24 Jan 2013

Why Crossin Must Bow Out

By Adam Brereton

Trish Crossin and her supporters have long impeded the pre-selection of Indigenous candidates in the NT for federal parliament. Adam Brereton looks at the senator's history in the territory

Did Julia Gillard act autocratically when she parachuted Nova Peris into Trish Crossin's Senate seat? What about the party democracy and Labor's long-suffering grassroots membership? What role did the factional warlords play in getting rid of Crossin, if any?

So many questions, except the obvious one: why does the party that prides itself on having advanced the cause of Aboriginal Australia, that gave us the Redfern speech and the Apology, not have one single Aboriginal federal member of parliament or senator?

As far as the Northern Territory is concerned, the answer is relatively straightforward — Crossin and Warren Snowdon, the MHR for Lingiari — are clogging up the system. Crossin filled Bob Collins' casual Senate vacancy in 1998 and has been there ever since. Snowdon had two non-consecutive terms in the division of Northern Territory, beginning in 1987, before it was cut in half, and has been parked in Lingiari since 2001.

There's been a concerted effort by federal Labor to get an Aboriginal candidate in for a long time. The opposition to such a push by the NT branch of the party has been stubborn enough to resist it until now.

In a November 2000 story in the Sydney Morning Herald entitled "The ALP ‘pet nigger' with no place to go", "Tracker" Tilmouth, an Alice Springs man who was the federal party's pick to replace Collins in 1998, slammed the "weekend warriors" of the NT party.

"For the last 20 years we've all voted Labor," the SMH article quoted Tilmouth as saying. "They just expected us to vote Labor. It's a plantation mentality."

Collins opposed Tilmouth's nomination, as did the "Darwin end" of the NT Labor party. He withdrew from the race. "Some in Federal Labor bitterly regretted the party's lost chance to get its first black face into the national parliament," the SMH reported.

In the same article, Snowdon was asked whether he was "keen to see a Territory Aboriginal politician in Canberra?" He thought it was inevitable, but he wouldn't support Tilmouth. "People needed to understand the legitimate political aspirations of Aboriginal contenders," the article paraphrased him as saying.

He was less enthused when it came to the prospect of giving up his seat for an Aboriginal contender: "Snowdon all but choked," the story continued.

"My time's not up," he said. "I don't intend stepping aside for anyone at this point. But there will be a time when I won't be contesting, and I'll be happy to endorse an appropriate person at that time."

That was over a decade ago.

A year later, Crossin was embroiled in a preselection battle with an Aboriginal candidate, Pat Anderson, who at the time headed a Darwin Aboriginal health centre and is now chairman of the Lowitja Institute and a staunch anti-Intervention campaigner.

Crossin originally won the vote 115-111, but the morning after the postal vote was counted, another six ballots arrived in the ALP's post-box. The local returning officer advised the NT party that they be counted, and the party's administrative committee voted to do so.

Crossin appealed to the federal party, whose returning officer, Tony Lang, ordered the NT to endorse the original count. A Sunday Territorian report on the preselection battle rumoured five of the six ballots were for Anderson — who had been supported by Snowdon.

Had her appeal not been granted by the federal party, the ALP could have had its Aboriginal candidate over a decade ago, and one with much more administrative and policy experience to boot. Instead they've been stuck with Crossin, who was deeply unpopular even back then, owing to a Commonwealth car scandal. 26-year-old Jennifer Byrne, the girlfriend of Crossin's son**, was driving the car when she was involved in an accident. Another motorist was killed, but questions of whether Byrne was authorised to drive the vehicle plagued Crossin and Kim Beazley, the ALP's federal leader at the time.

While her service to the party has been extensive  — including co-convening Emily's List, the organisation that promotes the cause of females in the ALP — Crossin's desperation at being dumped is clear. She told the NT News that "indigenous NT Labor members that had 'already done the hard yards'" should have been chosen over Peris. "It is a shame that without consultation these people weren't looked at," she said.

