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

Dull, Disengaged and Dangerous — Northern Views by Terry Mills

You would have to be dull to believe that offering inducements to entice other Australians to move to the Territory is a good idea. Not only is it poor social and economic policy it is just dumb politics because it offends the people who already live here; our fellow Territorians.

via Dull, Disengaged and Dangerous — Northern Views by Terry Mills

Dull, Disengaged and Dangerous

You would have to be dull to believe that offering inducements to entice other Australians to move to the Territory is a good idea. Not only is it poor social and economic policy it is just dumb politics because it offends the people who already live here; our fellow Territorians.

Terry PortraitYou would have to be dull to believe that offering inducements to entice other Australians to move to the Territory is a good idea. Not only is it poor social and economic policy it is just dumb politics because it offends the people who already live here; our fellow Territorians.

This idea is evidence of a growing disengagement from economic reality. The factors contributing to population decline are manifold. Belief that a government subsidy can solve that problem is dangerously misguided.

It is my firm belief that the best path to population growth is less government intervention and a greater enabling of private enterprise.

If small business is really the engine room of the economy then that engine room needs to be understood and central to any population growth initiative.

When the private sector wants to employ more people the growth will be organic, authentic and sustainable because supply always follows demand.

The Chief Minister astonishingly reverses this principle by aiming first to build population [supply] with a government subsidy then hope the jobs will materialise [demand] once the people get here!

Bill Clinton was right when he said; ‘It is the economy stupid!’

The $1.5 million spent to promote a new image of the NT may change some people’s perceptions of the Northern Territory but at the end of the day people will move to the NT for an actual job not a feeling or a subsidy.

Improving law and order would be the best incentive that could be offered right now.

On the national level this plan risks further damaging our reputation within the commonwealth because it is the other States and Territories that contribute to the national GST pool from which the NT draws almost 70% of its total revenue.

The NT takes way more from that national pool then we put in. That is because that payment comes with the expectation that a reasonable level of service would be delivered to Australians already living in the Territory.

To use that revenue to induce people here from other States with their GST contributions looks like a rort.

Requests for the NT to be respected by the Commonwealth or even considered as contenders for full Statehood are eroded when we fail to act with the maturity befitting a State. Spending without caution, casually increasing debt to dangerous levels and then acting like tricky, ungrateful, mendicants is not a good look.

So what could be done instead?

Get back to basics. Upon election the NT Government correctly set before itself the goal of rebuilding trust in government but that is done by governing well not by social engineering.

If cash payments to entice people north is the answer it makes one wonder what was the question government asked?

Calls to me from local business people show they were not asked for the solution.

One thing is becoming very clear. This is a government that trusts government more and people less. I will believe otherwise when problem drinkers or young lawbreakers become the real focus of policy instead of the broader population.

Labor always defaults to broad based, expensive and unfruitful societal measures to deal with social problems. Now we see the same with the population strategy.

If you ask business to help identify the measures to enable greater flexibility, capacity and desire to grow they will point to a number of issues with stamp duties and payroll tax high on the list. Crime and anti-social behaviour will always feature on the list and that is something government must deal with.

The other real work of government is to work constructively with the Commonwealth Government to solve the problem of population decline.

Perhaps with a persuasive argument and sound economic and social policy the Federal Government that could be moved to provide real taxation incentives to attract investment in the North. This must always include a practical and sensible engagement of Traditional Owners.

Perhaps the development of the north could be boosted by using the largely unused Northern Development Fund to provide meaningful rewards [like a Payroll Tax offset] for private sector investment in manufacturing in the north.

Government needs to listen and act on the concerns of northern agriculture and other people starved industries to grow by taking a new approach to targeted work visas specific to the needs of the north.

The intake of suitably qualified migrants seeking a new life in Australia should be directed to and required to stay in the north.

In the meantime the Northern Territory Government should focus on its core business; quality schools, improved health outcomes and reduced crime and anti-social behaviour.

Government paying people with our money to come here and then expecting locals to employ them when they get here as business daily battles property crime increases is not the path to rebuilding trust in government.

Truth: Irrelevant. Responsibility: Not My Concern.

Terry Portrait‘The only values that the current judicial process teaches our children are; truth is irrelevant, and responsibility is someone else’s concern.’

