Nova Peris, the Prime Minister and Trish Crossin

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PM Julia Gillard has replaced Senator Trish Crossin with “Supa” Nova Peris in the NT, ostensibly to promote Indigenous women. Tess Lawrence says there’s much more to it than that.



[caption id="attachment_12313" align="alignright" width="120"]By contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence By contributing editor-at-large Tess Lawrence[/caption]

OUT WITH THE OLD and in with the Nova riche.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard's shameless pointing of the bone at the Northern Territory's Senator Patricia Margaret Crossin, in favour of celebrity candidate Olympian Nova Peris smacks of yet another execution order by the expedient faceless men who stoke Labor's furnace with fuels of treachery and betrayal of their own political kith and kin.

The Prime Minister had no compunction yesterday in publicly humiliating Crossin, lauding the indisputable and admirable achievements of Peris, her New Best Indigenous Famous Friend.

The first Crossin knew of her impending demise was the night before, when Gillard telephoned, presenting her with the fait accompli that she was backing Peris in pre-selection and that was that.

Dontcha just lurv consensus and consultation?

The backstab recalls a feeling of deja vu over the knifing of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd by his 'loyal' deputy, Gillard the human Guillotine.

Crossin seemingly has no intention of going quietly given her robust repudiation of Gillard's done deal. Nor should she. By the way, she's also chair of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee and highly regarded.

Whilst the Prime Minister has the right to impose Thatcherite will on the Northern Territory in terms of  Nova Peris, it should be remembered that she was rolled in Cabinet last year and was forced to back down over her intention to compel Australia to vote against state observer status for Palestine in the UN General Assembly.

Australia subsequently abstained from voting; not a good look for a nation that had schmoozed its way into a temporary stint on the UN Security Council.

Gillard's assertions that backing Peris was to secure the first Indigenous person in the Senate should be taken with a grain of epsom salts.

Peris isn't even a member of the Labor Party, but that's no problem. Bob Carr was not a member of Federal Cabinet when Gillard made him Foreign Secretary, after the continuing mishandling of the 'Kevin Rudd matter'.

What about the rest of Australia and lack of Indigenous representation? And why didn't Warren Mundine get a gig? Not up to it?  Publicly he's endorsing the PM but it should be remembered that when he resigned from the ALP he had a different songline.

There's more to all of this than meets the ire.

And there's more to Trish Crossin ‒ the Terriitory's first female member of Federal Parliament ‒ than the disingenuous afterthought in Gillard's speech at the Peris Hilton-type celebrity announcement would have us believe.

The Labor Party's faceless Junta needs to install a token Indigenous beholden and compliant candidate representing, not Northern Territorians, but the Labor Party in the Senate.

This means someone who is prepared to give the thumbs up to the desecration and shrinkage of National Parks and other Sacred Lands and World Heritage Listings, Uranium and other mining, nuclear bases, storage of nuclear waste and the increased US military presence of hardware and personnel in Darwin and elsewhere in the Territory and the rest of Australia and surrounds, including the increasing militarisation of the Pacific, the East China Sea, the ongoing bullying by Australia of East Timor over the abundant oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea; to say nothing of Christmas Island, that comes under NT jurisdiction and electorate.

Unless Trish Crossin has abandoned all she once stood for, she is not that someone.

It should be remembered that in September last year, Senator Trish Crossin led the charge in introducing a bill to legalise same sex marriage. It was ultimately defeated 41 votes to 26, but put Crossin again at ideological odds with the PM.

Crossin was also a Rudd supporter, and the Prime Minister has been gradually culling this feral species by dismantling their power and influence.

In 1998, Trish Crossin was appointed by the NT legislative Assembly to replace Bob Collins who had resigned.

A little after 5pm on Wednesday, June 24, 1998, Trish Crossin stood up in Parliament to make her maiden speech.

In part, she said:
Nhamirr bukmak?Manymak walnga nganapurr nhinan ngarra ga gurrutumirr ngarrak, ngunhal Yirrkala wangangur. Yolngu walal ngarrak djaka, ga gurrutu gathar ngarrak ga marnggikungal ngarran Yolngu Romgu.Buku—wekan mhuma, wanga—watangun Yolngun, nhe ngarrak, djaka.

A former teacher and fluent speaker of the Yolnu language, Crossin explained the words to the members of Parliament — some of whom clearly continue to have difficulty with the English language, let alone have any knowledge of any Indigenous ones.
Those words translated mean thank you for welcoming my family and I, for allowing us to live on your land and for the opportunity to understand your culture. I give a public undertaking to work hard to represent them and to continue to respect and acknowledge their rights.

It was a breathtaking and telling moment and revisiting it now proves the sluggish hypocrisy of successive governments in relation to the 'Indigenous problem' and this country's failure to acknowledge Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders in our Constitution and to implement a Treaty and effective Reconciliation.

