A Northern Territory Government Minister is at odds with his own Cabinet colleague’s bid to make it easier to speak Indigenous languages on the floor in Parliament.
Primary Industry Minister Gary Higgins, whose Daly electorate takes in some of the Territory’s largest Aboriginal communities, said he thought it would be appropriate in “certain circumstances”.
During Wednesday’s sitting of the Parliament in Darwin, Country Liberals (CLP) Minister Bess Nungarrayi Price said she wanted standing orders amended to allow parliamentarians to speak in any language, as long the member provided an immediate translation into English.
Mr Higgins said he was “not a supporter of just being able to speak any language in Parliament at any time, irrespective of whether you’re going to provide a translation”.
“I think people should be advised that that is coming and if people are advised that it is coming, then that, to me, is quite appropriate.”
When it was pointed out this was the opposite of what his colleague Ms Price was lobbying for, Mr Higgins said his view was based on his experience trying to keep Parliament under control while in the Speaker’s chair.
“I know the difficulties the Speaker has in controlling not only order in Parliament, let alone the language that’s used by members in the Parliament,” Mr Higgins said.
Price told language of Parliament is English
Ms Price, who was born in the central Australian Aboriginal community of Yuendumu, speaks her first language of Warlpiri, as well as Luritja, Western Arrernte, Anmatyerre and English.
Late last year, Ms Price received a warning for interjecting in Parliament, after responding to an opposition MLA in Warlpiri.
NT Speaker of the House Kezia Purick told Ms Price at the time “the language of the assembly is English”.
How did it feel not to understand? You get a tiny taste of what it is often like for us.NT politician Bess Price
“Should a member use a language other than English without the leave of the assembly it will be ruled disorderly and the member will be required to withdraw the words,” Ms Purick said in December, after receiving complaints from Labor MPs about Ms Price’s Warlpiri interjection.
Last night, Ms Price asked her colleagues how it felt to not understand another language, in a speech calling for changes to allow her to speak her native tongue in Parliament.
She referred to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s February Closing the Gap speech, during which he spoke in an Aboriginal language, and questioned her colleagues on “how it felt not to understand?”
“The PM used a language that nobody now speaks as a first language and was praised for it,” Ms Price said.
“I spoke a language that still lives and is spoken as a first language by thousands in Northern Territory. It was assumed I was offensive. I was misunderstood.”
“How did it feel not to understand? You get a tiny taste of what is is often like for us.”
But Ms Purick said Ms Price had been “mischievous” in raising the matter months after it occurred.
She said parliamentarians can already speak other languages if the proper process is followed and the issue was about interjection.
“Somehow it’s morphed into this national issue focused on the NT Parliament, saying that we don’t let people in this Parliament speak in another language, and that is not correct,” Ms Purick said.
Parliament has passed a motion to refer Ms Price’s proposed changes to the Standing Orders Committee.
Mr Higgins is a close friend to former-CLP member and present Speaker Kezia Purick.