The Northern Territory’s government isn’t known for its environmental or social conscience. But the NT’s recent local council elections have proven that Territorians will vote for better political alternatives when they’re available.
By Josh Wyndham-Kidd
There’s always been a strange paradox in the Northern Territory. There isn’t a Territorian who doesn’t love the bush. Our natural wonders are one of the main reasons that newcomers move here, and that locals stay. We all live very closely with the ocean, the desert, the waterholes and wetlands.
You wouldn’t know it from looking at the people who govern us, though. Territory governments of both major political persuasions are on a unity ticket when it comes to sacrificing people and planet for short-term corporate profit and political gain.
I’ve been grateful that Labor has been in charge during COVID-19 instead of the chaos merchants in the local Country Liberal Party, but it was Labor that opened up the Territory to fracking, it was Labor that passed discriminatory bail laws that have left more First Nations kids in prison, and it’s Labor that’s allowing big cotton investors to plan to drain our rivers for their crops while bush communities still don’t have safe drinking water.
I’ve still got so much hope, though. Because our recent local council elections have proven that Territorians will vote for better political alternatives when they’re available.
The NT Greens ran three outstanding candidates across the Territory: Morgan Rickard in Darwin, Dianne Stokes in the Barkly, and Emily Webster in Mparntwe Alice Springs. The excellent results that these three wonderful people received in three very different communities, along with victories for great independents across the NT, have demonstrated a hunger for better leadership.
Morgan Rickard is a library and youth services worker who ran in my ward, Chan Ward in Darwin’s northern suburbs. He’s worked in the local libraries since he got to Darwin in 2013, and it shows – everyone knows him from Storytime – and he also has a background in video production, work with youth and seniors, and housing. I loved campaigning with Morgan because he’s got a finely honed understanding of how local public services can work for better economic equality and meaningful partnerships with First Nations people.
And our local voters agreed! Morgan performed excellently, came first out of all votes cast on election day, and was elected one of our three local councillors. Watching him get sworn in this week to continue the legacy of Greens councillors in Darwin was immensely exciting – and confirmation that our capital wants better politics.
Our candidate in the Barkly, Dianne Stokes, is a Warumungu and Warlmanpa woman who helped to lead the decade-long successful campaign to stop a nuclear waste dump from being forced on the people of Muckaty. She ran on a platform of providing better local services to keep families together and kids out of prison, along with firm opposition to fracking and inappropriate corporate use of precious groundwater.
Campaigning in the Barkly looks very different to campaigning in Darwin’s northern suburbs. Printed campaign materials had to be dropped off by car – it’s a ten hour drive to Tennant from Darwin – or put on the Greyhound bus for overnight freight, or designed to print at the Tennant computer store. We provided Dianne with a voice recorder and fuel funding so that she could visit communities across the huge Patta Ward and record the wishes of those communities to take to Council. Remote voting teams from the Electoral Commission go out across the ward and we got to go to community alongside them, talking to voters about Dianne’s campaign.
Dianne also performed incredibly well, coming FIRST across her ward. This is the first time a Greens candidate has been elected in the Barkly and the first time the NT Greens have helped to elect a First Nations person. This was such a testament to the respect Dianne is held in by her community.
Now we come to the Alice.
Mparntwe Alice Springs is a highly engaged community, with lively discussion across the town of all the big issues facing desert environments and all the people who depend on them. This Council election saw a huge change, with the bloc of four hardcore conservative Country Liberal Councillors all resigning from Council. This means that the deadlock on so many issues – from fracking and climate action, to water use and even just getting recycling services for the town – could now be broken.
Our candidate, Emily Webster, is a public school teacher and former legal aid lawyer who’s served on the boards of so many amazing community organisations in town – from Birth and Beyond to Arid Land Environment Centre, and from NT Working Women’s Centre to the Watch This Space artist run initiative. She would be an incredible councillor.
As a first-time candidate, she did brilliantly to come sixth on primary votes in a contest for eight seats on Council – ahead of many very high profile candidates. On the first results count, however, she was just passed on preferences to miss out on the final Council seat by fewer than 100 votes.
But this election hasn’t quite ended yet. The mayoral race came down to a margin of 17 votes out of more than 10,000 – with progressive independent challenger Jimmy Cocking coming within a whisker of winning on the first count. After a partial recount, the margin came down to only two votes. Jimmy’s campaign is currently asking for the partial recount to be completed. If the mayoral result changes, an extra seat will open up on Council – and Emily may be elected after all.
These incredible results for three first-time Greens candidates demonstrate that people in three big centres – Darwin, Tennant and Alice – are looking to vote for leaders who care about people and our planet. Results from the rest of the Territory indicate a hunger for change too, with many independents elected in councils big and small who have a strong track record of working to protect clean air, water, Country and climate.
With the federal election not far away, all of us in the NT Greens are looking forward to giving every Territorian the political alternatives they deserve. If you’d like to support the NT Greens, you can do so here.
Josh Wyndham-Kidd is the Party Development Manager at the NT Greens.
Hero image: supplied by Josh Wyndham-Kidd.