Spreading the word about voting is often made more difficult when the information needs to be translated into Yolngu Matha. (ABC News: Tom Maddocks)
In Galiwin’ku, the numbers aren’t great: 26 per cent of eligible voters are missing from the electoral roll — far higher than the national estimate of 4 per cent.
But as the Australian Electoral Commission explains, severe under-enrolment is not isolated to the far-flung Indigenous community on Elcho Island, off the Arnhem Land coast.
“It is a problem across the [Northern] Territory and it’s a problem that the AEC is looking to address,” said Geoff Bloom, Director of Operations in the NT.
In a bid to turn around poor voter participation, the AEC is trialling an awareness and education program to try and convince the 460 unregistered voters in Galiwin’ku that their ballot is important.
Electoral Awareness Officer ‘Ted’ Marrawili Gondarra points to a pie chart showing under-enrolment. (ABC News: Tom Maddocks)
Five so-called Electoral Awareness Officers have been trained and employed to spread the message in their language, Yolngu Matha, with plans to extend the program to nearby communities Milingimbi and Ramingining.
“To date we’ve accepted over 100 new enrolments and we expect that by the end of the program we’ll increase that number,” Mr Bloom said.
However, an already tough task was made more difficult last year, when the AEC’s Darwin office was reduced from 16 staff to three under a Federal Government restructure.
The AEC’s awareness campaign team in Gailwin’ku is made up of mostly women eager to pass on the enrolment message. (ABC News: Tom Maddocks)
“It’s an issue but we’ve been able to recruit staff to those positions and that core business, which it is for the Northern Territory office, continues in terms of that remote engagement,” Mr Bloom said.
At the time, the move was heavily criticised by Labor MPs Warren Snowdon and Luke Gosling, who currently hold the Northern Territory’s only federal seats in Parliament.
In a letter, Mr Snowdon said the measure would “…exacerbate the already shamefully low levels of voter registration, turnout and consequently participation in the NT and elsewhere”.
‘Knowledge in both worlds’
Before the last federal election, the AEC estimated that half of the NT’s Indigenous population were not enrolled to vote, saying the electoral system lacks relevance for the Indigenous population.
Galwin’ku resident ‘Ted’ Marrawili Gondarra, who is supervising the awareness campaign, said historically there haven’t been enough resources and understanding on the ground.
‘Ted’ Marrawili Gondarra says he’s working hard to make people realise that their vote is important. (ABC News: Tom Maddocks)
“Because of too many political errors, and many of the Yolngu are struggling in between the worlds, the Western way of thinking and the local knowledge,” Mr Gondarra said.
He said while it could be hard to persuade people to register to vote, he tells them that voting will bring people into a “brighter world”.
“So what we are trying to have on the ground is to support people to have more votes so the voice has to be heard in Canberra,” he said.
Sixteen per cent of eligible voters in the Northern Territory are not enrolled to vote, the next worst jurisdiction is WA with 5 per cent, according to the AEC.
Electoral Awareness Officers are mobbed by budding voters outside the community’s unofficial meeting place — the shop. (ABC News: Tom Maddocks)