Studying journalism and anthropology in her arts degree is proving of vital importance to Robyn Smith in her role as Deputy Editor of Debates in the Northern Territory Parliament.
Ms Smith studied for her first degree at the old Northern Territory University, forerunner of Charles Darwin University. And while journalism is no longer offered at CDU, she says she was fortunate to have studied both of them for her current job.
‘They’re both very useful in editing debates in the Legislative Assembly,’ says Ms Smith, who joined the parliamentary team in 2001.
She says the debates are edited not to make Members of Parliament sound better than they are, but to ‘preserve the integrity of the Parliament’.
‘If an MP makes an outrageous statement, that stays in the Hansard record,’ she says.
‘But if someone gets a fact wrong, or misquotes someone and is wrong in their attribution then we will correct the record. We’re here to ensure that correct procedures are followed.’
She says her journalism training stands her in good stead when it comes to dealing with issues of privilege and defamation, while her anthropology training has helped in dealing with Indigenous issues.
Other aspects of the role of Deputy Editor of Debates involve dealing with committee proceedings, strategic planning, reviewing standing orders, editing the annual report and undertaking research for the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly.
Since taking up her post Ms Smith has become so interested in the proceedings of the NT Legislative Assembly that she is undertaking a doctorate in political science at CDU, concentrating on the early years of Territory self-government since 1978.
She has already made a special study of the early sittings of the Assembly, and presented a paper on the turbulent events surrounding the opening of the new Parliament at the History Colloquium organised by CDU, the Australian National University and the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT recently.
Her paper described how protestors outside Parliament in September 1978 threatened to derail proceedings, so angering new Chief Minister Paul Everingham that he descended to unparliamentary language in his first address to the House.
This resulted in a protracted slanging match between new MPs – an abuse of protocol during the debate known as the Address in Reply that opens Parliament.
The original protests, however, had been directed at the Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, who was among the many dignitaries in Darwin for the official opening ceremony of the Legislative Assembly.