SUNDAY TERRITORIAN: We need to take a stand for the NT writes Malarndirri McCarthy

14 June 2020

The Northern Territory deserves proper representation. Territorians have been fighting for our political rights since the Surrender Act of 1908 when South Australia surrendered us to the Commonwealth. In 1911, we became a Federal Territory under the control of the Commonwealth.

This week, in the Senate, CLP Senator Dr Sam McMahon and I brought Labor and the Nationals together to fight to keep the seats of Solomon, represented by Luke Gosling, and Lingiari, represented by Warren Snowdon.

Despite out political differences, the CLP and Labor know that losing the representatives we have in the Federal Parliament will diminish the democratic voice of Territorians.

Based on Parliamentary Library projections, the NTs representation in the House is set to halve after an electoral boundary redistribution process due to start next month. The estimated population figures will see the NT fall short of a second quota by approximately 4,700 electors including the margin of error.

Losing a seat would mean a single MP serving an electorate covering 1.4 million square km and representing a population of nearly 250,000 Territorians. It would make the NT electorate by far Australias largest by population and one of the biggest by geography.

The saying is Bigger than Texas. We really should be saying Bigger than the Territory to get a true sense of our vast region.

Tasmania, as an original state in the Constitution, is guaranteed five seats regardless of its size. Five members with a population of about 535,000. Yet the Constitution leaves Parliament to decide the representation for the Territories.

Territorians are prickly about Canberra control and for good reason. There is a historical context to where we are right now. In 1918, resentment among Territorians gave rise to the Darwin Rebellion, when around 1000 demonstrators marched on Government House protesting employment, taxation and political representation.

The outcome was a NTmember of the Housebut with no full voting rights until 1968. Despite the Self-Government Act of 1978, we are ultimately subject to the legislative control of the Commonwealth.

We must legislate to guarantee the two seats we have. Otherwise, our NT representation will always be at the mercy of ABS statistics. And populations fluctuate. Projections put the Territorys population at 251,727 by 2021, taking it over the threshold of eligibility for two seats. If these projections are correct and a redistribution this year results in the loss of a seat, one seat would not be reflective of the population at the time of the next election.

A single electorate would mean one person dividing their time between communities as diverse as Darwin, Wadeye, the Cocos Islands, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, and Arnhem Land places of enormous historical, cultural and environmental significance.

A single electorate would not recognise the NTs strategic and economic importance to Australia. The port of Darwin is integral to our nations defence, biosecurity and border security; it is the gateway for trade with the rest of the world, the closest port to South-East Asia.

In my First Speech in the Senate almost four years ago, I called for a serious vision for the north that would encompass the NTs development as a state. In my previous role in the NT Assembly as Minister for Statehood I championed statehood, for us to have equal representation in the Australian Parliament.

My NT colleagues, Warren and Luke, are fierce advocates for the Territory, as are Sam and I and we have been working tirelessly to make the case for two seats in the NT, along with Chief Minister Michael Gunner.

We may have been surrendered by South Australia to the Commonwealth in 1908, but that doesnt mean we should remain a people under surrender.

This opinion piece was published in the Sunday Territorian on Sunday 14 June 2020.