Don’t blame me that Peter Glen Chandler who on Monday night was promoted — as I predicted here earlier that day — from relative backbench obscurity to newly-minted Deputy Chief Minister of the Northern Territory by his Country Liberal party and Chief Minister Adam Giles — is henceforth known as “Deputy Dawg.”
Back to Chandler in a bit. For mine the most revealing parts of the Giles presser following Chandler’s appointment didn’t concern his new Deputy but his former Deputy Dave Tollner, who resigned his commission in ignominious circumstances a week ago.
After noting Chandler’s elevation and that he had thrown his own position open — and been reelected unopposed — Giles was asked by the ABC’s Emma Masters whether or not Dave Tollner had been in the meeting.
Giles: There were a couple of people not in the meeting. Bess [Price] was down in Alice. Bess has been a bit unwell and Dave chose to abstain from the meeting. He’s gonna to take some time off.
Journalist: When you say he is going to “take some time off” has he quit?
Giles: No, no. Dave’s gonna take some time off. I think we all know that the life and the role as a public figure and in a political environment, particularly holding some of the portfolios that Dave did. You do get tired after a while and quite clearly Dave wants a rest and he’s gonna have a rest.
Chandler’s career highlights prior to his election to the seat of Brennan on Darwin’s fringes in 2008 included time as a RAAF dog-handler and working for the Darwin City Council as the “Animal Management Supervisor,” i.e. dog catcher.
You won’t find much searching for biographical information on the man who will be one-Adam-Giles-heartbeat away from leading the NT. On Monday night Chandler’s Wikipedia page consisted of all of two lines and the plea “This article about an Australian politician is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.” It has been given some accuracy, if not any more heft, with the addition of a notation that Chandler is “currently the Deputy Chief Minister.” Chandler’s electorate Facebook page adds a little more to the mix, telling us that Chandler played Rugby as a young man and lives in the Darwin satellite city of Palmerston — that “most accommodating town” — with his wife and four kids.
Chandler was appointed to the two brief Terry Mills ministries following the CLP’s victory at the general election in August 2012 that returned the CLP to power in the NT after eleven years in opposition, with his most important appointment being Education, which Chandler held for six days in the second Mills Ministry before Adam Giles knocked Mills in an ugly coup in March 2013.
In February 2013, while variously Minister for Business, Trade and Economic Development etc Chandler was embarrassed when it was revealed that he had previously racked up over $100,000 in credit card debts. But there for the grace of God go us all.
Chandler retained the Education portfolio in the first of the Giles ministries, in addition to Housing and Lands, Planning and the Environment. He was stripped of the Housing brief in the reshuffle of September 2013. Chandler’s handling of his light — in the NT ministers can carry upwards of six or seven portfolios and Giles currently has responsibility for a massive twelve, including all of Tollner’s until after the upcoming Casuarina byelection — responsibilities could best be described as unspectacular.
And for Giles and his embattled CLP administration unspectacular right now must seem a pretty good deal.
Chandler’s management of his Lands and Planning portfolio has, apart from a controversial long-term planning process for the Darwin region, largely been without controversy. His prosecution of the Education brief somewhat less so. The Wilson Review of remote education has sparked heated debate and Chandler’s enthusiasm for the “Direct Instruction” model promoted by Noel Pearson’s “Good to Great Schools” model has been difficult for many to take.
One well-informed source made the following comments about the proposed adoption of Direct Instruction in the NT:
It firstly depends on the Feds stumping up with the do-re-mi. Then it needs schools to sign up. And then it needs to find teachers who are ready willing and able to staff the schools and deliver a monochrome palette to an environment that needs colour, challenge and stimulation.
Chandler and the Education CE, Ken Davies, got themselves photographed gawking at a Cape York classroom. It only operates in four schools there and it’s expensive. And it doesn’t seem to have been independently evaluated.
How Chandler handles his new role will emerge in due course. Whether Giles’ action will settle his restive backbench — riddled with factions and shifting alliances — will most likely determine the survival of his government.
And — as many here suspect — we may have not yet seen the last of Adam Giles “good mate” former Deputy and Treasurer Dave Tollner. Yesterday The Australian reported that Tollner is likely to be “given back the Treasury portfolio, as part of a private agreement to persuade him not to quit.”
Whether Giles can afford to have Tollner languishing on the backbench for too long remains to be seen.
For all his faults Tollner is hard-working, smart and very well-connected to Territory business, particularly the exclusive group that forms the “silver circle”of business widely perceived to be favoured by the government. Giles cannot afford to have them offside for too long.
But bringing Tollner back — at all or too soon — could be seen as a further reinforcement of already widespread doubts about Giles’ leadership credentials and judgement. Absent further internal destabilising events these issues will crystallise in the coming months but there are no shortage of predictions that the Giles government will struggle to survive.