Aboriginal candidate Yingiya Mark Guyula has won an upset in the seat of Nhulunbuy, toppling sitting member and deputy-chief-minister-to-be Lynne Walker by only eight votes after preferences and recounts on September 9.
Guyula delivered the NT Labor Party its only defeat in the August 28 election — it now holds a whopping 18 seats in the 25-seat parliament. The seat was previously seen a safe one for the popular Walker.
Guyula is a Yolngu man from Arnhem Land, the son of a crocodile hunter, who has been a teacher as part of the Yolngu studies program at Charles Darwin University. He teaches Yolngu culture and language and used the campaign to call for a treaty between Aboriginal people and the Australian government.
“My argument is for treaty,” Guyula told Guardian Australia on March 11. “Let us go. Let us go. Give us that space to go, think and develop a way that was there before.”
“We want our own sovereignty recognised. Recognise our power, recognise who we are, recognise that we were here before any law that came and ruled all over us.
“I believe we can work together if we can sit down and negotiate things, but it hasn’t happened … It’s been going on for 228 years now, when are you going to listen and sit down with us?”
Guyula has used his campaign to call for greater access to bilingual education, which was wound back by both Labor and CLP governments. The attacks on bilingual education, in regions of Australia where English is often a third or fourth language, immediately led to fewer Aboriginal children attending school.
Guyula also believes that recognising Yolngu law, in particular the still existing Yolngu assemblies, is essential to overcoming the vast disadvantage suffered by Aboriginal people in the NT.
Part of Guyula’s success came from demographic changes in the seat of Nhulunbuy.
The closure of the alumina refinery in May 2014 led to more than a thousand people leaving the township. A redistribution incorporated more of the remote Aboriginal communities into the electorate. In part, this is where the battleground was set, between the past of industry and the future of Aboriginal people who want more say in government.
But this was not just Yolngu voting for Yolngu; the CLP candidate Charlie Yunupingu was Yolngu and received only about 450 votes, compared with Guyula’s 1400.
Guyula’s vision of getting traditional Yolngu forms of government and law to work alongside white man’s law struck a chord, and it is a message he has been pushing for a long time.
The ALP incumbent Lynne Walker had held the seat since 2008. Walker has been replaced by Nicole Manison as deputy chief minister. As the initial recount was happening it seemed that Walker might challenge the result in court, but little has been said since Walker first aired the idea on September 7.
To challenge the result now would cost the ALP a lot in good will and their majority does not need this extra seat.
For the CLP, the election was a disaster; they lost all but two seats. Even Chief Minister Adam Giles lost his seat of Braitling to Labor candidate Dale Wakefield. Giles, who came to power in a leadership coup and then successfully beat a counter-coup a few months later, is now seeking a career in television.