Lawlessness is far more than the breaking of certain laws. Lawlessness describes a situation when people wilfully and deliberately act in defiance of all law and the authority that the law represents.  Increasingly we have young people who fit that description.

This attitude is virulent and corrodes the strength of a community; if unaddressed it spreads.  I visit homes that have been violated and listen to ordinary people who are becoming extraordinarily troubled about where this is headed.

One thing is certain; we cannot keep doing the same thing and vainly hope for different results.  A recent 53% increase in break-ins in Palmerston indicate the current approach is not working.

Senior police in our small city of Palmerston refer to a core group of about 30 hardened young repeat offenders in the city. This core group influences a broader group of over 100 that is growing rapidly. This dynamic is the same in other centres.

If measures to effectively address those at the core are not found, then this problem will get out of hand and that doesn’t just mean more crime but something far worse.  That is when law-abiding citizens lose hope in government and faith in the systems funded to protect our community.  This gives rise to a new level of lawlessness; vigilantism.

Building trust in government is not helped when a dominant Labor Government skilfully avoids strong scrutiny by funding an opposition of two to perform that task and then focuses way too much attention to the previous government instead of dealing with the growing crisis unfolding before us.

For now, we are fortunate that the angry chatter of keyboard warriors venting vigilantism is largely contained to cyber space but those on the ground say it is becoming harder to hold the line.

The number who choose to turn up to community gatherings and offer support for a proactive and positive response to crime at the neighbourhood level is encouraging but they like our hard-working police officers need a new strategy, they need hope.

Most families in our community are hard-working, respect the law and make noble efforts to raise their kids to do the same.  They need support.  What does could that new strategy look like?

What follows is informed by personal experience as a parent, school principal and local member, conversations with police officers, families close to the young offenders and deeply concerned members of our community.

When it dealing with young offenders what is the problem with the judicial system and what can be done to fix it?

A young offender has little respect for authority. If a young person has zero respect for their parents, it is foolish to think they will have respect for any other adult.

The judicial system too easily exempts the offender from accepting personal responsibility.   When it was first reported that certain young offenders who damaged several cars in the local carpark were known to the police and the ringleader had been brought to their attention about 150 times many thought this an exaggeration but shockingly it isn’t.

A senior officer working explained how this works.

At the first level of interactions with police a young person is submitted to multiple warnings over 12 to 18 months.  If the offending behaviours continue then the young person enters the Youth Diversion process; a further system of warnings and cautionary programmes.  This can extend for a further 12 to 18 months.

So, it is possible that after three years of creating grief and at great cost to everyone the worse the ‘offender’ comes to expect are repeated warnings.

If offending continues then the young person may finally face court where for the first time they are held to account.

But that is not the end of this disturbing story; enter the defence lawyer.

Our legal system requires a defence advocate.  The nature of defence is to strongly advise the offender to NOT to speak to police.  This can easily be interpreted as ‘Don’t tell the truth and don’t admit responsibility.

A respected senior police officer summed this up by saying:

‘The only values that the current judicial process teaches our children are; that truth is irrelevant, and responsibility is someone else’s concern.’

This is the system that is hardening young offenders and is corroding the core strength of our community. A new strategy is needed.

So, what could that look like?

We need to establish a Youth Court which is a single entity and based in the community.

Juveniles who have committed offences, regardless of severity need to come before a youth court at the first instance of offending.  Any diversionary or cautionary process needs to be decided by that one institution and be supported by the community

The community context of law administration for young offenders is important as it provides a greater chance to show that the truth is relevant, and responsibility is something and the offender, with help, must bear.

That help is sourced from within a community not the judicial system.

A Community based youth court is step one and future articles will describe what flows from that.

Beyond Wildman River

Youth Rehabilitation through a Tough-Love Approach

 My desire is that this short discussion paper will stimulate informed debate that will result in effective policy implementation to help build a stronger and more cohesive community and our strengthen hope that we can leave a more positive legacy for our children.

Elements of the programmes described in this framework already exist in the Territory but lack sufficient support, recognition or coordination.

In light of heightened community concern over youth crime and compounding social dysfunction, we have no option but to develop better tools to contend with an urgent and monumental challenge.

This is a fight requiring courage and resolve, a fight we must win for the sake of today’s youth and tomorrow’s society.  We are obligated to work to leave a better legacy for our children.

