• Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy. (AAP)Source: AAP
Those lobbying for the Northern Territory to retain two seats in the lower house hope to get the Prime Minister on their side, as fierce debate pushes the Senate vote back.
Shahni Wellington

25 Aug 2020 - 11:36 PM  UPDATED 1 Sep 2020 - 12:24 PM

The future for federal representation of the Northern Territory is yet to be decided, as politicians continue to debate whether a minimum number of seats for the region should be legislated.  

The bill, currently before the Senate, aims to block the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) from reducing the number of the NT's lower house seats from two to one. 

It would mean a single seat would represent the entire NT, as well as Christmas Island and the Cocos Islands, covering a vast geographical area and its multicultural communities - including the Indigenous people who make up 27 per cent of the NT population. 

The issue was referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters in June and took focus on Monday when parliamentary sittings returned.

The Senate heard from six senators during the allocated time, five of which outwardly supported the NT retaining both seats, but further debate and a possible vote was adjourned until November. 

Garrwa Yanyuwa woman and senator for the Northern Territory, Malarndirri McCarthy, is one of the co-sponsors of the private senator's bill and said in the meantime, she will focus on winning the support of the Prime Minister.

"I do get that there's quite a lot of other things taking the Prime Minister's attention but we do have the support of the CLP (Country Liberal Party) Senator, Sam McMahon," said Ms McCarthy.

"So I think with all of us working on it, we will hopefully get the Prime Minister to come to the table on this and do what's just, what's fair," Ms McCarthy told ABC radio. 

The Senate heard on Monday the fears of some Aboriginal constituents living in the Lingiari electorate.

A submission to the inquiry by Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation based in the remote Arnhem land community of Maningrida, 500 km east of Darwin, detailed those concerns. It read:

"…the suggested redistribution of the NT electoral boundaries illegitimately diminishes Indigenous Territorian's right to representation and ultimately justice.

"The idea that one MP could be an effective voice for the most disadvantaged Australians in an electorate spanning 1.4 million square kilometres makes a mockery of representation."

An online petition circulated by Ms McCarthy has also gathered more than 3,000 signatures. 

Lingiari legacy could be lost

The entitlement quota currently sets out two electorates in the Northern Territory as 'Solomon' - covering Darwin and Palmerston major localities, and 'Lingiari' - covering the rest of the regions. 

A loss of either seat at the next election would see a representative stretched in a way not seen in any other electoral division. 

All original states of the Commonwealth of Australia are guaranteed a minimum of five members of the House of Representatives, but section 122 of the constitution leaves territory representation up to the discretion of the parliament.

In this case, the decision was made based on a declining population in the NT.

While for many in the NT, the loss of an electorate could mean a reduction in resourcing and access to their federal representative - for the Lingiari family, it could represent the end of a legacy. 

Last week, the Australian newspaper reported on a letter written by the grandchildren of trail-blazer Aboriginal rights activist, Vincent Lingiari, who led around 200 Gurindji people in a ‘walk-off’ at Wave Hill Station located approximately 600 kilometre’s south of Darwin.

It is Mr Lingiari of which the electorate is named and who pioneered for the first Aboriginal community to have land returned to them by the Commonwealth Government.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, his grandchildren, made a plea to preserve the division.

“The fight for Land Rights began here on Gurindji country. Our grandfather Vincent Lingiari fought against power and privilege for the betterment of our people, and all Australians," the letter in the Australian read. 

“We need a minimum of two seats in the federal parliament so that remote voices continue to be heard. One person representing 250,000 people is not enough.”

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has received submissions from more than 50 individuals and organisations, and is preparing a report expected to be delivered in November.

It's expected a vote on the bill won't take place until after this time. 

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