On Wednesday morning Adam Giles, Chief Minister of the Northern Territory’s Country Liberal Party government, was part of an Indigenous Men’s Panel on 105.7 ABC in Darwin. During the panel discussion, Giles took pause to reflect upon the personal and professional difficulties posed by his job.
As reported by the ABC yesterday, Giles revealed his concerns about his “hectic lifestyle and the dangers of people pushing themselves too hard”:
I was taught many years ago … one thing you need to watch in your career is burnout and someone like myself who works seven days a week, twenty hours a day, you don’t think about burnout, but I was taught that. Burnout doesn’t help you, doesn’t help the people around you. If you are tired and wornout – and I’m not saying be lazy – I’m saying don’t allow yourself physically to be burnt out where you just don’t have the mental or physical mindset to be able to do get out and do things.
Giles noted the impact of the early loss of his father and the lack of any strong male role model in his life:
No, I don’t really have role models. I think that partly goes to when I was a young fellow my Dad was killed when I was fifteen. So he was pretty important to me. Since then I’ve never had a role model. I’ve never really looked up to anybody in that way. I mean I’ve always encouraged people to get a role model to look up to other people and take as many learnings as you can but for me, Dad was killed, that left a big hole in my life so I’ve had to most of the things on my own. Not necessarily had to, I’ve just done them on my own. I still take a lot of wisdom of people that I see from time to time. But from a mentor point of view or role model … I’ve never really had that and a lot of people say “Who is your career person that you look towards or your political person that most inspires you, I don’t hold anyone up to that frame. I think that is just part of the way I developed as a teenager.
Adam Giles said he had become ‘a role model and leader to many.’ Giles also took a swipe at the media and others for their negativity:
I think people need to be a bit more respectful … Too many people in the NT are negative in my opinion … For me the glass is always half-full not half-empty and I think we should continue to look at things in that light. I think that is really important. Whether you pick up a paper or listen to the news or whatever it may be, its always about the negative and, we are sitting around in this studio right now – it is beautiful weather outside, sure it might be a bit hot but beautiful weather. Where else in Australia would you want to be right now. For me, you always look at the bright side of life.
To his credit, Giles was remarkably frank about his life as a politician and the new father of an 11 week-old son, his love of the Boxing Day test cricket, the camaraderie of going to the gym with his mates and more. But in his reflections on the pressures of his professional life it is hard to escape the impression that Giles sounds like a lonely man.
These are some difficult tea leaves to read. A political leader saying they are burnt out–if that is what Giles meant–from overwork could be seen as a signal they are just about to resign. It can also be seen as a nod to enemies in their own party and without that they are vulnerable to challenge.
Any voter reaction would be coming off a low base. The Northern Myth has seen internal CLP polling from April 2014 through mid-November 2015. For present purposes three results from that polling illustrate the difficulties Giles and his party face.
On a two party-preferred basis the CLP was 16 per cent behind NT Labor, led by relative new-comer Michael Gunner and who has never held a ministry. Giles is 19 per cent behind Gunner as preferred Chief Minister. Giles’ personal favourability rating is minus 36 per cent compared to Gunner’s rating of plus 14 – a spread of 50 per cent. Those numbers, while dire, don’t mean that all is lost for the CLP.
The government is cashed up from infrastructure sales, the party wing–no stranger to stark disputes with the parliamentary wing–will fight a very hard election (spurred on by the shamejob of losing government after one term) and NT Labor has a number of weak points that they will attack with their usual vigour during the election campaign. In short, the 2016 NT general election, assuming the government runs the full term through August, is the CLP’s for the losing and Labor’s for the taking.
But more on all that soon.
Chief Minister of the NT is a tough–and lonely–gig and imposes great pressures upon an incumbent’s professional and personal lives. Giles is well-paid to do the job–upwards of $290,000 per annum–and it is hard to see that governing the NT imposes any substantially greater workload or pressures than those faced by any number of Premiers and CEOs in municipal local governing authorities, the States or in business elsewhere in the country.
In terms of managing the apparent negativity of the media and the public, the Giles government is backed by all the powers of office and an army of spinners spewing a relentless stream of media releases full of nothing but good news for the government. The real cause for the apparent negativity that Giles bemoans may just be that voters and the media have stopped listening.
Whether Giles’ statement that he ‘works seven days a week, 20 hours a day’ is accurate or not, anything close to that figure would be unhealthy in both personal and professional terms and indicative of a work-life balance well out of whack. If accurate, this is an unsustainable workload and something has to change–or crack–very soon. If accurate I hope that one of the members of the Indigenous Men’s Panel advised him that he should seek professional advice.
Ten days ago the NT Legislative Assembly threw the Giles government a life-line by rejecting a Labor Party motion of no confidence. Giles goes into the summer break in a far worse position than twelve months ago and with mobs of political baggage, the real chance of a challenge to his leadership over the break and a re-shuffle of his ministry that seems more likely than not.
The prospect of a re-shuffle was increased by the news that two of Giles’ key ministers–Attorney-General John Elferink and Treasurer Dave Tollner–won’t stand at the next election, and is made particularly tense because there are few suitable candidates in the ministry to take on those senior roles.
Right now it is unclear whether Giles’ comments were little more than weary reflections upon a difficult year or a true indication of his state of mind and body. What is more certain is that these comments by Giles will surface again in 2016.
You can listen to the whole of the Indigenous Men’s Panel discussion on the ABC via Soundcloud here.