Even before saying this, Crossin's opening and now ironical words set the scene for what was to come.
I am humble and proud to stand before you as the new Labor Senator representing the people of the Northern Territory. I regard it as a great honour to be chosen by my party colleagues, and they can be assured that I will do my utmost to represent all Territorians. I would like to begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners on whose land this Parliament House was built. My life in the Northern Territory began at Yirrkala on the Gove Peninsula where I arrived in 1981 to teach.

Some in the Chamber began to feel a little uneasy at what might be coming next.

And there was good reason for some of them to squirm a little.

On Indigenous Australians and the Apology, Crossin said:
The rights and needs of Indigenous Australians must be more seriously addressed by governments. It took many years for any government of this country to recognise in law Aboriginal rights to land, and the Howard government has failed to lead this country towards a peaceful and productive reconciliation. In my first speech in this chamber I would like to extend an apology to Aboriginal people, to those people whom I have personally met and to the stolen generation, who have been the innocent victims of many decades of poor and wrong public policy. I want to record my deep regret for the injustices suffered by Indigenous Australians as a result of European settlement. In particular, I offer my personal apology for the hurt and harm caused by the forced removal of children from their families and for the effect of government policy on the human dignity and spirit of these Indigenous Australians.

On Indigenous reconciliation, she added:
I would also like to record my desire for reconciliation and for a better future for all Australians. I make a commitment to a united Australia which respects this land of ours, values Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and provides justice and equity for all.

On the Republic, Northern Territory statehood and the Constitution, she also expressed views uncomfortable for some:
During my term as a senator I will actively support the move towards Australia becoming a republic as well as moves by the Northern Territory to become the seventh state of Australia. Territorians deserve to be granted statehood, and to secure the full range of rights that other Australians already enjoy. Territorians also deserve a modern constitution which provides us with a better, more democratic system of government in our region.

The Northern Territory Legislative Assembly has adopted a bipartisan push for a grant of statehood by the centenary of Federation in 2001. Not all Territorians agree on the detail which must be attached to a grant of statehood. It is not the number of senators or the size of the population that should be seen as possible barriers to statehood. The main impediments are how and under what conditions do we move to statehood, while ensuring that specific recognition is afforded to Indigenous Territorians within a contemporary constitution. This issue should be decided by Territorians, not by the Northern Territory parliament.

We should have a representative people's convention and not the recent sham which was imposed upon Territorians without an opportunity for all Territorians to determine the content of the territory's new constitution. The current Chief Minister's agenda is to be condemned as undemocratic and counterproductive. I call for the democratic process to be reinstalled.

I believe that a new Constitution for the Northern Territory should be a document of significance; a document which enjoys the overwhelming support of the people of the Northern Territory. It should secure rights and entitlements for Territorians and ensure those rights cannot be taken away on the whim of the politicians of the day, and, above all, it should provide a system of government which is both democratic and openly accountable to the people. Before statehood can be achieved, I also believe the territory government should come under scrutiny. With no freedom of information legislation, the territory government has remained unaccountable since self-government.

On Radio Australia and Australians abroad:
One of the first acts of this Coalition government was to cut $250 million in regional projects as well as cutting general purpose funding to the Northern Territory by $12 million. In the Territory we have experienced massive cuts to the Public Service, which means not only jobs are taken out of the region but also vital services are removed. Offices that have closed in the Northern Territory include Darwin's office of the Department of Transport and Regional Development, AusAID (the Australian Agency for International Development) Radio Australia, the Office of Northern Development, and the Department of Finance's regional office.

Let me make a comment about a number of these decisions.

The Office of Northern Development was absolutely crucial in getting major development projects such as the MacArthur River mine and the Mount Todd mine off the ground. Cox's Peninsula transmitter station has closed down and may, quite possibly, now be sold for scrap metal. We heard how Australians in Jakarta during the recent trouble in Indonesia had trouble contacting the Australian Embassy for advice — for such purposes alone an effective Radio Australia is important. The Howard Government has reduced funding to Batchelor College by six per cent, which has meant a cut of $334,000 and 20 places in 1998. Similarly, the Northern Territory University has suffered cuts under the Howard government as part of the massive reduction in funding in tertiary education.

Senator Crossin said she was a strong supporter of the trade union movement and a strong opponent of Howard’s Workplace Relations Act:
My involvement in the trade union movement, as a union official with the Australian Education Union and the National Tertiary Education Union, has shown me how vulnerable workers are in the security of their employment and the lack of knowledge that individuals have about their working conditions and rights. I do not intend to provide detailed comment on the recent waterfront dispute, only to say that the trade union movement, along with the MUA, is here to stay. As our history will prove, the trade union movement continues to improve wages for all sectors of the work force and will ensure that there remains in our society an organised industrial labour movement to defend and promote the interests of Australian workers.