No doubt this is the kind of dissembling that has gotten the ALP into its current position in the NT, where last election Aboriginal votes, especially from the communities, poured in for the Country Liberal Party. Both Crossin and Snowdon could have stepped aside for new blood years ago and walked away with their parliamentary pensions.

Northern Territory Indigenous Affairs Minister Alison Anderson, who defected to the CLP, has already slammed Peris, calling her a "maid", and saying "Gillard was dragged kicking to preselect an Aboriginal person". She can get away with those kinds of statements by merely pointing at the party's record. Regardless of whether Gillard's method was correct, Peris must now shoulder the NT party's baggage. 

In its 2010 list of powerful Territorians, the NT News was unreserved in its mockery, dropping Crossin 43 places from 46th to 83rd:

"One of the biggest losers in The Most Powerful List. The Senator and NT Labor president has influence in the backrooms of the ALP, but little sway in the upper echelons of power in Canberra and little recognition in the Territory. What do you call a constituent in a Senator's office? Answer: lost. Surely it's time to retire, Trish."

Perhaps she should take their advice and bow out gracefully, instead of cruelling Peris' chances to undo the perception among Aboriginal voters that Labor is blocking, rather than supporting them.

**Correction: This article mistakenly said Senator Crossin's daughter was driving her commonwealth car. It was in fact Jennifer Byrne who was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident. The author apologises for any offence caused. 

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Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 13:44

Interesting and informative article. Shame on the Labor Party - it was always racist except for the Whitlam, Hawke and Keating periods and in the 21st century gave any pretence of decency away when it supported the race-based Invasion and exclusion of NT Aborigines from the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act. PM Kevin Rudd's "Sorry" speech notably did not include the terms Racism or Aboriginal Genocide (see "Aboriginal Genocide": https://sites.google.com/site/aboriginalgenocide/ ).

On 23 January 2013 The Age published an article entitled “Peris “coup” a good move but it does raise eyebrows”: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/peris-coup-a-good-move-but-it-does-rais... . I submitted some carefully researched, non-anonymous comments but my comments were CENSORED presumably for containing information The Age does not want its readers to see, know about or think about – in contrast, 510 overwhelmingly anonymous comments were published. This what the Age doesn't want you to know:

QUOTE, CENSORED COMMENTS: ''Good luck to Nova Peris. However the way it was done adds to a list of other Federal Labor betrayals in recent years, betrayals that all Labor MPs new and old are forced to ignore but voters won't.

1. Betrayal of Indigenous Australians by excluding NT Aboriginals from the protection of the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act.

2. Betrayal of our most popular PM Kevin Rudd, the first Australian PM to say "Sorry" to Indigenous Australians (albeit over the Stolen Generations and not over continuing racism and the continuing Aboriginal Genocide).

3. Betrayal of the 66,000 Australians who die preventably each year (this including 9,000 Indigenous Australian) due to perverted US lackey Labor fiscal priorities (e.g. the $125 billion accrual cost of the War on Terror)..

4. Betrayal of Australian children by a system of Educational Apartheid that means that the majority of Australian children who attend State schools are disproportionately excluded from university, top universities and top courses, and that 80% of NT Indigenous children have failed to meet basic numeracy and literacy standards.

5. Betrayal of traditional pro-peace, pro-equity, pro-environment, pro-education, anti-racism Labor values by neoliberal Labor means that betrayed Labor voters will follow the recent example of NT Indigenous voters and put Labor last until it reverts to decent values." END CENSORED COMMENTS.

Notwithstanding being arguably the best Mainstream medium in Australia, that isn't saying much and The Age has a dismal record of censorship and lying by omission - thus see "Censorship by The Age": https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/censorship-by-th... ; however also see "Censorship by The Conversation": https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/censorship-by , "Censorship by ABC Late Night Live": https://sites.google.com/site/censorshipbyabclatenightlive/, "Censorship by the BBC": https://sites.google.com/site/censorshipbythebbc/ and "Mainstream media lying": https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammedialying/ .

