If the political systems of the states have been largely neglected in the treatment of Australian politics, then that of the Northern Territory has fared even worse. This book seeks to fill part of that gap at a time when general interest in the region's affairs, stemming from the debates over uranium mining. Aboriginal land-rights, and the onset of self-government, is increasing. Its prime objective is to describe and analyze the Territory's contemporary political world—by any measurement, a unique and curious one—but, because so much of its political development is explicable only in terms of its physical environment and its history, these areas have also been accorded considerable emphasis, although I hope not unduly. As it is the first attempt to deal with the subject in a comprehensive fashion, I am certainly aware of its shortcomings not least because of its length and the absence of detailed specialist studies and reference-frames for comparative purposes.
One of the major problems of writing on current political events for book publication is that the time between completion of the text and publication may render the study less than topical. In the case of the Northern Territory where constitutional change is proceeding apace, the problem is exacerbated. Thus, since the text was completed in late 1977, there have been several constitutional and administrative developments which have already overtaken information in the book. Some major examples should be cited: the introduction of federal legislation (fifteen bills altogether) to usher in self-government has entailed in part the repeal of the Northern Territory (Administration) Act and its replacement by the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act; the departmental structure of the Northern Territory Public Service has been further amended, with ten departments to operate after 1 July 1978; the decision to establish a Health Commission has been withdrawn; offers of local-government to Tennant Creek and Katherine have finally been accepted; the timetable for transfer of some state-type functions has been accelerated; with that acceleration, the D.N.T. is to be phased out after July 1978 and its few remaining responsibilities transferred to the Department of Home Affairs; and the financial arrangements for self-government have been finalized. Some of these changes are detailed in Appendix 3.
Needless to say, I am indebted to a large group of people who, in one way or another, assisted me in the preparation of this study. Without their unstinted help, my task would have been immeasurably more difficult. The list is too long to acknowledge each individually and many, because of their positions as parliamentary officers, party officials and representatives, and public servants would prefer to remain anonymous. Special mention, however is due to Colin Hughes, the general editor of the series, for his invaluable guidance; to the typist, Heather Berryman, who wrestled admirably with the many drafts of the text; to my colleagues at the Darwin Community College, who helped sustain my enthusiasm for the project; and to my wife, who, with good grace, endured my preoccupation with Territory politics for so long.