With only nine days until election day, voters in the Northern Territory will head to the polls on Saturday, 22 August, to elect its next Government. The current Chief Minister, the Hon Michael Gunner MLA, will be looking to retain Government after winning power at the last election in 2016.
However, he may be prevented from doing so by upstart party, Territory Alliance, led by former Chief Minister, the Hon Terry Mills MLA, who – according to new opinion polling – is in reach of forming the Territory’s next Government.
The Nexus team proudly presents our insights on what could be a historic election night, with renowned election analyst Antony Green stating that “a victory for Terry Mills would be the most astonishing comeback in Australian political history.”
In 2012, the Country Liberal Party (CLP) won an emphatic victory after 11 years of Labor rule in the Northern Territory. Due to the nature of the CLP victory, seats were primarily won outside of Darwin, CLP voters held high expectations of improved remote and regional services. Then Chief Minister, the Hon Terry Mills MLA, attempted to improve declining Territory finances through the implementation of new cost-recovery measures for urban services in Darwin.
These measures were mostly unpopular and widely credited in resulting in a 12.4% swing to Territory Labor from the CLP during the 2013 Wanguri by-election. While on a trade mission, and just seven months after becoming Chief Minister, Mills was ousted in one of the quickest leadership coups in Australian political history, replaced by the Hon Adam Giles MLA. The coup marked the beginning of a highly unstable government – having 18 ministerial re-shuffles during its term and being swept from power after one term in one of the worst electoral performances in Australian history.
After winning a thumping electoral victory in 2016, Territory Labor, led by current Chief Minister the Hon Michael Gunner MLA, has struggled to control significant fiscal challenges in the Territory budget – with Gunner’s leadership consistently on a knife-edge.
After a considerable swing away from Territory Labor during the Johnston by-election in March 2020, the Northern Territory’s only daily newspaper, the NT News, editorialised that Mr Gunner had “no choice but to step down as Labor leader.” Despite calls to resign and being plagued by economic issues – Chief Minister Gunner has gained ground after the broadly positive reception of his handling of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
THREE PARTIES, THREE LEADERS:
Currently, three leaders are vying for the office of Chief Minister in the 2020 election, and are as follows:
The Hon Michael Gunner MLA – Territory Labor
Current Chief Minister Michael Gunner will be looking for a second term in Government after a problematic first term as Chief Minister. Gunner entered office in a formidable position, winning the third-largest majority government in Territory history and faced only two CLP members as opposition in the Territory Assembly.
During his term, the Chief Minister ordered a moratorium on fracking and undertook a review of all water licences issued under the previous government. The moratorium commenced on 14 September 2016 and was subsequently revoked on 17 April 2018.
Chief Minister Gunner has also suffered significant health problems during his term, undergoing heart surgery after suffering a heart attack in January. Before becoming Chief Minister, Gunner worked as a senior government ministerial and policy adviser between to former Chief Minister, the Hon Clare Martin.
The Hon Terry Mills MLA – Territory Alliance
Outpacing the CLP in donations and support thus far, and consistently being the target of Territory Labor, the Hon Terry Mills MLA and the Territory Alliance may have a good shot of forming the next Official Opposition, and a considerable chance at potentially forming the next Northern Territory Government. New polling conducted by Sky News indicates Territory Alliance could win at least seven seats in the next election, currently tied on seat count with Territory Labor, with the CLP tipped to win two seats and seven seats presently up for grabs.
Founding the Territory Alliance at the end of 2019, Mr Mills has described the Alliance as a “grassroots alternative” to the two major parties, promising among other key policies, to ban fracking if it wins the election on 22 August. The announcement by Mills came on the same day as polling commissioned by anti-fracking group Lock the Gate, which stated 86 per cent of Territorians said they “opposed” fracking.
Prior to starting the Territory Alliance, Mills ran as an independent in the seat of Blain during the 2016 Territory Election – winning a close victory on TPP and taking the seat from his former party, the CLP. Prior to his success as an independent, Mills led the CLP to victory in the 2012 Territory Election, briefly serving as Chief Minister before being ousted by the party in a leadership coup. Before entering politics, Mills worked as a principal and a teacher before being elected as an MLA in 1999.
Ms Lia Finocchiaro MLA – Country Liberal Party
After former CLP leader Gary Higgins resigned the CLP leadership due to declining health problems, Finocchiaro took the leadership of CLP in February 2020. After winning the leadership, Territory Alliance Leader Terry Mills claimed to have replaced her as Opposition Leader on 18 March 2020, however this claim was not formalised by the Legislative Assembly.
Finocchiaro is seen by most commentators as a long shot to become Chief Minister, trailing significantly in current opinion polling. Prior to entering politics, Finocchiaro worked as a legal practitioner in the Northern Territory, commencing work as a graduate clerk at the Clayton Utz law firm.
With the opposition divided between Territory Alliance and the CLP, considering Chief Minister Gunner’s performance during the COVID-19 crisis, as-well as current opinion polling indicating Territory Labor holding a slim but important lead – the team at Nexus believe that Labor is most likely to retain Government.
As to whether that Government will be a minority or majority is currently impossible to tell, with Antony Green stating “At the election Labor will almost certainly be the largest party — it’s a matter of whether they get enough to govern in their own right or whether they fall short”.
In the event of a Labor minority, Chief Minister Gunner will likely rely on key independents for confidence and supply – potentially appointed one to the position of speaker, as he did after his landslide 2016 victory, appointing former CLP member turned Independent, the Hon Kezia Purick MLA to the position.
Furthermore, Gunner may be tempted to commit to a new moratorium on fracking to gain support of some members of the Territory Alliance, including former Labor members and high-profile Territory Alliance members such as Mr Jeff Collins MLA.
In the event of an upset defeat for Labor, the Territory Alliance is considerably more likely than the CLP to form the next Government. Such an upset victory by an upstart third party would be unprecedented in Australian political history.