Don’t silence us! Territory Indigenous communities call for election plan rethink

[by Vanessa Farrelly]


Gadrian Hoosan. Image: supplied

Territory Indigenous communities have criticised the Gunner Government’s insistence that the election should proceed on August 22, saying the current conditions will deny Aboriginal people a voice in the poll.


“The Covid-19 lock downs on our communities mean that Aboriginal people will not get to participate fully in deciding our local representatives or the next government of the Northern Territory if an election goes ahead under current conditions,” said Gadrian Hoosan, a Garrwa, Yanyuwa spokesperson from Borroloola in the electorate of Barkly.


“If the Chief Minister tries to force an election on August 22 it means Aboriginal people will not be able to campaign for a candidate or assist our communities to enrol to vote across the region or potentially get to the polls to have our voices heard.”


The NT has the lowest rates of Indigenous voter participation in the country. One in three Aboriginal adults are not enrolled to vote in the NT. Yet the NT Electoral Commission has been forced to cut a planned remote enrollment drive to address the thousands of Indigenous people not on, or recently thrown off, election rolls.


Thomas Mayor, National Indigenous Officer of the Maritime Union of Australia, and advocate for the Uluru Statement, said that he already had concerns for the disadvantage Indigenous people have when trying to enrol or cast a ballot.


“The concern is that people’s health, considering the vulnerabilities in Indigenous communities, must take priority, but not at the cost of their ability to participate in democracy.

There must be a well-resourced and thorough campaign to enrol Aboriginal people in communities to vote. Without additional measures to ensure Aboriginal people can reach a ballot box, our democracy is diminished. It is already flawed and skewed against Indigenous peoples.”


Que Kenny, a Western Arranta spokesperson from Ntaria/Hermannsburg in the electorate of Namatjira criticised the government’s stance, saying “If the election goes ahead with these Biosecurity Act measures in place it is going to have a massive negative impact on voter participation in remote communities.”


“It will be an unfair advantage to sitting members of parliament, and impacts our ability to participate fully as either candidates or informed voters. The Gunner Government says they care about the health of Indigenous people, so that should reflect in a postponement of the election until we can fully participate alongside other Territorians in decisions that affect our future.”


Nicholas Fitzpatrick, Yanyuwa and Garrwa man and Borroloola resident said “August is too soon for the election to be safe and fair for people in the bush. Already, too many people in my community are not enrolled to vote and don't have enough information to vote on the day. The NT electoral commission has cancelled its remote voter enrolment program, so why is the election still going ahead without any assistance for us in the bush? We are going to be left out of this election if it happens in August. Remote communities need to be consulted about the COVID-19 election plan”.


Indigenous communities are calling on the Gunner Government to delay the NT election until it has a comprehensive plan in place that the NTEC has approved in consultation with Indigenous groups to ensure participation.


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