Community independents take centre stage in the Northern Territory

The Voices of the Top End launch in April.

The Voices of the Top End launch in April. Photo: Voices of the Top End

The push for community independents has reached the Northern Territory, with polling showing nearly one in four people planning to vote for an independent candidate in August’s state election, as a new Voices group canvasses the community.

Polling from Freshwater Strategy showed that 100 days out from the Northern Territory election in August, 22 per cent of respondents — when pushed to answer — would vote for independents, according to Sky News.

Four independents currently sit in the 25-person legislative assembly in the Territory, after unaligned candidates won 10.7 per cent of the vote in 2020.

Kitchen table conversations

The community-driven Voices movement has also reached the NT, as dissatisfaction with the Liberal-Labor dichotomy takes centre stage.

Gabe Smith, a volunteer for Voices of the Top End, said the community-led organisation — which launched earlier in the year — isn’t running or endorsing candidates in state or federal elections.

“Watching the Voices groups, I could see that there are other methods of doing this and some groups are doing expressions of interest and endorsing candidates. We decided not to do that,” she said.

“Doing kitchen table conversations creates a little wave in your community and it gives people confidence that they can be part of the process.”

It is one of dozens of new Voices groups that are adopting the community-led model that powered multiple independent candidates into federal Parliament at the 2022 federal election.

Kitchen table conversations have been a cornerstone of Voices groups throughout Australia. Photo: Voices of the Top End

The inner-city independents who won their seats at the 2022 federal election may get most of the attention, but the community independent movement started in the more rural seat of Indi.

Gabe said life and politics in the Northern Territory are distinctly different from other states around Australia.

“It is hard for people down south to understand politics in the Territory and I think people in the Territory feel that policies are developed elsewhere,” she said.

“Decisions that your candidate or your representative might vote for in Parliament often mirror what’s wanted in the southern states, not the Northern Territory.”

Independent history

The two major players in Northern Territory politics are the Labor Party and the Country Liberal Party, who have held the two federal lower-house seats for the entirety of their existence.

Smith said there are several independent candidates already representing constituents, albeit in the Territory’s legislative assembly.

“Yingiya Mark Guyula is probably the most genuine independent we have – he’s not ex-Labor, he’s not ex-CLP,” she said.

“He’s a Yolŋu man and he’s sitting in the seat of Mulka in East Arnhem land.”

She said he was the first representative to speak the native language of the Indigenous Yolŋu people in the area when he won his term in 2020.

“Most of the people there don’t speak English, they speak Djambapuynu,” Smith said.

“Liberal and Labor come out and campaign there and they don’t understand a word of what the locals are speaking and can’t have a conversation.”

Voices of the Top End released a report detailing the results of their kitchen table conversations, with 86 per cent of people reporting that they don’t feel represented or heard by their representatives in federal Parliament.

Smith said the Voices of the Top End will continue to have conversations and reach out to as many people as possible in the Northern Territory.

“Voices groups demonstrate some really basic principles of healthy debate, listening and bringing people with different ideas together,” she said.

“Most of our events are community outreach. It’s just talking to more people, having conversations and participating in deliberative democracy.”

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