Alternative programmes of a similar nature have operated before. Nearly two decades ago the Territory’s Wildman River Programme earned respect in many quarters for an innovative approach to juvenile rehabilitation. It has since closed.

It is time to draw upon past experience and add current Australian and international best practise to establish improved programmes to strengthen our youth.

This outline describes a framework upon which programmes can be developed to meet varying levels of need; from leadership training for mainstream youth, to early intervention for youth at risk and rehabilitative programmes for offenders.

This type of programme is most effective for 12 to 18 years, the ages when change is most likely embraced and embedded.

What does the Programme Look like?

 The programme uses a combination of personal challenges, adventure experiences and community involvement to enable significant and sustainable change.

The key elements are:

  • Removal from a dysfunctional/familiar environment;
  • Challenging of established beliefs and behavioural patterns;
  • Rebuilding through exposure to different environmental demands; and the
  • Provision of a supportive group setting and models of appropriate behaviour.

The programme should be physically and emotionally challenging and completion seen as a significant achievement; a rite of passage.

The duration of the programme should be from four weeks to three months depending upon the client group; leadership development, youth at risk or juvenile offenders.

The core programme should be delivered in an outback location, remote from familiar surrounds.

Once again depending upon the client group, the time spent remote may range from partial withdrawal (return to school for sections of the programme) to full withdrawal (live-in for the duration).

In order to establish a stronger foundation upon which to build it is important that successful completion of the programme is celebrated publicly at a graduation ceremony.

The programme must provide sufficient structure and discipline to allow the educational, psychological and emotional needs of participants to be addressed. This function of the programme is beyond a traditional ‘boot camp’ definition as it seeks to not only break down the old but focuses on rebuilding. The underlying issues are deeply ingrained and often generational.

The programme team must be suitably qualified and trained.  The crew must not only include those with skills to conduct outdoors activities but also those with clinical/ counselling experience.  Training could be sourced from practitioners within the Territory and interstate.

An essential component of this programme is the involvement of indigenous leaders with cultural authority.

A thorough screening and assessment of the staff and participant’s physical and emotional status is required for effective placement.

Through a combination of outdoor living, exercise and healthy food, the programme is designed to facilitate detoxification from harmful substances, promote physical fitness and build a healthier mental outlook.

Central to the programme is the bush survival component.  The bush is a great teacher and offers its own natural therapy.

Exercise and healthy living have a positive impact on mental health.

A strongly held view is that outdoors survival activities promote independence, self reliance and trust in others. Something the urban environment doesn’t readily provide.

A typical programme will consist of two or three hikes, from a few days to a few weeks.

By careful preparation and execution of each phase of the survival component participants will be taught powerful lessons about themselves and about life, such as:

Effort and reward – push on to the river and you will be rewarded by a great camping place.

 Decision and consequence –  If youdon’t carry the pack youwill have nolunch.

 Personal Challenges

Participants should be provided with suitable and appropriate personal challenges in order to broaden their skills base and strengthen self confidence.

This is a sample list of challenge activities:

  • Intensive English and Maths tuition
  • Journal keeping
  • First Aid qualifications
  • Maps and compass reading
  • Horsemanship
  • Swimming and water safety
  • Abseiling
  • Fire lighting and survival skills
  • Traditional indigenous skills
  • Cooking
  • And many more


 Community Engagement

There are two aspects of this area of the programme:

1. Involvement in work of value to the community they are a part of.

 This could be environmental or heritage work, assistance at Riding for the Disabled or the seniors village or helping at a community event.

  1. Meeting people who work in the community and hearing their story.

 This achieves a twofold aim; to learn about career options and to meet successful people who were once teenagers.  Their story may provide the inspiration needed to make better life choices.   

Parental Outreach

An important component in providing sustained change is to engage the family and focus efforts particularly when the teenager is on the programme.

Parents, significant relatives and care providers are an important part of this programme.  Coordination of services must occur before during and after the youth’s involvement on the programme.

Through this contact additional family support should be facilitated where needed.

By strengthening the family any changes arising from completion of the programme will have a better chance of being sustained.



Crime: Consequence and Rehabilitation

A meaningful response to those guilty of committing a crime either juvenile or adult must contain two elements:

Consequence and rehabilitation.

It cannot be consequence nor rehabilitation alone but robust balanced measures of both.

