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Former NT minister backs SA merger

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A former Northern Territory minister will talk to former deputy premier Vickie Chapman about building a grassroots campaign to unite South Australia with the Top End it relinquished more than a century ago, after she urged the move in her farewell speech from parliament.

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A former Northern Territory Minister for Justice and longtime advocate of the idea to reunify the Territory with South Australia, John Elferink told InDaily he texted Chapman his congratulations on her career after her valedictory speech to parliament.

Elferink said Chapman in her reply told him that her speech had generated a “bit of noise” around the idea of reunifying South Australia and the Northern Territory, which were one state until 1907.

What is now the Northern Territory was absorbed by South Australia in 1863, before it was ceded to the Commonwealth half a century later.

In her speech Chapman noted the Northern Territory could enrichen South Australia with its significant natural resources, and that South Australia could in return confer the advantages of statehood.

“Reunification was achieved in Germany after the Berlin Wall came down, so surely we can do it — before Queensland jumps in,” she said.

Elferink said flippant jokes about the “incompatibility of ballet and crocodiles” overlooked the many advantages a merger would deliver, but acknowledged there was little public appetite for the idea.

“I suspect there’s not [much public support] so what it needs is a grassroots campaign, perhaps myself and Vickie Chapman … I do plan to talk to Vickie, now we’re both not in the public eye in public roles, we’ll see,” he said.

“You have to involve people with a record and history on this, who have lived on both sides of the border as I have, to clearly articulate the advantages.”

Elferink, who grew up in Darwin, moved to central Australia and now lives in Adelaide where he works as a Policy Officer at The South Australian Dairyfarmers Association, said a merger would allow South Australia the economic advantages not only of NT’s resources boom but also “intrusion direct into South East Asia”.

The advantage for Territorians, he said, would be gaining the constitutional rights and protections of statehood, including a share in 12 senators instead of their current two.

“The problem is the constitution provides almost no guidance to the High Court as to what a Territory is and how it should be run — the NT only exists at the whimsy of the federal parliament,” he said.

Elferink pointed to the federal government’s overruling of NT’s assisted dying laws in 1997 as an example of the limitations of Territory rights.

With New South Wales passing assisted dying legislation on Thursday, all states now have laws for the practice in place, but the federal government has prevented the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory from following suit.

“It’s one of the great ironies that one of the first jurisdictions to pass [assisted dying laws] is one of the last unable to exercise them,” Elferink said.

He also pointed to the federal government launching an intervention into the Northern Territory in 2007 on the pretext of protecting Indigenous children from child abuse that was botched with “all the vision of a myopic guide dog”.

In her farewell speech Chapman said the reunification of the two provinces had “long been her view.”

“The Northern Territory has resources and is strategically placed to the north of Australia… it has water, liquid gas, gold and a youthful population,” she said. “South Australia can provide opportunities for their statehood, employment, higher education and a commercial base that will assist Territorians, not to mention our nation-leading growth in the cyber defence and space sectors.”

The idea of merging the two regions has been pushed from time to time, including by former Deputy Prime Minister Timothy Fischer, but has failed to attract formal interest from neither Northern Territory nor South Australian governments.

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