By Chris Graham
NATIONAL, June 4, 2009: Australia’s most senior Aboriginal politician has resigned from the Labor Party, plunging the Northern Territory government into chaos.
After several days of threats she would walk unless the Henderson government changed it’s controversial ‘homelands policy’ after it lied to and insulted Aboriginal people, Marion Scrymgour this morning quit the party.
It throws the future of the Henderson government into doubt – Labor ruled with a one-seat majority, but Must now negotiate with one of two independents to retain government.
One of those independents is Scrymgour.
The former Deputy Chief Minister’s resignation followed reports in the Northern Territory News today that the Member for Arafura broke down and cried in front of her colleagues during a Caucus meeting yesterday, before backing down on her threat to leave the party.
In a written statement issued this morning, Ms Scrymgour denied the claims in the NTN story, and announced her resignation.
“I have told the Chief Minister I can no longer be part of this government,” Ms Scrymgour said.
“I can no longer rely on all Caucus colleagues to implement the concessions that I won in the Caucus meeting yesterday.
“The report of that Caucus meeting in today’s Northern Territory News is totally inaccurate.
“From now on I will represent my electorate as an independent.”
Until Scrymgour’s resignation from the party, Labor held 13 of the 25 seats in NT parliament, Just enough to govern in it’s own right.
The country Liberals currently hold 11 seats, and the final seat of Nelson is held by Independent Gerry Wood.
Labor must now negotiate with either Scrymgour Wood if it hopes to retain government. Wood is known to lean towards Labor, although after the 2005 election he was screwed out of the position of Deputy Speaker. Clare Martin gave the job to disgraced former Labor member Len Keily.
How Ms Scrymgour may vote is anyone’s guess at the moment.
This is far from the fdirst time controversy has engulfed Ms Scrymgour’s career.
Soon after Labor won office in 2003, while health minister, Ms Scrymgour criticised the health service after she became seriously ill and was hospitalised.
Known to speak her mind, Ms Scrymgour was, until recently Deputy Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, after combining with Paul Henderson to oust former Chief Minister Clare Martin 18 months ago.
Ms Scrymgour also served as the Minister for Education. But in February this year, she resigned all her ministerial positions and returned to the backbench, citing a battle with depression.
Undoubtly Ms Scrymgour was depressed. But she was also at the centre of a storm of Aboriginal outrage, after presiding over the axeing of bi-lingual education in the Northern Territory. The move outraged Aboriginal people around the nation, and Scrymgour quit shortly after.
Speculation began immediately that she wouldn’t last in the ALP.
Ms Scrymgour has since found herself at odds with the ALP over the Homelands policy. Labor recently announced it would not support any expansion of services to remote homelands communities, despite a wealth of Australian and international evidence showing Aboriginal people living on outstations and homelands were healthier than people who lived in larger communities.
The policy met with widespread condemnation – it was the latest in a string of Labor policies which have been condemned by Aboriginal leaders from the NT, and from around the nation.
She has also recently demanded an investigation into the operation of the Tiwi Land Council (TLC), amid long-standing claims that the body does not have the support of the majority Tiwi Islanders.
The TLC negotiated a 99-year lease with the previous government, in a move that outraged many local residents. It also signed a major forestry deal with looks likely to fail after the firm great Southern Plantations recently collapsed.
Ms Scrymgour this morning said she would make a full public statement tomorrow.
National Indigenous Times: http://www.nit.com.au