At 6.01pm last night Northern Territory Country Liberal Party Deputy Chief Minister Robyn Lambley quit and threw her party — just six months into government after eleven years in the wilderness — further into chaos.
Her brief presser was devoid of relevance and reasons for her resignation:
“The government has made a number of extremely tough but necessary decisions since taking office in August. The government has taken the first steps towards rolling back Labor’s unsustainable debt and I understand these measures were unpopular with many Territorians. The Country Liberals’ Parliamentary Wing will meet tomorrow to elect a new deputy leader.”
The CLP cabinet met on Monday and Tuesday this week and Crikey understands Lambley was absent for most, if not all, of Tuesday’s meeting. Word is that rather than jumping, Lambley got a very firm push in the back. Whether she was offered as some sort of sacrificial lamb to save leader Terry Mills’ skin is not clear. By 7pm last night she was back in her hometown of Alice Springs and won’t vote at today’s party meeting.
Overnight the Top End’s social and mainstream media were all a-Twitter with speculation.
Alison Anderson — arch strategist now the most powerful Aboriginal politician in the country — would be deputy CM by lunchtime. Dave Tollner would call on a spill. Adam Giles would take the deputy’s job and Treasury if offered to him. Mills would be booking a one-way flight to Perth before day’s end. John Elferink — recently the leader of a failed coup with one vote, his own — would stand up as deputy and Treasurer.
Crikey‘s skinny on the outcome is as follows. Giles, member for Braitling and long the coming man of choice in the embarrassment-of-poverty that is the CLP’s political gene pool, will be chief minister by smoko time. If not, then he’ll be in the big chair within weeks.
As I wrote in early September last year following the surprise appointment by Mills of the hapless Lambley as his deputy:
“Adam Giles … is seen by many as responsible for the CLP’s recent electoral success in the bush and thus best well-deserving of the deputy’s job. Problem for Giles is that he is an ally of Fong Lim MLA Dave Tollner.”
I was right to pick Giles as the CLP’s preferred choice as deputy then but Mills’ sheer incompetence over the past six months has seen Giles skate into favouritism for the top job. This morning Mills held a pre-dawn meeting with a small group to anoint Giles as his deputy. Giles will accept the offer.
At 8.30 he’ll be nominated to the CLP party meeting as deputy and Treasurer — maybe by his pal Tollner, maybe by arch strategist Anderson. Giles will refuse the nomination. Chaos will reign.
Mills will then offer the top jobs to Attorney-General and coup-leader-of-one Elferink and will be howled down by a restive party room. A spill will be called from the floor and Giles will be nominated as chief minister with Dave Tollner as his deputy and Treasurer. Giles and Tollner will triumph.
Mills will resign from his seat of Blain within weeks and Labor will take the seat in a byelection sweep mirroring the party’s recent landslide in the Darwin seat of Wanguri vacated by retiring past chief minister Paul Henderson.
NT Labor can only sit back and watch in glee while the CLP eats itself alive and does all the work of opposition for it. Giles will have some work to do to repair the damage done by Mills and his cronies.
Elferink — as puffed up a self-promoter as I’ve ever seen in NT politics or elsewhere — will go to the backbench. Drysdale MLA Lia Finnochario, new to the parliament but very impressive, will get a ministry. Speaker Kezia Purick — dumped by Mills in favour of Lambley six months ago and better-connected to business than any of her colleagues — will be bought back into the fold.
That was my call at 7am this morning. How did it play out? Am I right? We’ll know by lunchtime at the latest. As one wag told me early this morning, the CLP party meeting “could be over in five minutes or might take five hours”.
I’ll update you in due course.