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Australian politics

Sep 8, 2017


Failed state, failed party. The Country Liberal Party’s “long march” back to electoral credibility

The CLP's 2016 election campaign was a shambles. Loughnane and Mitchell describe a"rudderless" and dramatically underfunded campaign. The Northern Myth understands that, notwithstanding the repeated assurances during the campaign that the CLP had a campaign war chest of $1 million, it was only after the election that the party's campaign debt of around $500,000 was revealed.

Top of the reading list for delegates at this weekend’s Central Council meeting of the NT’s Country Liberal Party will be the excoriating review by Brian Loughnane and Scott Mitchell of the CLP’s abject failure at the 2016 NT election.

Loughnane and Mitchell don’t waste much time sugar-coating the message to CLP members. noting “significant problems” with the 2016 campaign, caused in no small part by the “dysfunctional nature of the [CLP] government and the party” between 2012 and 2016 during which the CLP had two Chief Ministers, six Deputy Chief Ministers and numerous re-shuffles and that ended with the parliamentary wing of the CLP reduced to a rump of two MLAs.

Continue reading “Failed state, failed party. The Country Liberal Party’s “long march” back to electoral credibility”

Australian politics

Aug 27, 2017


Memo to Michael Gunner: time to switch from “excitedly boring” to just “exciting”

Gunner's real problems will be those he can do nothing—or little—about. The NT—a mendicant state that cannot pay its own way—is in a long downward spiral of economic and demographic decline. Mining and major industry is waiting for the next boom, the massive construction workforce at the Inpex gas plant in Darwin harbour will gradually wind down ahead of the plant coming on-stream in late 2018 or early 2019, and much more. The prospects for the Territory's economy over the next decade or so—a period during which Labor should continue to hold government—are little better than bleak.


Six months before the NT general election on August 2016, then Labor Opposition leader Michael Gunner told Mix-104.9’s Katie Woolf that his government would be “excitedly boring.”

Eighteen months later Gunner—much to the relief of most Territorians— has certainly led a boring government. Though more than a few pundits—particularly those who were able to make such merry hell of the four years of chaos inflicted by the Country Liberal Party between 2012 and 2016—will be less than happy at the absolute lack of scandal that the first quarter of Gunner’s first four-year electoral term has delivered.

Continue reading “Memo to Michael Gunner: time to switch from “excitedly boring” to just “exciting””

Northern development

Aug 16, 2017


In late 2015 the then Country Liberal Party NT government awarded sandalwood plantation operator Tropical Forestry Services (TFS – now Quintis Limited) “Major Project Status” that would see a projected tripling of TFS sandalwood production across the NT. At the time, major project status signified that a project was of “major economic importance” and would receive “whole-of-government coordination” to grease the wheels of regulatory approval and assist with the management of economic, environmental and social impacts.

But, as a document leaked to the ABC’s James Oaten in February 2016 revealed, the NT government’s Department of Land and Resources Management warned that there was insufficient water in the NT to supply TFS’s projected needs, noting that “similar forestry schemes have had a record of failure”. TFS was then the largest single water user in the Northern Territory and over the past eighteen months it has increased its water allocations, with government records indicating that Quintis controls, through both direct and indirect water licence allocations, upwards of 35,000 million litres (ML) of NT groundwater.

Continue reading “Quintis, the NT government and picking major project losers”

Australian politics

Aug 6, 2017


‘Racist’ black-cladding business policy canned by NT government, referred to NT Police for investigation

CLP candidate Steve Brown described the indigenous employment and procurement polices as 'ill-considered' and 'blatantly racist.' Brown didn't elaborate on what aspects of his party's policies he considered 'racist' but it may be that he considered the policies unfairly favoured Aboriginal workers. Or discriminated against non-Aboriginal businesses or workers. Or both.

The announcement by the NT government late on Friday afternoon that it would immediately shut down the Indigenous Employment Provisional Sum (IEPS) program because of ‘potential widespread fraud’ was unsurprising and long overdue.

Information is sketchy at present but, NT Deputy Chief Minister Nicole Manison’s media release, soon followed by another from the NT Department of Infrastructure—responsible for administration of the IEPS program—give us brief glimpses of the latest on a growing list of scandals emerging from the Country Liberal Party’s administration of the NT from 2012 to August 2016.

The Northern Myth understands that there are now parallel investigations by both the NT Auditor-General and the NT Police. Allegations include that companies using the scheme were claiming payments for non-indigenous employees in order to meet the qualifications for NT government tenders and contracts and that one case of alleged fraud of the scheme had been referred to NT Police as long ago as March this year. The NT News reported on Saturday that $42.5 million had been paid out through the program from late 2014 to end of June 2017.

