Labor will win government by default. But there is much more to this story than just a new Labor government. Fundamentals are changing in the demos. Gone are the days when the Indigenous vote can be taken for granted and gone are the days when the CLP was synonymous with ‘the Territory party’. From now on, potential Members of the Legislative Assembly will need to genuinely connect with and be accepted by the people in their electorate. The days of the two horse race between CLP and ALP are over. There will be more genuine independents in the new parliament than ever before, and their numbers will increase again next election.
A maturing of the NT electorate is occurring, brought about by many Territorians paying a high cost over a long time: decades of stagnation in Indigenous communities, local small businesses missing out on opportunities to large fly-in-fly-out operations and a write-off of the CLP who are seen to be all about self-interest. The wrath that will be poured out upon the CLP on August 27 will fall squarely on the leadership of Adam Giles, and rightly so. His CLP government has become internationally infamous for poor government. Giles’ assumed the position of Chief Minister by casting blame for difficult cabinet decisions upon his leader Terry Mills, and then proceeded to knife Mills while representing the NT on a trade mission to Japan. As Chief Minister, Giles had blood on his hands from the beginning.
MORE ON THE NT ELECTION
The dark clouds started forming over the ‘Birthday Cake’ (as locals call the NT Parliament House). Giles’ right-hand man in cabinet, Dave Tollner, made derogatory remarks about a gay staff member, Indigenous colleagues and female parliamentarians – a malevolent form of a verbal hat trick. Tollner stood down from cabinet for a little while but Giles brought him back into the fold after a wonky attempt at a midnight coup upon Giles’ leadership. Poor choice of words was also the downfall of Giles’ attorney general, John Elferink, who said to a female parliamentarian during debate that he was “tempted to give her a slap right now”. At the time Elferink was a White Ribbon ambassador. Other members of the Giles team were caught up in assault charges, large overseas bar tabs and sending sexual-selfies via Facebook. So many of the CLP’s own parliamentarians left the party that it ended up a minority government, even though Terry Mills delivered a two-thirds majority for the CLP at the 2012 election. Then Giles granted a 99-year lease of the Darwin port that the Australian Navy uses to a Chinese company… and then the Don Dale fiasco hit. That’s the Giles legacy.
Labor will win this election but only due to the CLP losing. The approach that Labor is taking is to keep themselves out of trouble and not rock any boats in order to win by default. Labor is not listening to innovation nor offering any of the big solutions that the Territory needs. The Labor goal seems to be to grab power rather offer excellent government. It appears that Labor’s long-term vision doesn’t even stretch forward four years to the next election.
The similarities between the two big parties are apparent: both are seen to be lacking a genuineness to bring about improvements for real people. Enter the rise of the Independents.
The Northern Territory Parliament has 25 seats and there are four or five well-known independent candidates, each of whom has a strong chance of success in the up-coming election. The highest profile independent is Terry Mills, former Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, who surprised everyone by announcing his return to NT political life.
Mills described his return as a necessary one in order to clean up some of the Giles/CLP mess. "At the scene of an accident, one has a moral obligation to render assistance," Mills said at a press conference on Sunday. Other popular independent candidates include retired chicken farmer Gerry Wood, incumbent Speaker Kezia Purick (ex-CLP), Robyn Lambley (ex-CLP) and Delia Lawrie (ex-ALP). The element that all of the independents have in common is the perception of being connected locally.
The CLP and Labor cannot compete on this turf and increasingly it is this turf that voters are demanding the game be played on. This is the first wave of strong independent candidates in the NT. As the only long-term independent parliamentarian in the NT, Gerry Wood can take significant credit for grand-fathering this wave. The independents are all standing for urban or rural seats. The next wave will include strong independents in the remote electorates when the Indigenous vote will once again be a force to be reckoned with, though this time channeled through genuine and connected local representatives rather than the disconnected political machines of the CLP and Labor.