Monday, 3 April 2017

Opacity, obfuscation and self-preservation.

The Life and Death of King John Act 3 iv

The NT News has in recent times been running a rather tendentious campaign critical of NT Senator and Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion, largely focussed on his alleged silence and lack of action in preventing the projected fall in GST revenues to the NT over the next four years. Here is a link to the GST story. Here are links to the NT News articles on Senator Scullion: link here and here.

The paper followed up with various questions related to the Senators use of travel entitlements. Senator Scullion responded with a media release and related tweets refuting the inferences of travel entitlement misuse: link here.  See also his response in the Senate in the short grab played on the ABC Insiders program last Sunday (2 April 2017). Link here at the 51:20 minute mark.

This background above provides a clear indication of the intense and potentially unfair pressures on Federal ministers and senators when local political developments shift in unanticipated or undesirable directions. It is also part and parcel of the way politics is played, and an insight into how the media plays itself into issues and thereby influences the way the policy process unfolds.

In this specific case, it also helps to explain the underlying rationale and timing of a policy announcement (or in this case, a policy re-announcement).

Thus Minister Scullion issued a media release on 30 March 2017 (link here) with the lead paragraph stating:
The Coalition Government will provide the Northern Territory Government with an additional $70 million to support the delivery of services that will increase community safety in the Territory. [emphasis added].

The release went on to note:
The $70 million will support remote policing infrastructure and contribute to the employment of more than 300 additional police officers in remote communities across the Territory and three dog squads.

This would be great news except that we have seen it before. On 20 May 2016, the Minister issued a media release jointly with then Chief Minister Giles announcing $208m for community safety in the NT: link here. In that media release, which can be found on the Senator’s own web site ( ), but inexplicably not his ministerial media release web site, Minister Scullion noted:
These new reforms will result in at least 300 sworn police officers servicing regional and remote areas outside of Greater Darwin. Two Substance Abuse Intelligence Desks will be maintained and a third dog operation unit will be established to operate across the Northern Territory.

Clearly, the funds announced this week are not additional, but were announced over a year ago as part of a larger package of resources.

The reforms referred to were described in the media release as follows:
Under the reforms, which form part of the new National Partnership Agreement on Northern Territory Remote Aboriginal Investment, the NT Police Force will be given greater flexibility to adapt to the changing needs of remote communities.
The previous Stronger Futures in the NT funding agreement struck by the former Labor Government was overly prescriptive and locked the Territory into an ineffective and rigid policing model.

While the media can often be unfair to politicians, the underlying scepticism of the electorate towards politicians is reinforced when politicians take the electorate for mugs.

Senator Scullion may well have been treated unfairly by the NT News. But as a Minister in an elected Government, he also has a responsibility to be accountable for his decisions, to explain them clearly, and to not obfuscate or mislead.

To date, we have had no information on what the ‘more flexible’ reforms to NT policing which were announced in May 2016 involve. How do they differ from what the previous Government proposed? Nor have we had an update on the location of the new investment in police infrastructure nor on progress in recruiting the extra police officers and their allocation.

Instead we get a rerun of last year’s media announcement, timed to reinforce the Minister’s standing within his own electorate, the NT, and to counter the recent media stories that he is not standing up for the Territory. Even more egregiously, the impression is given that these are ‘additional’ investments when in fact they were previously appropriated and announced.

We expect more from our Governments than this.

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