Not hard or soft but both hard and soft.

A hard response because we care about the standards that underpin our society and a soft response because you care about the individual and want to help reconnect that person positively to their community.

Any effective punishment of course must be appropriate to the crime and not designed to humiliate. The intent of any punishment should be to deliver a meaningful response proportionate to the offence and require where possible recompense, apology and repair of the damage to community.

Punishment is justice being seen to be done and by being seen to be done common community values are reinforced.  We should resist any judicial response that creates uncertainty in the mind of a child or an adult that stealing, destruction of public property or the wilful injuring of another member of our community is anything else but wrong.

Punishment marks the boundaries that guide the framing of a cohesive society, this boundary defines the standards that we value and aspire to as a society and individuals.  

A punitive response to a breach signals to the individual in breach that they have fallen short but should also say that they are capable of better choices.  A rehabilitative response is designed to enable them to reach for that standard.

The reality is that people make choices and choices have consequences. By diminishing a punitive approach and emphasising instead the ‘special circumstances’ that caused an offender to offend feeds the idea of ‘victimhood’.  By not affirming the truth that every person is endowed with the dignity of will and capacity the socially and personally damaging choices are validated and personal responsibility explained away. Worse the offenders’ dignity is denied by saying they are powerless to choose otherwise and someone else is to blame.

This approach carries the deceptive and dangerous implication that crime is a societal disease rather than a breach of a moral code; consequently a offender is treated with therapy not punishment.

Once the idea of ‘victimhood’ is introduced the socially damaging actions of an individual are excused leaving the community to clean up the mess and foot the bill while a hand is extended to the offender.

In this scenario right and wrong, good and bad become subjective values rather than objective standards.   Consequentially moral bearings are lost and children and families are confused.

Now we can have a person stab or try to run over a policemen or commit over 50 serious offences and the backstory of the offender becomes the main story rather than the serious breach to community standards and the harm inflicted on victims.    

Recasting the offender as a victim harms the offender by supporting the idea that because they can’t be held responsible for their actions they are somehow incapable of free choice, their humanity is diminished and consigned to a lesser existence as a powerless victim of society.  

For those who believe that strong punishment alone fixes the problem risk damaging an already damaged individual and likely create a greater problem

Those who argue the offender should be treated lightly or absolved of personal responsibility and responsibility for the crime transferred instead to society for creating the problem devalue both the individual and the society they live in.

Yes an offender may have his or her judgment impaired at the time, may have had a very difficult family life or some other condition but deny them an encounter with reality by holding them accountable inflicts further harm on both.

Those who care must come together and work to deliver a tough love response to young offenders.

We need to respond wisely and courageously because every indication is that it is likely to get worse unless we redefine the boundaries to guide our families and communities.

A sound judicial and correction system must aim to both defend community standards and repair the damage to individuals, offenders and victims.


Northern Australia and Eastern Indonesia: So Near and Yet So Far

Northern Territory, East Timor, East Nusa Tenggara

Darwin is only a one hour flight from either Kupang or Dili yet getting there is not easy nor affordable.

The Trilateral Tourism Project aims to build a case to provide commercial viability to support the short flight from Darwin to Kupang and then activate a new regional hub where all can benefit.

In late December 2017 a new international flight commenced linking Kupang and Dili with three return flights per week, the fares were affordable and initially well supported both ways.

After three months the service was suspended for commercial reasons.  Rather than suggest that increased flight services linking our region are not sustainable it demonstrates that there is an ongoing desire to provide better links in our region therefore the question is how can the commercial case to achieve be constructed?

This brief paper sets out to answer that question.Segitiga-2

If at the commencement of the Air Timor service one more route to create a triangle route linking Darwin Kupang and Dili would be opened to create the opportunity for new tourism opportunities to links Darwin to an exciting new tourism growth region.

The Northern Territory, Timor-Leste and Eastern Indonesia are frontier destinations that together could play a part in underpinning each other’s economic development.

Darwin is known as Australia’s Asian Gateway; it is looking beyond that gateway that new tools to deal with old problems can be found.

Rather than applying the same old thinking to old problems the benefits of a new regional approach to tourism, education and economic development unlocks new opportunities.

