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Monday, 6 June 1994
Page: 1355

Senator COLLINS (Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) —7.38 p.m.)—One of the features of the Northern Territory election this time that was different from many previous campaigns—as commented on by a number of independent observers and certainly by one psephologist with which I agree—was that on this occasion, as I am happy to publicly acknowledge, the Northern Territory News actually ran the straightest and the most unbiased reporting of the election that I have seen it run in 20 years. I do not know this, but I assume from the coverage that the newspaper clearly took a deliberate editorial decision to take election issues off the front page and put them on page 5 or 6.

Senator Tambling —They have done that for six months with all political issues.

Senator COLLINS —That was distinct from previous campaigns—I can certainly produce the evidence at any time, and Senator Tambling knows full well that I can. Previously, the Northern Territory News has run successive pro-CLP banner headlines five days out of five during an election. But, on this occasion, the Northern Territory News played it straight. That is why I place some credence on the accuracy—and it is accurate—with which the Northern Territory News reported the Chief Minister's campaign launch. It was reported in a front page story in the Territory's only daily paper, the Northern Territory News.

  Senator Tambling's assertion that this is some twisted view that I am putting up is nothing of the sort; it was widely commented on. The front page lead story of the Chief Minister's announcement that there would be an election was headlined:

NT poll opens with race row.

The opening paragraphs to that story read:

  The NT election campaign blasted off yesterday with a row on Aboriginal policies.

  Chief Minister Marshall Perron warned of Labor's "frightening" Aboriginal agenda.

The paper went on to say this:

Mr Perron at a media conference claimed that NT Labor would bring "massive change" in a "secret agenda" that would disrupt the Public Service and the legal system—but he singled out racial issues.

This is not the Northern Territory Labor Party saying this; it is the Northern Territory News and its accurate front page story. The story went on to quote Mr Perron:

  Mr Perron said: "I believe the Labor party. . . had they been in office over the last few years would have been an absolute disaster for the Territory with their Aboriginal agenda which frightens Territorians.

  I think you will find that most Territorians will agree that the Labor social agenda and the Labor Aboriginal agenda will not be in their interests in the future."

This is a quote from the Chief Minister. The paper went on to say in its front page lead:

Last week, Mr Perron claimed Labor planned to introduce softer laws for Aborigines, thus creating what he called a system of "apartheid" in the Northern Territory.

When the Chief Minister actually launched his campaign, the centrepiece of his campaign launch, which featured on all of the television news bulletins—the one piece of his speech that both the ABC and Channel 8 News carried, as he knew they would—was his statement that the Northern Territory Labor Party, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, was proposing two sets of laws for the Northern Territory to be `soft on Aboriginal offenders'. I make it quite clear that the Chief Minister was not talking about land laws but about the criminal law of the Northern Territory being amended or changed by the Labor Party in such a way that a special deal would be cut for black offenders.

  And Senator Tambling has the unmitigated hide and gall to stand up here with a straight face—I noticed that he spent only about 30 seconds talking about the racial charges—and say that this was not a racial campaign. In the Australian of the same day, the Darwin based journalist for the Australian, Dave Nason, headlined a story:

Politics of race key to victory.

Dave Nason is a very experienced and long-term journalist in Darwin who now works full time for the Australian in Darwin. The story went on to say:

But the lie was that both know the economy, while important—

this is both leaders—

will rank behind Aboriginal issues for many of the urban-based swinging voters who will decide the election outcome.

And so it went on. There are two independent journalists, both writing and quoting the Chief Minister directly, who had no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that this was straight for the bottom line. Today's story filed by Gordon Feeney, the Darwin based journalist who writes for AAP, said:

Race scare sweeps ALP aside in poll.

The story says—these are Gordon Feeney's words, and the words of nobody else:

Racial division. The electorate's disdain for southern Australia and its fear of the unknown was the powerful three-pronged attack used by the CLP in its crushing seventh consecutive win.

I do not disagree with any of that, with the addition, of course, of the economic health of the Northern Territory, which I will mention in a minute. Gordon Feeney is a very accurate reporter in my experience. The story goes on to say:

On May 17th, the day he called the election, Chief Minister Marshall Perron warned the NT electorate was frightened by Labor's Aboriginal agenda. The CLP has long branded Labor `the Aboriginal Labor Party'—

this is not racist, of course—

and friends of the powerful Aboriginal Land Councils, and throughout the CLP campaign there was strong racial undertones. One advertisement warned that Labor would bring in two sets of laws, one for black and one for white Territorians. Then two days before the election, a little-known Aboriginal organisation, which had been holding talks with the CLP, announced a native title claim over vacant crown land in Darwin.

In addition to that, the Country-Liberal Party was also considering running a television advertisement which singled out the honourable member for Arnhem, Wesley Lanhupuy, now re-elected for a fourth consecutive term, and comparing him as lands minister with Steve Hatton. It got legal advice that it could be the subject of successful legal action if it did that simply in respect of Wesley Lanhupuy, so it compromised and ran a sleazy television advertisement which compared the white ministers who would be out of office in a CLP government with black Aboriginal ministers under an ALP government.

  They were very professional, sleazy advertisements: an American advertisement agency could not have done a better job. They had a colour photograph of Steve Hatton and a black and white photograph of Wesley Lanhupuy. After the last image of Wesley Lanhupuy had left the screen—that is the last face that people saw—a voice said, `You have got to be joking.' When it gets to the stage, and Senator Tambling knows this, that a journalist like Frank Alcorta—whose support for the CLP in every column that he has ever written is well known—criticises the CLP in the Northern Territory for running racist advertising, I think I can rest my case.

  I said today, and I stand by it, that I was sad, and that is the emotion that I feel, as a long-term territorian who intends to spend the rest of his life in the territory, to see that kind of advertising, that kind of campaign run. I make no apologies for saying it publicly, even though I know it is not the politically smart thing to say. But now that they have done it successfully in the Northern Territory, they are all embarrassed by it, and Senator Tambling and the Chief Minister want to write history and pretend it did not happen. It did happen; there is no question about it.

  But the other very important issue, and I acknowledge it, is financial management and economic health of the Northern Territory. There are only two communities in Australia that one can compare in terms of their economic health—that is, the white part of the electorate, the non-Aboriginal part—and they are the Northern Territory and the ACT. Both of these places enjoy the highest per capita personal income of any two places in Australia.

  There is a substantial reason for that, namely, that 80 per cent of the Northern Territory's budget is provided by the federal Labor government. In addition to that, there are hundreds of millions of dollars a year—I checked on the ATSIC contribution to the territory alone today—for Aboriginal programs which enrich the construction community and the business community of the Northern Territory. There are hundreds of millions of dollars in defence spending alone. In fact, there would be no employment in the Northern Territory if it were not for the excellent deal that the Northern Territory gets from the Labor government in Canberra.

  I guess that there could be some irony attached to that, but not as far as I am concerned. As far as Warren Snowdon and I are concerned, the territory will continue to get a good deal out of Labor. That is something that the Northern Territory Labor Party has to be proud of in its Canberra Labor connections. (Time expired)