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 14:23

I don't quite know how you can write an article on this issue and the issue of Aboriginal representation in the Labor party and not mention Marion Scrymgour at all. She was a very strong contender to take the #1 spot on the NT Senate ballot sheet and has been shafted just as much as Trish Crossin has. If Labor wanted a female Indigenous senator, there was an experienced politician already putting up her hand.

This is why everyone in the NT is pissed off. Yes, many don't particularly like Marion and many don't particularly like Trish, but very few don't respect at least one of them. But Nova Peris is virtually nobody's first choice in the NT. And Territorians are sick of and despise being overriden by Canberra.

If Labor wanted to strengthen its position in NT politics the early signs are that this move will do nothing to achieve that.

I also don't know why you're quoting the NT News 2010 most powerful people list when it's something they run every year? On top of that, the NT News is known to be an irreverent publication and should be taken with a grain of salt.

And to say that Aboriginal votes "poured in for the CLP" is also simplistic. Remote voters swung all over the place in the last election. Labor, CLP, Greens and First Nations all claimed booths in individual remote communities. Communities voted for people they knew and trusted, not for a single party. It's just that the CLP managed to come out on top, helped by very marginal wins to Bess Price and Larissa Lee. Based on that pattern, you'd think that choosing Nova would be a bad electoral move as she is an unknown quantity to remote Territorians, unlike Scrymgour and Crossin who have some sort of profile.

Your article leaves a fair bit to be desired imho. :-(

Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 14:30

Great, so I'll just resign my party membership (not ALP btw) and let the party leaders and the Commentariat get together on a phone hookup and they can decide what glamour candidates will run. Not sure who is going to be left to do the work or the believeing.

Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 15:55

I can think of a number of reasons why Nova Peris would be a terrific member of parliament.
However, I also believe that seats must not be something that the PM can grant to her friends - no matter how deserving.

Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 16:35

It is disappointing that the first Aboriginal person to make it as an ALP Senator has to take this path. It is more disappointing that the NT Party hasn't previously endorsed an Aboriginal person for one of the 3 seats that could be won in the NT.

Overriding the membership is not good in a party where members have ever diminishing power or influence but there comes a time when the leadership has to do just that to achieve a necessary result.

Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 17:08

Is there an agenda behind this article? It seems very personally ungenerous towards Crossin (quoting an ad hominem rant from the NT News as evidence in support of its personal comments tends to confirm that impression).

Still, there may be something to recommend the argument about a need to change. After all, if Nova Peris is the right candidate, that does not speak highly for the NT ALP's processes (ditched on Gillard's whim) or its membership (which did not include her).

Tom Clark
Victoria University (Melbourne)

Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 17:29

Irrespective of who is the best candidate for the job, should the selection not be based on merit rather than celebrity with the PM barging in?

This user is a New Matilda supporter. Moonah_Unit
Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 19:08

Crossin's been a good senator, and is far more astute than Peris ever will be. Seems a shame to discard a competent performer for a spotlight-hungry C-grade celebrity ingenue. In fact it's nuts, unless you bring race into it.
It's one thing to want a first Aboriginal rep in federal parliament for the ALP. It's another to clumsily shoehorn the dullster into the safest seat in the country. Smacks of paternalism/maternalism, backroom deals, reverse eugenics and most of all of any confidence that our current 'system' in any way prepares indigenous people to take part in wider society as equals and not as eartagged beasts needing special treatment.
Pat Anderson by the way is buckets of awesome. Shame she didn't win that preselection.

Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 19:36

"...the party that prides itself on having advanced the cause of Aboriginal Australia, that gave us the Redfern speech and the Apology,..." and that took ownership and continued the Howard/Brough Intervention, and gave us Macklin's Stronger Futures (a.k.a.the Intervention Mark II).
A Warlpiri man at one of the first anti-Intervention meetings here in Yuendumu asked: "Why is Kevin Rudd using John Howard's shoes and piggy-backing his policies?" Why indeed? I suspect political opportunism.
On the ABC (NT) this morning someone put the question: “Why didn’t she offer her that cardboard cut-out Warren Snowdon’s seat instead?”
To quote a year 2000 article is ignoring that a lot of water has passed under the bridge that a quarter of a million Australians walked accross for reconciliation.
At the last Federal election voters from the bush came close to toppling Wazza (in the bush and Tennant Creek he lost approx.65% of his support to Aboriginal candidates including Barbara Shaw that stood for the greens. How ironiC that had we succeeded, Tony Abbott would have been our Prime Minister.
Senator Crossing included a swathe of Yolßu language in her maiden speech and a few times made pro-bilingual noises but usually kept silent and followed the party line of presenting a small target. Another irony is that it was Marion Scrymgour as NT Education minister that introduced the assimilationist '4-hours English Policy' At the time she was advised inter alia by our current NT Aboriginal member who despite standing for the opposition got the ALP's Jenny Macklin's support.
A pity the ALP not having heeded the warning signs of Warren Snowdon's near defeat.
Because the ALP is on the nose we've let Dracula into the Blood Bank.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. charlie
Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 20:09

This is an extraordinarily ill informed article, or just biased. I've been a member of the NT ALP for 25 yrs, and seen all this first hand.
Why doesn't Adam mention that the Labor Governments in the NT had about 40% Aboriginal MLAs ? Marion Scrymgour was the deputy Chief Minister. The likes of Jack Ah Kit and Malandiri McCarthy held senior portfolios. One would get the impression from Adam's article that the NT ALP was the last bastion of white Australia.
As gregdickson says 'what about Scrymgour'
Here we have a grassroots NT Aboriginal woman, active as a member, Admin Committee member, MLA, Minister, etc over 20 odd years, and a candidate for senate preselection already. Gillard rang her to say that she was pushing her aside, 'so she could have an indigenous woman in the Federal parliament'... What ?
Scrymgour has demonstrated that she has the guts to stand up for her people, and say things that the ALP sometimes doesn't want to hear. Just the woman we need !
Regardless of Peris' merits she is always going to be Gillards 'pet nigger' to use your ugly phrase.
As for Tracker Tilmouth, I know him well, worked with him, and he was a very loose cannon. His membership of the party was sporadic, if at all. He bad mouthed the NT Party during election campaigns. He had the opportunity to stand for preselection just like anyone else.
The Territory is pretty sensitive to outsiders telling us what is best for us.
As for the absurd presumption that if the ALP "wants a federal Aboriginal member' it should automatically be up to the NT to supply one, what rubbish.
In the course of the current debate I have heard that 'the NT has the most Aborigines' Crap.
NSW has 150,000. Qld 145,000. WA 71,000. The NT has 64,000.
The NT ALP has one senate seat (realistically, out of two)
The State ALP branches have access to up to six Senate seats. Surely one of them could be expected to preselect an Aboriginal candidate for one of those six safe seats.
Trish Crossin. What a vituperative distortion you have presented. Yes, her preselection was close, and contested. And dealt with by the Party procedures.
I voted for Pat Anderson, and as an Admin Cttee member at the time voted to allow the 'late' votes. That was not to be.
Since then I have strongly supported Trish, and she has done a bloody good job of representing the people of the NT. Of course she hasn't always had her way.
Federal ALP policy and decisions are often taken against the advice of the NT members, but that is the way democracy works.
However, I think she has had her time, and would have been voting for Marion if we had been allowed a ballot.
If Gillard was serious, and thoughtful, she just needed to tap Trish on the shoulder and say 'Thanks, you've done a good job, give Marion a go'

Jade w
Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 20:23

It think it is good for the senator to be representative of the cultural majority of constituents. I understand skin colour may not guarantee cultural representation just as celebrity does not bequeath political nous, and the ability and commitment to withstand the heavy argy-bargy of the political scene to effectively advocate and represent one's electorate. I do see Peris's pre-selection as good "representation" decision, not a "reverse discrimination" situation. I also (quite radically) see changing pre-selection candidates in a incumbent government while a risky endeavour can keep a government fresher, decreases corruption and makes the government more sustainable long term. It may be controversial now but I think this decision has a good chance of being positively viewed and accepted by the nation, (albeit in hindsight).

Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 20:54

I reckon Nova Peris may well have just got in La Gillardine's ear, and the Gillard just made a 'decision' and that was that. I doubt a lot of thought was put in it. Just can not see what athletic ability has to do with understanding of politics and a deep belief in being able to do something for your electorate.
Maybe a fair bit of racism is extant in the NT. And in the NT Labor Party. Would be utterly surprised if it was not. And no one wants to to just hand over a sinecure, to either white or black.
I doubt that Labor is going to do very good in the next Election in the NT. There seems to be deep disillusionment with the Party within Indigenous peoples, especially after Macklin and her Invasion policies.
Just goes to show that La Gillardine is so out of touch with reality.
Commentators seem to take it for granted that Peris will be elected. I doubt that this is a done deal. Just another stench coming from a La Gillardine 'decision'.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. O. Puhleez
Posted Thursday, January 24, 2013 - 20:55

Charlie made some good points here. However, Adam Brereton did not ask a rather important question: What proportion of the active (at least 3 meetings per year when I was a member) membership of the NT ALP are Aborigines? If it is high, and Aboriginal member should have been preselected by now. If it is low, then that is the problem. Not a lack of black politicians.

Parachuting Nova Perris into the seat makes a mockery of the party's rules and gives a two-fingered salute to its traditions of internal democracy. Those traditions, by the way, have been under attack by the ALP's parliamentarians since the year dot: always in the interests of Truth, Justice and the Australian Way of course.

Gillard's is merely the latest parliamentarist suck of that sauce nottle.

Posted Friday, January 25, 2013 - 18:49

Hard to disagree with Adam's way of posing the question: why does the ALP have no indigenous federal representatives? Yet, disturbing to see to see everyone in this discussion - along apparently with the PM. - assuming that the first representative should come from the NT - as if the NT is where indigenous people belong. Surely, the problem facing Labor is that it has no indigenous federal representatives from anywhere in Australia. The task of resolving this issue should not be left just to the NT branch
school of social sciences
Australian National university

Posted Friday, January 25, 2013 - 21:32

Many years ago when I first started living (with my family) on an Aboriginal community, I would get introduced to some other white-fellow with the expectation that I would be thrilled to meet them. The fact that I had nothing in common with said white-fellow and that my reception of this stranger would be less than enthusiastic did not occur to my Warlpiri friends.
I detect something of the same paradigm operating here. When Lee Sales (who would do well to study Andrew Denton's interviewing style) on the ABC's 7:30 Report interviewed Alison Anderson she kept pressing her "wasn't the appointment of an Aborigine a good thing?" To her credit Alison stuck to her guns and was not drawn into discussing Nova's merits (or otherwise).
A big step towards co-existence and reconciliation or whatever you want to call it will be made, when the idea that any (token) Aborigine will be better than none is abandoned and instead the many very talented Aborigines with varied backgrounds are appreciated on their merits and given free rein to express themselves instead of being stereotyped, stigmatized, controlled and suppressed (as under the NT Intervention).
A respect for different languages and different world views instead of the ethnocentric assimilationist imperative currently operating in Australia might be a good starting point.
This could eventually evolve into a Parliament of varied and free thinking individuals, and no one giving a toss as to the Parliament's ethnic make-up.