Continue reading “‘Racist’ black-cladding business policy canned by NT government, referred to NT Police for investigation”

Australian politics

Jul 16, 2017


The appointment this past weekend by Michael Gunner’s Northern Territory Labor Government of retired Federal Court Justice John Mansfield to conduct an inquiry into political donations in the NT was long overdue and welcome. As Gunner noted yesterday, the Mansfield Inquiry will be an important step towards restoring public trust in the institutions of government in the NT. Finding a commissioner for this gig was always going to be tough, but I can think of no better person than Justice Mansfield for the task—he has long familiarity with the Territory and its people and institutions without being beholden to any.

But the Gunner government has bungled the conduct of the Mansfield Inquiry even before it has begun, not least by an unexplained delay in the appointment of the commissioner but also in—apparently—failing to lay the essential groundwork for the effective and efficient conduct of the inquiry. Add to that Terms of Reference that need drastic revision and it does not make for a good start.

Gunner didn’t identify—he didn’t have to—the cause of much of the lack of Territorian’s trust in their government—the four years of chaotic rule of the NT by the Country Liberal Party from 2012 to 2016 under now Independent MLA Terry Mills and his successor as Chief Minister, Adam Giles are still fresh in our minds. For those in need of a refresher, check The Northern Myth’s archives here—or grab a copy of Crocs in the Cabinet, the best account of that most turbulent time in the NT’s brief political history as chronicled by NT News writers Christopher Walsh and Ben Smee.

Continue reading “Has the Mansfield Inquiry into NT political donations been crippled from the start?”

Australian politics

May 25, 2017


This is a guest post by Darwin-based legal academic Ken Parish* that was originally published on 23 May 2017 at the Charles Darwin University site The Summit: Public governance issues and politics, with a particular focus on the Northern Territory.

The Gunner Labor government came to office last August promising to restore the trust of Territorians in government, after it had been shattered by four years of chaos, division and dubious or worse ethical behaviour by various members of the Giles CLP regime. Enacting and boosting safeguards ensuring accountability and transparency were to be at the forefront of the new Government’s program.

After 9 months in office, how are they going? In my assessment the record is none too impressive.

MLAs’ financial interests

Continue reading “Accountability and transparency? The Gunner government gets a Fail grade so far”

Australian politics

May 23, 2017


Late last year I applied to the wonderful people at the NT Archives for an NT History Grant for a project I somewhat facetiously gave the working title of “Follow the money, bruss!’: A short history of political fundraising in the Northern Territory 1978 to 2018.

Little did I know that shortly after I applied the (new) NT government would initiate an inquiry into election funding in the NT.

Then in early 2017 I received notice that I’d been successful …

Continue reading ““Follow the money, bruss!” A short history of electoral funding in the NT”

Australian politics

Nov 29, 2016



The following are excerpts from Crocs in the Cabinet. Northern Territory politics an instruction manual on how NOT to run a government, by Ben Smee and Christopher A. Walsh.

Published by Hachette Australia and available in good bookstores today.


Adam Giles stopped answering calls about 12.15 a.m. the night he was rolled as the Northern Territory’s Chief Minister. It had been a sweaty, nervous night in the middle of the Wet, and the heat had hit his penthouse apartment overlooking the Arafura Sea at the end of the Darwin Esplanade. As a thunderstorm roiled in the distance, his phone was resting twelve floors below, at the bottom of the building’s swimming pool.

The police had tapped his phone, Giles was sure, as he settled in for a few beers and to plot his next move with his last remaining ally, Dave Tollner.

We had spoken to him about four times that day as the coup unfolded. Giles’s mood had changed from denial, to anger, to bargaining.

Continue reading “The kill-or-be-killed world of NT politics, 2012 to 2016”

Australian politics

Nov 27, 2016



Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage. Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911

As true as that hundred-year-old observation of the nature of men and their affairs in the United States was so it is too for the Northern Territory today. And no greater proof of the universality of Bierce’s satirical—but nonetheless accurate—observation is needed than a dip into the pages of what for mine is the finest—and undoubtedly the laughing-out-loud funniest—book of the year that will be the stuffing in many a Christmas stocking this season. A great read for the beach, the hammock or those boring overs at the cricket.

Continue reading “Crocs in the Cabinet: The CLP, politics as farce and farce as politics”

Australian politics

Sep 22, 2016


NT Election 2016

There is much to like about living in the Northern Territory. I wouldn’t have hung around here for 30 and more years if not. But there is much that is seriously wrong about this place as well.

Not least, as my colleague Ken Parish pointed out here last week, in the way we govern ourselves. It is difficult to fault Ken’s assessment that the blame lies with the Territory’s foundational structures:

… the Commonwealth imposed an inappropriate model of self-government in 1978 (the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act for a polity of the Territory’s size and stage of development, a model that entrenches single member electorates, prohibits the co-opting of ministerial talent from outside the Parliament, lacks inbuilt accountability checks and balances, and largely ignores the key fact that Aboriginal people constitute one-third of the population, own half of the land and have a culture and material needs and aspirations that differ radically from those of the majority non-Aboriginal population.