The date 1 July is less than two weeks away, and this is the day that the scales of industrial relations in this country will be tipped in favour of the employer by the coalition government. Award conditions will be stripped back to only 20 allowable matters, whether or not there is agreement at the workplace between employees and management to the contrary. Union members will retain limited award protection during this period of insecurity. The impact of the Workplace Relations Act will be felt by young people, rural and regional workers and women in part-time and casual employment, all of whom are generally underrepresented in unions and conscious of complying with the requirements of their employer in order to keep their jobs. The Workplace Relations Act discourages true workplace reform and regulates it in a punitive, limited manner. It fragments the work force and further marginalises women and youth and those workers who are engaged in fixed term or other forms of casual short-term employment. This act is another slight by the Coalition Government on the ordinary workers in Australia.

Crossin supported Territory women ‒ including Aboriginal women ‒ and their right to vote:
Women have and will continue to play an important role in both the life and development of the Northern Territory. I would like to take a few minutes to pay tribute to just a few of these. As some honourable senators may be aware, Territory women, including Aboriginal women, were the first in Australia, along with South Australian women, to win the vote and the right to stand for parliament. The legislation was passed in the parliament of South Australia, which then had responsibility for the Territory, in 1894 and was gazetted in 1895. Territory women voted in their first election in 1896 and were the first women in Australia, along with their South Australian sisters, to vote in the federal referendum on federation in 1898. They voted overwhelmingly in favour of federation hoping it would bring the Territory closer to self-government.

It took a while for women to get elected into parliament in the Territory. The first woman took her seat in 1960, followed by such other prominent politicians as Dawn Lawrie, who is currently the Territory's Anti-discrimination Commissioner, and Labor women June D'Rozario and Pam O'Neill, who in 1981 became the first female deputy leader from a major political party. We currently have a talented Territory Labor leader in Maggie Hickey, who is the first female Leader of the Opposition in the NT. It is my desire that Maggie Hickey becomes the Territory's first Labor Chief Minister or Premier. I intend to dedicate time as a member of parliament encouraging other women to stand for political office. It is important that there are more women directly involved in the decision making bodies of this country and that these bodies truly reflect the gender profile of the electorate.

Crossin spoke out as a critic of uranium mining:
The Northern Territory is an electoral division with an area in excess of 1.3 million square kilometres, with a coastline of some 6,200 kilometres. The electorate includes the territories of Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island. The main towns include the city of Darwin, Alice Springs and a number of regional centres such as Katherine, Tennant Creek, Nhulunbuy, Jabiru and Yulara. The Territory is an electorate that has often been referred to as the last frontier and, although not the largest by area in Australia, it is geographically the most dispersed. It is also home to a diverse range of geographical treasures such as Uluru and Kakadu National Park, to name only a few. So it provides both unique challenges and opportunities.

The mining of uranium adjacent to Kakadu within the Jabiluka lease has gained not only national but international attention during the past two years. This lease is completely surrounded by the Kakadu Park, which is one of only 17 world heritage properties listed for both natural and cultural values. It should also be noted that construction on this proposed mine has commenced, despite the cultural heritage management plan not being completed and despite this being one of the conditions laid down by the Commonwealth government.

I support the efforts of Yvonne Margarula, who is ably supported by Jacqui Katona—two fellow Territorians that I know dearly—in leading a delegation to Paris to seek a recommendation from UNESCO's world heritage bureau that Kakadu be placed on an in danger list. The Jabiluka project is rejected by the overwhelming majority of Australians. More than 80 per cent of Australians do not want mining in national parks and more than 60 per cent do not want uranium mines. A significant number of Australians are saying that they have gone as far into the nuclear industry as they want to go. I am also one of those Australians.

Trish Crossin was also vocal about racial equality and equal opportunity:
Geographical uniqueness is not the only special feature of the Territory. The people of my electorate form a rich tapestry of differing backgrounds and traditions. The cultural diversity of the Northern Territory forms a most endearing and welcoming feature of life in northern Australia.

The Territory has its own special set of circumstances and needs. Our population of under 200,000 is diverse and is spread across the bush and regional and urban centres. Almost one-quarter of Territorians are indigenous Australians. We enjoy a rich racial and ethnic mix of cultures from more than 50 countries. It is this aspect of the Territory to which I am pleased to have exposed my children. It is this diverse range of cultures and experience which families in the Territory value and celebrate. As a Territory senator, I will continue to promote the benefits of a tolerant, multicultural Australia.

I have entered parliament at a time when the political scene in this country is undergoing significant historical change. Australia has established a proud international reputation for its policies on indigenous people and migrants, a reputation of which most Australians are proud and want their children to understand. We must continue to strive for a country that is built upon the foundations of unity rather than division, that promotes a community of inclusion and a lifestyle based on the principles of racial equality and equal opportunity.

