The election campaign you didn't see...

Published:

This is the story of the election you probably haven't heard. 

For two weeks of early voting I travelled all over the Northern Territory, and I heard the same thing: people constantly told us 'how good it was to have us mob out here'. 

As the major parties ran their fever-pitch smear campaigns and Clive Palmer blanketed the media with his obnoxious ads, I was a part of a very different campaign – in places that don't make the front page. 

Aboriginal voters in remote communities want to have a say. They're tired of being taken for granted by candidates who can't be bothered to come and explain their policies. 

So this election, we did what some candidates wouldn't. 

 

As we travelled more than 4,000 kilometres in the weeks leading up to the election, we listened, we talked, and produced a policy scorecard for First Nations voters. 

We rated the parties on five major issues impacting our people: remote housing, deaths in custody, the Northern Territory Intervention, the Community Development Program (CDP)1 and putting First Nations Affairs in First Nations hands. 

A list of checked boxes outlining the extent of our campaign highlights in the Northern Territory in red, black, and yellow including travelling 4000 kilometres, 2500 conversations with voters, our scorecards, and our online reach. 

We had over 2500 conversations at 11 remote polling stations. And around the country, we used digital advertising to make sure our scorecards reached First Nations' voters in electorates like Parkes in Western New South Wales, Durack in Western Australian and Leichhardt and Herbert in Far North Queensland. They were shared far and wide online reaching over 125 000 people. 

As I watched the results roll in on election night for the seat of Lingiari, which captures almost all of the Northern Territory, the race was tight. Almost a 50/50 dead heat, in fact. But Antony Green called it: it would be the remote polling, counted in the coming days, that determined the fate of the seat.2 

The result? Votes against parties that patronise First Nations communities. Votes against the discriminatory and cruel CDP program. Votes for fair housing programs in remote communities. And proof that First Nations votes have the power to change elections across the country. 

But politicians don't think remote voters count, and the result is heartbreaking. 

In Ngukurr, a remote community in south-east Arnhem Land, I saw dozens of young people turned away from polling booths. They waited for hours in line to access translation services to cast a formal vote. And one by one, they were told they couldn't. They weren't on the electoral roll. 

We ran our campaign because this is what democracy looks like in remote Aboriginal communities right now – and it's unacceptable. 

But we have hope. 

First Nations communities need to be heard. We need real control of our own affairs. We are seeking a dramatic and urgent change to the relationship between us and Governments. Making sure this message is heard and understood is more important than ever, regardless of who wins an election. 

In solidarity, 
Larissa for the Getup team 

Larissa is a Widjabul woman who leads First Nations Justice at Getup 

References: 
1. The Community Development Program is a work-for-the-dole scheme applying only to remote communities, with more stringent work and compliance requirements than that imposed on comparable job seekers in the cities. For that reason it has been called racist, discriminatory and punitive. 
2. 'Electoral commission's massive logistical effort across vast seat of Lingiari in Top End', ABC Online, May 10, 2019
 
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