Koori History Newspaper Archive

Lost scandal amid NT election politicking

By Russell Skelton
Age June 19, 2005

The scandal and betrayal that have blighted the Aboriginal community of Papunya have left politicians strangely silent.

In a recent how-to-vote guide produced by Emily's List for yesterday's Northern Territory elections, Alison Anderson is given top billing. Anderson, the pamphlet from the Labor women's lobby group tells us, is a highly respected former ATSIC commissioner passionate about equity and with strong community links.

The pamphlet complains about the "scurrilous attacks" Anderson has been subjected to by this paper and her opponents in the election, without explaining the substance of the alleged attacks. It urges women to donate to Anderson's campaign as ALP candidate for the seat of Macdonnell, because her fuel costs about $1.60 a litre and she needs campaign expense money.

This piece of puffery, penned by Joan Kirner and Senator Claire Moore, is breathtaking in its naivety and sweeping assumptions and remarkable in what it fails to mention.

Anderson, they say, is worth voting for because she is indigenous, a member of the ALP and "when women support women, women win!".

Never mind that Anderson was once closely linked to Liberals and in particular Philip Ruddock, a former indigenous affairs minister, which some ALP supporters might find hard to swallow; that she and her family are wealthy; or that her husband, Steve Hanley, is the central figure in a scandal involving the misappropriation of millions of dollars in federal and territory funds.

Emily's List failed to mention that Anderson travels the electorate in a stylish four-wheel-drive of the sort that most people from her community can only dream about, sent her children to private schools in Adelaide and holds a number of directorships.

It is difficult to imagine that she would ever be hard up for petrol money. Hanley, who was forced out of the community clerk's position by local authorities because he was not qualified for the job and broke too many rules, manages the Papunya general store, which has a monopoly on local petrol sales and an annual turnover of $2.2 million.

If Anderson has a commitment to equity and her community, a casual observer driving through Papunya might have trouble discerning that. After almost 10 years of first Anderson, then Hanley, running the community, it remains one of the poorest places in Australia and would rank alongside stricken areas in Bangladesh.

Millions of dollars of territory and federal funds have gone into projects over the years but three out of 10 locals are petrol sniffers and most men die before reaching 50. Suicide bids by desperate, lonely, addicted teenagers are common. It is hardly a record any aspiring politician would want to brag about.

But then official corruption in indigenous communities is not something Clare Martin, the territory's self-assured Chief Minister, highlighted during the poll campaign.

It's OK for her Government to crack down on public drunkenness by indigenous Australians, but mismanagement that the Chief Minister can and should do something about is apparently best ignored.

For two weeks now, I have sent a list of questions to the Chief Minister for comment. They were simple, nothing tricky, and included the following:

· Given the damning assessment by Deloittes of Papunya's finances and given Hanley's long history of non-compliance with local government authorities, why won't the NT Government hold an inquiry into Papunya's administration?

· Why hasn't Hanley been interviewed by NT authorities and why have no steps been taken to probe the closure of (council-run project) Warumpi Arts, which went broke after tens of thousands of dollars were appropriated by unidentified persons?

· Hanley held no qualifications for the clerk's position yet occupied the post on an acting basis for four years. How was this allowed to happen, especially when his poor administration record was known to authorities and drew numerous complaints?

There was also this question: Does the Chief Minister have confidence in Anderson as the ALP candidate, noting that she was the clerk at Papunya for nine years prior to her husband taking over?

For two weeks, Ms Martin has refused to answer or even offer so much as a no comment. It is surprising she does not appear to have a view on Papunya's shabby management, which has led to the betrayal of indigenous people by not delivering a successful anti-substance abuse program in 10 years. But political power and service delivery do not travel easily together in the territory.

As for Emily's List, rather than talk to politicians, Joan Kirner and Senator Moore should talk to the young women of Papunya and ask them how they voted. They could start with the promising young artists who once sold works through now-bankrupted Warumpi Arts and ask them what it's like to no longer have an income or a future.

They might also pause to consider Canberra's probe into Papunya's finances organised by another woman, Sharman Stone, a cabinet secretary and distinguished anthropologist who knows much about the aspirations of indigenous Australians and their sorry history of discrimination and degradation.