Evidence of the systemic failures in the NT electoral system can be found–as Ken Parish usefully sets out in his piece–in the skewed results of what elsewhere in the country (and beyond) might be viewed as election outcomes within a normal range. Explicit in Ken’s analysis is our failure to provide an equitable and appropriate electoral system for the NT.

Drawing on the examples of the other two small Australian jurisdictions–Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory–Ken notes the value and suitability of the “multi-member electorates with MLAs elected by Hare-Clark proportional representation” that both have adopted, noting the electoral system applied in those jurisdictions:

… not only enhances diversity of political representation and encourages mature deliberation and constructive compromise, it also ensures significant continuity and stability of representation for the major parties (albeit at the price of seldom achieving the sort of complete single party domination aka elected dictatorship that the NT ALP will now enjoy for the next four years).

Four NT election results–skewed in terms of seats won against proportion of votes received–suffice to illustrate the argument for proportional representation in the NT.

In the NT general election of 1974–the first for a 19 seat Legislative Assembly but prior to “full” self-government in 1978–the Country Liberal Party (a recent shotgun marriage of the local Country and Liberal parties) won 49.01% of the vote, the Australian Labor Party won 30.46% and independent candidates won 20.54%. The CLP took 17 seats, the ALP none and two Independents won seats.

In the 2001 election, which Labor won after 27 years in the wilderness of opposition, Labor–now in a 25 seat Assembly–won 13 seats to the CLP’s 10 with Independents taking the remaining two seats. But the CLP led Labor on both first preference votes (45.38 to 40.60%) and two-party preferences (51.9 to 48.1%).

It is useful to see how the application of a different electoral system would–or could–have changed this result. The good folks at the Proportional Representation Society of Australia (the PRSA) conducted an analysis of the 2001 election, noting that:

To simulate what might have happened under quota-preferential proportional representation, the PRSA grouped the twenty-five single-member electorates into five, with each returning five members. The CLP and Labor would both definitely have won eleven seats. The election of three Independents would have been quite likely, though in one case it is possible the vote away from the major parties would not have adhered, and Labor would then have picked up a twelfth seat.

The PRSA produced this useful table illustrating the difference that the application of proportional representation would have had on the 2001 result.

NT 2001 election PRSA table

Table source: PRSA, 2001.

The results in the 2005 NT general election were even more stark and distorted. Labor, winning 19 seats out of 25 in the Assembly, took a very heavy toll on a dysfunctional CLP very much unused to life in opposition, gaining only 4 seats with the remaining seats going to Independents. Clare Martin’s Labor Government increased its vote by over 11 percent to 51.9% while the Country Liberal Party fell from 45.4% to 35.7%.

Again, application of a proportional representation analysis would have provided a very different result, as shown with this PRSA table, with Labor taking 14 seats, the CLP 10 and Independents one.

NT election 2005 PRSA table large

Table source: PRSA, 2005.

All of the election results examined above reveal the truth of the “extraordinary volatility” in NT electorates that Ken Parish says “regularly results in an Opposition too weak numerically to provide effective opposition and therefore hold the government to account” and result in an “artificially attenuated” opposition.

But none of those election results hold this as true as does the August 2016 NT general election. That the CLP as led by Adam Giles deserved a thrashing is without doubt–Giles lost his own seat of Braitling in suburban Alice Springs–and the CLP’s Parliamentary wing was reduced to a rump of 2 seats, with Independents taking the remainder. In a cruel twist of electoral and legal fate, the remaining CLP MLAs–Gary Higgins from the rural seat of Daly and Lia Finocchiaro in the newly-created Darwin suburban seat of Spillett–were obliged to form the Labor government’s loyal opposition.

Higgins, as opposition leader, has taken on the portfolios of  Treasury, Aboriginal affairs, Infrastructure, Housing, Tourism, Environment, Public employment and Corporate and information services. Finocchiaro, as deputy opposition leader, takes on the role of shadow attorney-general (she is a trained lawyer), opposition whip (that will be a breeze), Justice, Police, Fire and Emergency Services, Trade and business, Health, Education, Primary industries and resources, Northern Australia, Essential services, Territory families and Children.

Welcome to politics as farce.

I’ll leave discussion about the relative merits–or not–of proportional representation as a model for future NT elections for your comments and the much-needed and inevitable debate that  will occur–or we’ll be damned to repeat past failures if it doesn’t–about how the NT governs itself. There is little doubt that the NT electoral system is broken.

The bigger question is how we fix it.