Nicholas Rothwell and the failed state

In my decades of reading Australian newspapers, I have never come across a more damning and fascinating piece of analytical journalism than Nicholas Rothwell’s article “The Failed State”, in The Australian newspaper of October 24, 2009.  Rothwell has been The Australian‘s northern Australia correspondent for some years and is the author of two books on the topic, and – unlike most journalists – truly has spent much time travelling and experiencing his enormous “beat” of the Top End.

Here is how Rothwell starts:

In Australia we are used to seeing progress in governance, not failure.  We expect governments in our jurisdictions that function well, provide efficient services, and maintain a fair match betweent the rhetoric of politics and the facts on the ground.

There is, though, a failed state in our midst.  That state is not Aboriginal north Australia, where the social fabric is in shreds and tatters.  No: it is the jurisdiction largely responsible for entrenching this degree of indigenous disadvantage:  the modern-seeming, self-governing Northern Territory.

On the face of things, all the standard attributes of a democratic society are present here in Darwin: a parliament, political parties, government departments, a range of key social institutions that look much like their southern equivalents.  But in fact the Territory is best understood as an interlocking set of interest groups.  It is heavily dependent on outside funding, the bureaucracy is shot through with politics, almost all medium-sized business relies on public sector contracts and the entire system is founded on the administration of an Aboriginal underclass.

This is an extraordinary set of claims, and we will see what sort of impact Rothwell’s criticism may have.

Update November 1:  On October 31, Rothwell published his second article in this series in The Australian, entitled “Giving It Back:  A Revolution in the Bush”.  One of his conclusions:

We stand at a point of redesign for the remote NT.  It is a defining point for the federal government, and for the Prime Minister, whose one great weakness is his portfolio of dying indigenous initiatives.

Worth reading.


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