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Broadcast: 15/10/1998
Game Plan
Maxine McKew speaks to Denis Burke, former Attorney General, NT; Josie Crawshaw, the NT regional commissioner of ATSIC and Malcolm Mackerras of the politics department of the Defence Force Academy about the state of the Northern Territory.

Reporter: Murray McLaughlin

Maxine McKew:
Territorians say they want it, the party which has run the top end for 20 years supports it, and even the Prime Minister thought it was a sure thing.

John Howard
Prime Minister:
"The Northern Territory is set to become the seventh state of Australia."

Maxine McKew:
Yet two weeks ago, in a rebuff for Chief Minister Shane Stone, the NT voted 'no' to statehood in a referendum.

Steve Hatton MLA
Former Chief Minister
"One of the campaign slogans at the time was: 'we want statehood, not Stonehood'"

Maxine McKew
What went wrong? ... Grand Plans ... That's our story tonight.

Maxine McKew:
Welcome to the program.

Top Enders are an independently-minded breed and most of them want the Northern Territory to become Australia's seventh state.

But at a referendum held in conjunction with the recent federal election a majority of Territorians voted 'no' to statehood.

Confusing? ... Well, not really.

Territorians like the idea of statehood, they just don't like the constitutional changes which Shane Stone's Country Liberal Party government was proposing to introduce along with it.

One change ... a clause allowing the premier to fire the new state's governor ... was particularly controversial.

And statehood for the territory ... when it comes ... will have national repercussions.

Last year, for example, the federal parliament overturned the territory's ground breaking euthanasia law.

It's widely expected that the law will be reinstated once statehood is achieved.

The CLP planned for the Northern Territory to achieve statehood on January the first, 2001.

Though still reachable, this deadline will require far greater public participation than the referendum process offered. And this looks like it's starting to happen.

Just this week Chief Minister Shane Stone called for a meeting with the group 'Territorians for a Democratic Statehood' - his main opponents in the referendum.

In a moment we will be joined by two Territorians with opposing views on the recent statehood vote and one of Australia's most experienced observers of referenda. But first this report from Murray McLaughlin.

[Video Story]
by Murray McLaughlin

Murray McLaughlin:
In the tradition of 20 years unbroken rule of the Northern Territory by the Country Liberal Party, this man is used to getting what he wants.

A former small town solicitor, Shane Stone last year stared down a barrage of criticism when he became a Queen's Counsel.

Now he wants promotion from Chief Minister to Premier, for Territorians to be spared the sort of humiliation they endured last year, when federal parliament intervened to overturn their euthanasia law.

Shane Stone
NT Chief Minister:
The excuse for such intervention is immaterial, because that is all it is an excuse. An excuse for the ill-informed, such as southern politicians who describe us as a tin pot little hamlet, an outrageously arrogant insult to all territorians.

Government Advertisement
It's our right to be equal with Australians country-wide; it's our right to demand things, that right cannot be denied; it's our right to choose our future without having our hands tied; it's our right to call for statehood with full Territorian pride ...

Murray McLaughlin
But half a billion dollars spent by the government to promote the case for statehood could not sway the majority of the 95,000 territorians who voted on October 3.

Steve Hatton MLA
Former Chief Minister:
People were saying to me, we want statehood but not at any price, we want it done properly, we want to have a say.

Q: To what extent was there a feeling that the Chief Minister had, to be crude about it, hi-jacked the process?

Steve Hatton MLA
Former Chief Minister:
I think there was feeling in the community about that, it's fairly clear the comments that have been coming in particularly since that time. The very strong view in the minds of the community.

Q: That the Chief Minister had hi-jacked the process?

Steve Hatton MLA
Former Chief Minister:
Yes, one of the campaign slogans at the time was, we want statehood, not Stonehood.

Murray McLaughlin:
Antipathy of Shane Stone's role in the referendum harks back to March when he assembled a convention to consider a constitution which had been draft over many years of consultation by a parliamentary committee.

Stone chose to ignore the committee's recommendation that delegates to the convention be popularly elected.

Peter McNab
Territorians for Democratic Statehood:
He took personal interest in the selection of the delegates and they represented his views and his government's philosophy.

Steve Hatton MLA
Former Chief Minister:
I felt that it wasn't put together in a democratically appropriate manner, that basically there were no popularly elected members to the convention. And that it lost its credibility because 90-odd per cent of the northern population had no say in who should be on that convention.

Murray McLaughlin:
The Constitution Convention met here in March and April at the lavishly-appointed parliament house in Darwin.

The 53 delegates had been nominated at short notice.

Peter McNab
Territorians for Democratic Statehood:
They virtually had no time whatsoever to familiarise themselves with the complexities of writing a constitution. It was a very difficult process and to have materials delivered a couple of days before, volumes and volumes of materials, for ordinary people who had no familiarity with the constitution that would be a very, very difficult task.

Murray McLaughlin:
A minimalist draft constitution was finally ratified by the convention. It discarded the model which had been drafted over many years by a bi-partisan parliamentary committee, and largely followed a document put forward by the territory's Attorney General.

John Hofmeyer
Retired Businessman:
I read through the Hansard records of the Statehood Convention and could see undertones through the Hansard of conflict, of manipulation of process and it became very clear that there was an agenda being run here that wasn't being run for the people of the Northern Territory.

TV Advertisement:
Territory politicians want us to agree to a constitution that doesn't guarantee freedom of speech and basic human rights and has no protection against government excess. Make the politicians listen vote no. It's a word they'd understand. Authorised by John Hofmeyer, Larrakeyah.

Murray McLaughlin:
John Hofmeyer is a retired Darwin businessman who bankrolled a campaign of commercials on local television which urged a 'no' vote at the October three referendum. It was his first adventure into politics.

John Hofmeyer
Retired Businessman:
There's no opposition to the government here, either from the printed media which seems to do editorials by ministerial press releases, the commercial television station enhances the view that all is well in paradise, the business community is in it for whatever it can get and rarely criticises government in this town.

Murray McLaughlin:
The draft constitution which the government presented to voters, was remarkable for more than just the omissions which John Hofmeyer lamented in his television campaign.

Peter McNab
Territorians for Democratic Statehood:
This model made the Governor like a public servant who could be dismissed at will by the premier, with no mechanism for the Governor to have any redress or even a hearing. Now this is unheard of in any constitutional instrument in Australia.

Murray McLaughlin:
But what apparently alienated Northern Territory electors most was the form of the referendum question.

The constitution convention had recommended three separate questions for voters, but Shane Stone insisted that they be rolled into one omnibus question.

Voice over:
Now that a constitution for a state of the Northern Territory has been recommended by the statehood convention and endorsed by the Northern Territory parliament, do you agree that we should become a state?

Peter McNab
Territorians for Democratic Statehood:
People were faced with a constitution which was illegal, referred to in the preamble, and they were faced with a difficult task of unravelling what those issues were.

Murray McLaughlin:
And Chief Minister Stone didn't further his case with a throwaway line that if people didn't like the draft constitution they shouldn't vote for statehood.

A majority of territorians took him at his word on October 3, especially the Aboriginal community, 28 per cent of the territory population, their representatives had walked out of the constitutional convention six months earlier.

The mission now for a battered Shane Stone is to regain public confidence and instill integrity into renewed processes towards a state of the Northern Territory.

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