The first toast at the celebrations by NT Chief Minister Adam Giles’ Country Liberal Party headquarters after their skinny victory at the Blain by-election on Saturday should have been to the “Typhoid Mary” of NT politics, Alison Anderson.
The election of CLP candidate Nathan Barrett has saved the Giles and his government from reliance upon chook-farming independent Gerry Wood to hang on as a minority government and Giles will be able to govern through to the next NT election in late 2016 with the skinniest of majorities.
If he lasts that long.
The second toast of the evening should have been to leader of the local teachers union, Matthew Cranitch. Cranitch drew 8.6 per cent of the vote on the night, though many of those appear to have been CLP voters and the CLP would have picked up most of Cranitch’s preferences.
Both circumstances are bizarre, but then the default switch for political life in the NT has been on the crazy position for some time now.
Anderson’s role in saving Giles is something she’ll never take credit for and that Giles will never admit but, as comments to the door-knockers in the electorate and the result made clear, driving Alison Anderson and fellow rebel CLP MLAs Francis Xavier Kurruppuwu and Larisa Lee out of the party may have been a political masterstroke.
Getting rid of the troublesome “bush bloc” was seen a positive by at least some of the voters in Blain. There may well be some support in the bush for the stand – as confused and confusing as it is – taken by Anderson and her colleagues but in the towns most whitefellas just see their position as noise in the system that threatens the fundamental structures – as flawed as they may be – of the Giles government.
It seems that for some voters in Blain, Giles deserved some small reward for isolating Typhoid Mary to the NT’s political equivalent of North Brother Island.
Matthew Cranitch is, for now at least, the President of the NT branch of the Australian Education Union, which has torn itself apart over his candidacy and is unaffiliated with the ALP. The AEU is embroiled in a tense dispute with the Giles government over EBA negotiations for its members, and Cranitch directed his preferences to the CLP, after describing his union as being run by “Labor lackies.”
There has been more than a sniff of arrogance about Adam Giles in recent weeks and months and it appears that he cannot bring himself to be gracious even in lucky victory.
Tweeting from CLP celebrations last evening, the ABC’s Mark Di Stefano reported Giles as calling Labor “liars and smearers” (sic) and saying that “with all humility the Labor campaign was treacherous to democracy.”
Despite her unwitting contribution to the CLP’s success, Giles was reportedly no less complimentary of Anderson, describing her conduct in recent weeks as “disgraceful.” Giles also – still – can see a place on his backbench for Francis Xavier Kurruppuwu.
That Giles and the CLP can get a political bounce out of the long-standing stoush with Anderson is more dumb political luck than good management.
For Labor’s Delia Lawrie the loss in Blain will be crushing, despite the spin about a 10 per cent swing to her party and Labor’s candidate Geoff Bahnert’s claims that he’d be back to run in Blain at the next NT general election in 2016 as a “fitter and leaner” prospect. As a candidate, Bahnert was a dud and is surely underserving of a third bite at the Blain electoral cherry.
Lawrie is an unpopular leader – not least among her own party – and despite her claims last night that she wasn’t “looking over her shoulder” and “had the full support” of her caucus her continued leadership must be seen as tenuous at best.
In September 2013 Lawrie stared down a leadership challenge by Fannie Bay MLA Michael Gunner, considered by some as Labor’s coming man but who is nonetheless viewed as a lightweight yet to reach his undoubted potential.
Others reported to be in line for Lawrie’s job include Nhulunbuy MLA Lynne Walker, a useful parliamentary performer but apparently reluctant to challenge due to family commitments. Barkly representative and deputy Labor leader Gerry McCarthy is seen as the best of the potential challengers but is unwilling – at present at least – to put his hand up for the top job.
For many Lawrie’s problem is that she does too much of the heavy lifting in the parliament – she is Labor’s best scrapper in the NT Legislative Assembly – and that more of that burden should be carried by her senior colleagues. This failure by Lawrie to delegate the role of parliamentary attack dog – a role usually performed by the deputy leader – is seen as either a managerial failure or a sign of paranoia.
Labor desperately needs a to find a new parliamentary hitman if it is to keep Lawrie as leader through to 2016. That would free her up to concentrate on policy and positives sufficient to take what should be an easy win for Labor.
Giles, too will have to lift his game to survive through to the next election. Word is that he remains as Chief Minister only because of the paucity of suitable replacements from within the CLP. Expect to see plenty of jockeying by the wannabes in the coming months.
Alison Anderson has pulled off a failure of masterful proportions. Not only has she gifted Giles victory in a by-election he should have lost but she has condemned herself, Lee and Kurruppuwu to two and a half years of utter irrelevance on the cross-benches.
How long they’ll survive there remains to be seen. Larisa Lee and Francis Xavier Kurruppuwu will invariably fail in any attempt to run as independent candidates in their electorates in 2016. Both are on skinny margins and one benefit of party membership is the support – financial and in-kind – that a party provides during a campaign and which they will be denied at the next election.
Anderson’s electorate of Namatjira will most likely be substantially re-jigged in the electoral redistribution due before the next general election, in part because of the obvious animus of the CLP – the government of the day effectively controls the redistribution process – and also because of changing demographics.
Residents of the many small – predominantly Aboriginal – townships in her electorate are reported to be effectively abandoning their bush homes for the bright lights of Alice Springs. Anderson – sitting on a 68.6 per cent two party preferred majority – may well be facing the perfect electoral storm, with a dwindling local electorate that can only be balanced by the import of suburban Alice Springs voters who are just as unlikely to be sympathetic to her pleadings as those voters in Blain that rewarded Giles.
Lee and Kurruppuwu may read the very large writing on the wall and choose to retire with a modicum of grace well before facing the ignominy of inevitable defeat. Anderson, who has previously said she would only stand in the NT parliament for one term – may well follow suit.
That prospect is only enhanced by the looming prospect of seemingly endless months of the hell that is independence without a cause in a parliament with no need for their vote and no ears for their pleas.
Neither Labor nor the CLP will take the votes of Lee and Kurruppuwu while they stand by Anderson.
The Weekend Australian this past weekend published an op-ed piece by Anderson that is more self-serving re-writing of recent NT political history than reasoned argument for the continuing relevance of her increasingly fragile “bush bloc.”
Anderson’s piece is a bold but fundamentally flawed pitch aimed more at Tony Abbott – who would be wise to continue to ignore Anderson’s imputations and plea for Federal intervention in the NT – than at a local audience.
Anderson argues that the only path to advancement for the NT’s aboriginal population is with her so-called “bush bloc.”
For Adam Giles and just about every other politician in the NT she couldn’t be further from the truth if she tried.
Notwithstanding that there at least some small grains of truth in the three-member bush bloc’s argument that too little is being done in the bush, a close look at some of the major townships in Larisa Lee’s Arnhem electorate – for example – shows that, while the money may come from Canberra and many of the projects were approved under previous NT Labor governments, there has been substantial capital and infrastructure investment in the bush in recent years, with more projected over the coming years.
It may not be enough to address the longstanding capital and infrastructure deficits manifest in the bush, but it is more than Anderson and her bush bloc are giving Giles, previous governments and Canberra credit for.
Thats the rub.
As I’ve argued before, Giles has lost momentum and credit for failing to point out the flaws in the bush bloc’s position. Giles needs to do better, or he will lose his job and the trust not only of Territorians in the bush, but those in the town as well.