Posted Friday, January 25, 2013 - 22:05

Well said, Jungarrayi.
As for Leigh Sales (I think) she is still a rank amateur at being an interviewer. I prefer never to listen to her, or her mate. I cringe when I do. She is always trying for the 'gotcha' comment, so that she can MAKE the news next morning. As a replacement for Kerry O'Brien, she is a disaster. Can't remember much of Andrew Denton's style of interview, so long ago. I much preferred him as a comedian, or as anchor of a variety show.
Where have all the satirists and comedians gone from the ABC?
Banned by Management, still Howard Government appointees. Fair chance they would give the pollies, and especially the MadMonk, a hard time. Anyone remember Rubbery Figures? I think they went to Britain.
I have now been advised that Perris is almost guaranteed to be a Senator for the NT, unless the Labor vote collapses totally. Perhaps it may, thanks to La Gillardine.
Territorians must be about ready to revolt, they have been over-ridden so many times by the Feds. Labor really did think that they 'owned' the indigenous vote. Got a terrible shock this last election. So La Gillardine decides to pander to the Indigenous vote, and parachutes in her selection for Senator, a famous black female athlete. Great one, Big Julie, got rid of a Rudd supporter, and a Left faction person at one go. No wonder the Far Right Faction heads in Caucus are happy as little pigs in mud. Big Julie is THEIR mate.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. outrider
Posted Friday, January 25, 2013 - 22:14

Leaving aside Crossin, amazing that a longtime, long serving member, experienced parliamentarian, Aboriginal woman, like Marion Scrymgour can be brushed aside for NON MEMDER of the party. And Gillard has the hide to say that her 'captain's pick' (how can the captain pick someone who is not a member of the team?) is because the ALP needs an Aborigine in the Federal Parliament. Where the hell is the ALP going to?.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. aussiegreg
Posted Saturday, January 26, 2013 - 16:07

What is missing from this discussion is an appreciation of the wider politics involved. It's like all those tedious tirades against Julia Gillard's deal with the miners prior to the last election, totally ignoring the principal purpose of that deal which was to get the miners to discontinue their anti-Labor advertising campaign, which, had it continued, would have put Tony Abbott into the Lodge and ensured we had no mining tax at all.

Here too the political purpose is not just to save Labor from the perennial embarrassment of claiming to be the party that supports Aboriginal rights and works to reverse Aboriginal disadvantage, while never preselecting an aboriginal candidate for a winnable seat. The wider purpose is to win votes in marginal seats, where it doesn't matter that Nova Peris is Aboriginal, it matters that she's <i>popular</i>.

Labour can afford to lose a huge chunk of votes in the Northern Territory from pissed-off Labor Party members and supporters – that Senate seat is virtually unloseable. What the Party cannot afford to lose is votes in marginal seats outside the Territory, and in those seats there are plenty of sports fans who think Nova Peris is a goddess. The political benefits of seeing her standing beside Julia Gillard, proclaiming her newfound presence in the Labor team, are what this exercise is all about – and it's no accident Julia used sporting metaphors, "the captain's peak", "joining the team" etc. She is appealing to a sports-mad electorate, not to a PC one.

Posted Saturday, January 26, 2013 - 17:41

You're absolutely right. We out here at the coalface (a deliberately chosen word) of injustice to remote Aboriginal Australians should by now, not need to have realpolitics pointed out to us.
It is not coincidental that in a sports mad society the term 'political football' is often used
But we are an optimistic bunch and hope springs eternal.
Hope and humour sustains us.

Posted Sunday, January 27, 2013 - 17:33

I agree with our Prime Ministers call to request Crossin to step aside and allow an indigenous person with proven leadership qualities beyond Olympian feats to be endorsed. It is important for our leaders to be imaginative and think outside the square to get results which will improve our society. Trish Crossin has had a long and varied career full of opportunities but it appears that those representing NT aboriginal people have stymied their smooth transition to power. Our smart savvy PM Julia Gillard recognised there was a problem which had to be addressed. The attitude which demands only a local can understand local issues undermines our educated, forward-thinking contemporary mobile society which requires people to be adaptable and open to change. Change is good. Nova Peris has proven strength and determination to bring people together. I'm for making things possible; not create divisiveness. Our Prime Minister is on the right track and its time people reflected on her achievements and how much she 'gets right'. A class act.