and interested community members to begin an important conversation. The time is ripe for this.

The Westminster system has been adapted to suit the needs of different communities; it is not a one size fits all model. Similar smaller jurisdictions around the world also grapple with similar problems.

Of course we have some unique challenges: a small population, a large land mass, stark social and cultural issues and a small talent pool to draw upon to form an Executive. Surely it would be unwise to continue in the same manner and expect different results.

The NT Parliament commences each sitting day by stating our purpose: to advance the true welfare of all Territorians.

This is best achieved through good governance and that won’t happen by accident but by asking good questions and working to find good answers.

I know I am not alone in my interest in this topic, surely a topic whose time has come.

Terry Mills 2016

Author: terencekennedy

I live in the North of Australia in a city closer to Jakarta than Canberra. My view of the world is flavoured by the easy reminder that Australia's address is within a South East Asian neighbourhood.

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