She spoke out in favour of fairer childcare provision:
I believe that my diverse experiences have led me here to represent the people of the Northern Territory. As a working mum who still drops her two-year-old daughter at child care every morning, I have direct experience in the child-care industry. Since being appointed as a senator, the single major issue over which I am stopped time and time again is that of child care and its impact upon working families. I believe the provision of and access to child care is at crisis level in this country. If we are to support families and strengthen their role in the community, which we have done through ratifying ILO convention 156, then we must more seriously address the crucial role that child care plays in our society. More and more families rely upon either one or both parents to work, and there is little recognition of the difficult and challenging role of single parents, particularly women, who choose to juggle a career and a family. Eight hundred million dollars worth of cuts in the last two coalition budgets, particularly to operating grants to community based centres and outside school hours care programs, has seen the quality of child care reduced, job losses in the sector and child-care fees escalating beyond the means of many working parents.

In Darwin the community has been shocked by the recent announcement of the imminent closure of four child-care centres. This was labelled a necessary business decision by the centre operators and is a clear indication of how the coalition's policies are not working. These policies are placing a burden on the nation's families, and there are major policy inconsistencies in the government's approach to this. At a time when, in the labour market, the government's policy direction is allegedly promoting flexibility of working hours, the approach to child care is based in the 1960s, reflecting the work pattern of that time and not what you would hope for or expect as we enter a new millennium. These decisions do not reflect family friendly policies and are limiting the ability of businesses, particularly in the Northern Territory where there is a shortage of skilled labour, to attract and keep workers.

I put on the record that it is unfortunate that there are no child-care facilities in this building for a politician like me. It may well be one of the reasons limiting the capacity of women to enter this arena. I call on governments to recognise and fund child care as the firststage of the lifelong education and learning process. It must be classified as an essential service, part of the formal education system, and must be substantially better funded than it currently is. It is time all levels of government realised child care should be free and accessible to families in this country.

Senator Crossin also acknowledged her predecessor, Bob Collins:
As I am constantly reminded, Bob Collins will be a challenging act to follow. He is highly and widely recognised and regarded in the Territory as having been an outstanding representative for all Territorians. He was renowned for his wit and his wisdom. I am aware he was acknowledged by both his political friends and foes as one of the most effective debaters in the Territory and federal parliaments.

Robert Lindsay Collins served as the Labor senator for the Northern Territory for over 10 years and spent 10 years before that in the Northern Territory parliament acting as opposition leader from 1981 to 1986. As you know, Bob made history when he became the first Territorian to be appointed to the federal ministry and later to federal cabinet. Bob's record of service as a minister of some six years is a worthy legacy any politician would be proud to own, but to have made his contribution as a cabinet minister and senator representing the Northern Territory makes his achievements infinitely more impressive. I, too, am proud to be making a little piece of history myself by becoming the Territory's first female member of federal parliament.

Opposition members interjected noisily and Senator Amanda Vanstone took umbrage at Crossin's speech, reminding the House of the convention that first speeches:
…are not meant to be self-indulgent or controversial.

Nine years after Crossin's maiden speech, on 21 September 2007, former Senator Bob Collins, whose  political and civilian career involved  extensive work with the Territory's Indigenous communities, was found to have suicided; it was just three days before he was about to be hit with a number of child sex abuse charges in both the Northern Territory and the ACT.

These charges included possessing child pornography, indecent assault, carnal knowledge and sexual intercourse without consent.

Indigenous actor Tom E.Lewis, who starred in the 1978 film The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith was among other young victims of sex abuse by Collins.

Collins created history in more ways than the bleeding obvious, when he became the first Northern Territorian to become a Federal Minister under Bob Hawke in 1990 — shipping then aviation, as well as the Minister assisting the PM for the Northern Territory.

As minister for shipping, Collins was preceded by one of Labor's two-faced carpetbaggers, the self-confessed liar, corpulent in body and speech, Graham Richardson.

Under Prime Minister Paul Keating, Collins was promoted to the Cabinet and became minister for transport and communications in 1992. The next year, the primary industries and energy portfolio was added to his remit.

After John Howard led the Coalition to victory in 1996, Collins continued as a Senator until he resigned in March 1998.

Trish Crossin would be familiar with Prime Minister Gillard's electorate of Lalor, given that she grew up in the nudging neighbourhood of Kensington. She would know that Gillard's electorate is becoming increasingly disaffected with the Prime Minister and she will have to do some robust campaigning in the area.

The Prime Minister is not an automatic shoe-in. And she has been known to lose her shoes.

The Supa Nova experiment could work. But after the stardust is blown away by that invisible hand, the body politic will resort to Darwinian practice — the NT's capital, after all, is named for the great man.

It will come down to more than who is first over the line. It will come down to the survival of the fittest and the fittest is not always the best.

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