When referring to the north of our country we really need to live up to our own expectations because the harsh reality is that Darwin as ‘Gateway to Asia’ risks becoming little more than a cliché unless we apply new thinking to promote closer relationships and build new strategic regional alliances beyond the ‘doorway’.

We cannot afford to just wait for another airline to come along to reduce our increased isolation we need to act and be creative.

The reality is Darwin is arguably more isolated in 2018 than at any-time since QANTAS was founded nearly 100 years ago.

Most predict that the Northern Territory economy will face challenging headwinds for the next few years as we adjust to life post the resources boom. Times like this force us to be creative and seek new solutions.

While the Territory waits for the next big thing – such as a decision around onshore gas exploration – there are opportunities to link with East Timor and the eastern Indonesian provinces to open new economic fronts.

The economic landscape to our north is rapidly changing.

The soon to be announced resolution to the maritime boundary between Australia and Timor-Leste is predicted to stimulate renewed Timor Sea oil and gas investment.  Along with this comes the opportunity for the Northern Territory to support this activity in a number of ways.

The Indonesian Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership [IA-CEPA] is the most significant bilateral trade deal to date between Australia and Indonesia and will be concluded this year.

IA-CEPA is expected to open up new opportunities for better investment and trade opportunities with eastern Indonesia.  It is widely predicted that incentives to promote the provision of vocational education and training to support economic development in the region will be included in the agreement.  This will provide an opportunity for CDU and other Territory Education providers.

And any assessment of the type of economic developments in our immediate region points to new opportunities for Territory tourism.

Both Indonesia and Timor-Leste have recognised the pivotal role of tourism when planning regional and national economic growth.

The effect of volcanic activity in Bali also underscores the need to develop new markets beyond Bali.  New destinations in the east will draw more tourists into the area to our north.

Indonesia has accelerated plans to support a goal of increasing international tourism to 20 million by 2020 and to entice those visiting Bali to travel East.

Timor-Leste has a national goal to grow tourism from 55,000 annually to 200,000 by 2030 and much of this increase will be sourced from those exploring beyond Bali.

Darwin can benefit from this.  As the Australian capital within an hour’s flight from either Dili or Kupang, we can choose to either see this growth in our region as competition or as an opportunity for strategic collaboration.

Darwin also has a strong tourism profile that could benefit from an increased flow of tourists into the region to not only savour the unique Territory product but to access our strategic links to destinations an hour north Darwin.  I know locals would enjoy the option of a weekend in either East Nusa Tenggara or Timor-Leste if it were available.

Internationally Northern Territory could position itself as a premier and unique destination to draw tourists travelling East from Bali into Darwin and conversely out through Darwin to Kupang or Dili on to Bali.

Affordable flights linking the three cities and then onto Bali is the key.  The first step is to begin discussions between government and tourism sectors in northern Australia, eastern Indonesia and Timor-Leste to set a framework for joint marketing and promotion.  This joint planning strengthens the commercial case for airlines to service these routes.

The ideal vehicle to conduct this three-way dialogue is the existing Trilateral Forum initiated by Timor-Leste Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao in 2014 and strongly supported by the Foreign Ministers of both Australia and Indonesia.

Rather than the broad agenda of the past it should instead be tightly focussed on tourism and directly related sectors such as Education and training.

Australia through Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has provided support to Indonesia to assist with the development of President Jokowi’s tourism master-plan so an extension to support a three-way dialogue is appropriate.

Bringing the three regions; north Australia, eastern Indonesia and Timor Leste together in a collaborative way to establish a sector that can maximise regional economic growth; is a way to ‘kill three birds with one stone’ and breathe new life into a trilateral dialogue that would benefit from a sharper focus.

Successful Meetings Kupang in December.


A meeting to discuss the proposal to adopt a new tight focus on tourism between Trilateral members was held in East Nusa Tenggara provincial capital Kupang in December 2017.

The meeting was proposed by former Chief Minister Terry Mills and was convened and facilitated by the office of the Governor of Nusa Tenggara Timur with DPR Senator Abraham Lyanto presiding.

The Northern Territory Chief Minister was briefed before the meeting and provided in principle support.  Timor-Leste was well represented with Tourism Minister Vong strongly supporting the concept and sending his senior staff to attend as show of support. Timor-Leste consular officers also attended the meeting.

The Governor of East Nusa Tenggara has publically given this proposal the strongest support.