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Friday, May 19, 2006

Territories and Statehood

Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Mal Brough's allegations of systemic abuse amongst Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory has brought a number of factors into play. Firstly, as is becoming the common tactic on the Right, the blame is being slung squarely on the shoulders of the Left, in this case for reputedly covering up the problem of child sexual assault for fear of starting a second Stolen Generation.

Well, excuse me. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher (and believe me, I don't do that often) - can you name any? What person, of any political stripe, would willingly cover up or condone the sexual abuse of children?

But setting aside this specific, and very important issue, it has been intriguing to observe the Commonwealth exercising its increasingly Federalist zeal over both of Australia's territories since attaining power of the Senate. This has attracted little media attention, though it bears scrutiny.

First, there was the Federal Government's attempt to scuttle the ACT's Civil Unions Bill, a breakthrough for gay and lesbian rights in Australia, on the basis of the notion that civil unions can be `equated' with marriage, in contravention of the Marriage Act, amended in 2005 to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Secondly, there is Mal Brough's current threat to take responsibility for Aboriginal affairs away from the Northern Territory government, and this is where the real question about the validity of Australian territories in this day and age needs to be asked. Because, constitutionally, the Federal Government could take away whatever responsibility it has delegated to the NT or ACT government

In constitutional terms, a Territory is to the Federal Government what a local council is to the State Government. Thus, even though the Chief Minister has much the same powers as a State Premier, and his or her government is elected in much the same way to carry out much the same powers as a State Government, a Federal Government could not only overturn laws made by a Territorial government but, technically, dismiss that government altogether.

Quite troubling, really.

Though a referendum for statehood was held in the Northern Territory was held in 1998, it was narrowly overturned, which came as a surprise given most polls indicates support for the notion. The result may have come because the NT was offered comparatively fewer senators in the Federal Senate than other states. A steering committee for Northern Territory statehood still exists and is, by the looks of things, making progress. It seems unfortunate that even today, the NT is being treated like the little brother of the Federation. The increasingly paternalistic attitude of the Federal Government towards its territories hardly helps.


At 1:42 pm, Blogger Armagnac Esq. said...

I fought against the referendum, wrote an article 'just say no to statehood'.

The reason people jacked up was the moderate wing of the CLP spent months consulting around the NT, then Shane Stone, a hardline thug, overturned the draft and imposed his own draft constitution.

Also, in a place so dominated by the right and one nasty tabloid, people were nervous about handing even more power to the quasi-corrupt cretins.

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