• NT communities want to have their say this election (Supplied)Source: Supplied
With the NT election approaching, grassroots campaigners have hit the ground to increase the numbers of electoral enrolments of remote Indigenous Territorians.
Rachael Hocking

24 Jul 2020 - 11:30 AM  UPDATED 1 Sep 2020 - 1:49 PM

Aunty Naomi Wilfred has a lot to say, and as an Alawa Elder she’s keen to see her community have theirs, too, at the upcoming NT election.

“We want to have a voice, a voice to be heard and what we need in our community. We want to vote for the government,” she told NITV News from her home in Minyerri.

It’s a task that’s proven difficult: the NT has consistently seen poor voter participation compared to the rest of country.

Currently 85 per cent of Territorians are enrolled to vote – and while that’s a five per cent increase from the last election in 2016, it still pales next to the national average of 96 per cent.

The statistics for Indigenous voters – which haven’t been updated since mid-2019 – show just 68.2 per cent of eligible voters are on the roll in the NT.

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) estimates around sixteen thousand First Nations are missing from the roll – the equivalent of three electorates.

GetUp’s First Nations Campaign Director Larissa Baldwin – who has been travelling to remote communities encouraging people to get on the roll - said that number was probably higher.

She told NITV News people were unaware they’d been taken off the roll when their details weren’t updated correctly.

“I feel like a lot of people know that voter suppression is something that happens in the United States, and I think a lot of people don't understand that there are barriers and issues for black people voting right across this country,” she said.

“Just a year ago there was a massive update to the electoral roll that took everybody's name off the list that wasn't, so typically didn't have an address that matched Google maps.

“So if you live in a remote community and you're the blue house at the end of the street, there's no address from it, you were taken off the rolls.”

The Northern Territory Electoral Commission (NTEC) has raised similar concerns since 2017, when the AEC reduced staff in their Darwin office from 16 to three.

NTEC Commissioner Iain Loganathan told NITV News in a statement there was no “ongoing remote enrolment program operating in the NT” maintained by the AEC, and that despite seeing more enrolments overall in the NT, the divide between city and bush voters was widening.

Mr Loganathan said while the AEC’s automated Federal Direct Enrolment Program was successful at updating the roll, it only operates in urban areas due to the unreliability of remote mail delivery services.

“This program has been extremely effective in enrolling and updating enrolment details of urban electors increasing the divide, in terms of roll accuracy, between the bush and urban centres,” he said.

Mr Loganathan said the COVID-19 pandemic had caused delays to its remote enrolment drive, which was instead operating as a “shortened, 7-week program focusing on the larger remote communities” until enrolments close on July 31.

The Commission has been distributing ads in First Nations languages encouraging people to check their enrolment and where possible, vote early.

For the first time voting will be open for two days in some large communities, and there may be provisions to cast a vote even if you’re not enrolled due to changes to the electoral Act.

‘It’s time to vote’: Young mob take to Tik Tok

In an effort to get more young people enrolled, climate justice group Seed Mob have been running their own face-to-face enrolment drive and Tik Tok competition.

The strategy is aimed at getting young people on the social media platform encouraging others to enrol and vote come election day.

Western Arrernte woman Vanessa Farrelly said it was important to make information about voting accessible to their communities.

“Someone today asked me, ‘what's voting?’ and there's not a lot of access to enrolment forms,” she said.

“The forms are already so complicated to fill out and to enrol online you also need identification like a passport or driver's license and not a lot of people have that kind of identification.

“And so we're really trying to break down the barriers, go places that we know people… and get family to explain it to them.”

Meanwhile Aunty Naomi she said she wants to see electoral officials better engage with her mob and stay longer in community during polling and enrolment drives.

“We have people sometimes sleep in and the other one is no one come and notify us early before when the voting come,” she said.

“The voting should be coming into the community and stayed for nearly the whole day or maybe two days just to get 'em right across the community.”

“People can have them vote, especially for young ones coming on to enroll… so they can get their voices heard too.”