Another choice at the ballot box

By Amy McQuire, September 3, 2013, Tracker Magazine.

NORTHERN TERRITORY: Rosalie Kunoth-Monks is an unconventional political candidate – but not for the reasons you’d think.
She’s a grandmother, a former movie star and an Arrente/Amatjere elder who tirelessly campaigns for her people – credentials unmatched by members of previous Parliaments.

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks and her granddaughter Amelia from the Utopia homeland community in the Northern Territory.
Rosalie Kunoth-Monks and her granddaughter Amelia from the Utopia homeland community in the Northern Territory.

But perhaps the most unconventional aspect to her candidacy is that she speaks her truth. Her words are untouched by the pens of political minders.

If you hear her speak, it’s hard to argue otherwise. She says she is entering politics because she has never felt heartache like the last few years under Liberal and Labor governments.

She told Tracker in the lead-up to the election:

“I’ve lived through the history, I’ve lived too long to begin with. I’m 76 now. I’ve seen cruelty in its rawness…,” Ms Kunoth Monks told Tracker.

“…Our crime and our sin is that we are resilient. If nothing else we are resilient.

“And our tribal law and our social setting and our society and the structure thereof has kept every one of us knowing where we belong, who we are and that has been too much for the authorities.

“Therefore to get rid of that cohesion and that belief in humanity, policies have been set up to destroy us,”

“Now that’s the heartache. The heartache is that I feel I’m a complete human being – both physically and mentally and emotionally – within my society. We have not had the materialistic accumulation that the mainstream values so much and yet in spite of that we have lived a meaningful existence.”

Ms Kunoth-Monks is running as the leading Senate candidate for the First Nations Political Party in the Northern Territory (at the time of press, the election was one week out).

The party has been around for decades in the mind of co-founder Maurie Japarta Ryan (currently chair of the Central Land Council). But it was only in last year’s NT elections that it put up candidates. That election ended in a complete annihilation of Territory Labor, with the help of Aboriginal people living in bush-based electorates.

Much of the commentary was focus on how Aboriginal people, accustomed to siding with Labor, had realised their political power in the Territory – the only place in Australia where they have the numbers to kick out a government.

There was a groundswell of analysis about Aboriginal people falling to the right, how they are now drawn to the conservative side of Parliament.

Ms Kunoth Monks told Tracker the last Territory election result did not mean Aboriginal people were siding with the right.

“My nation of people voted as a block because we were so traumatised and hurt by the intervention…. You do get traumatised. They didn’t know where to go, but next time they will because we are laying the foundations now.”

Ken Lechleitner is part of those foundations. He is running against Labor MP Warren Snowdon in Lingiari, a seat which takes in most of the Territory excluding Darwin.

He told Tracker in the lead-up to the election that despite holding 50 percent of the NT land mass, Aboriginal people still did not have the autonomy that Indigenous peoples have in other parts of the world.

Mr Lechleitner wants Australia to talk about the issues he feels are important to alleviating the disadvantage of his people.
“We talk about (NT) statehood, talk about Treaty, talk about sovereignty, let’s write these things now from a community perspective,” Mr Lechleitner told Tracker.

“… Let’s put these issues out there for community groups to start drafting what a Treaty would look like, what a sovereign document would look like.”

The First Nations Political Party platform includes rolling back the NT intervention, negotiating specific treaties between the Aboriginal nations and government, ensuring caring for country through maintain culture, language and ceremony, statehood for the NT and that the Aboriginal Benefits Account be handed over to the Territory and be administered by First Nations organisations.

The power of the First Nations Political Party is almost entirely untested, and with formidable Aboriginal candidates running for the Greens, it will be interesting to see its influence in remote booths, where a majority of voters are First Nations people.
Candidates do not have the funding to travel to remote communities like the major parties.

It is almost assured that Australia will have its first Aboriginal woman in federal Parliament through Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s captain’s pick of Nova Peris as the top Labor Senate candidate in the Territory.

Another Aboriginal woman – prominent anti-intervention campaigner Barbara Shaw – is running in Lingiari against Mr Snowdon, Mr Lechleitner and CLP candidate Tina MacFarlane. Nganjmirra man Trevor Hedland is also running for Lingiari for the Parmer United Party.

Ms Shaw has a history of polling well in remote booths in Lingiari. Mr Snowdon holds his seat by a slim 3.7 percent margin and there is a chance he could lose it on September 7.

He has held it for two decades.

Mr Lechleitner said Mr Snowdon’s legacy would be a hollow one if he were to lose his seat.

“I don’t think he will retire in Alice Springs. He will pack his bags and leave,” he says.

“His legacy will be that he came and he went, just like wind blowing from here to there. And at the same time, he made all this mess for us. But we have to live here and die here. We retire here and are buried here.”

And that’s perhaps the real power of the First Nations Political Party.

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