NT Chief Minister-elect Terry Mills celebrates the Country Liberals’ historic election win late last month.
NORTHERN TERRITORY: Newly elected NT Chief Minister Terry Mills has a tough fight on his hands managing the internal politics of the fractured Country Liberal Party, writes BRIAN JOHNSTONE*.
Please don’t f..k up everyone else’s chances because you are not getting your own way.
If you cannot be part of the team then don’t and move on, but don’t pretend you’re doing anyone a favour because you simply aren’t.
Your self indulgence is both wearisome and counter productive.
Please become part of the team so that we can simply get rid of Labor or leave.
Please try your hand as an independent.
If things are as bad as your misguided views believe, then you have nothing to lose by doing that, but don’t ask the Party and your colleagues to keep supporting you when you support no one other than yourself.
It grow up time, you cannot build by being a wrecking ball.
This email was sent on at 2.18 pm. on Australia Day last year to David Tollner, the man just appointed by new NT Chief Minister Terry Mills to be the Minister for Health, Alcohol Policy and Essential Services.
Elf is John Elferink.
He’s the bloke Mills has just appointed the Territory’s Attorney General, Justice Minister, Minister for Correctional Services and Manager of Government Business.
The email was sent to Mills and most of the players who now make up his new Cabinet.
It was sent in response to a rocket fired by Tollner the day before in an email to the Member for Goyder, Kezia Purick, and copied into the same players.
Kezia Dorcas Tibisay Purick, to give her full name, was Mills’ Deputy Leader until three days after the CLP’s historic election win.
She was unceremoniously dumped from the job after four years despite public post-victory assurances only days before from Chief Minister Mills she would be his Deputy Chief Minister.
Mills said he was rolled by the party room.
They voted to replace her with Alice Springs-based Member for Araluen, Robin Lambley. Mills issued a statement which expressed his delight at the decision.
“Saturday’s election sent out a very clear signal that residents living south of the Berrimah Line want a voice in the Territory Parliament,” he said. It noted nine of the 16 CLP members elected to the new Parliament lived south of Darwin.
It’s hard political logic to argue against.
But at a time when the CLP should have been still sniffing the sweet smell of champagne, Purick was making no public attempt to mask her disappointment.
Purick was happy to tell anyone who cared to listen to the evening news: “If Terry Mills wanted me as his deputy he would’ve made it happen, same as it happens in the Labor camp. Let’s not kid ourselves.”
Lambley fired back, publicly scolding her for not supporting a democratic party room vote.
Tracker is informed she was offered a consolation prize, appointment as Speaker of the Parliament. She original turned it down and then accepted.
The public spat, and Mills’ role, so early into government sparked memories of the bitter Australia Day emails of last year, clearly papered over for the election campaign.
Purick is a tough political cookie. She’s the daughter of feisty, eccentric local MP, Cecilia Noel Padgham-Purick, a 20-year veteran of the NT Parliament who briefly held a Ministerial portfolio in the Everingham government before being dumped as a candidate by the CLP in 1987. She was elected as an independent in the seat of Nelson until her retirement in 1997 when he endorsed another independent candidate, David Tollner, who narrowly failed to win.
Tollner’s lengthy email to her was in response to an email sent to Shadow Cabinet Ministers by Mills regarding a nasty pre-selection brawl and split, and a block on a local development.
Purick had passed it on, knowing Tollner was not a member of the Shadow Cabinet, having unsuccessfully challenged Mills (9-2) for the leadership the year before.
He noted in his response he was unconstrained by Shadow Cabinet solidarity and let everyone know he thought the CLP and Mills were on the nose.
The interests, views and aspirations of the party, and its elected members had been “put to one side in the interests of promoting and protecting the leader alone!”
The leader’s office had “lurched from crisis to crisis with the whole emphasis on saving Terry’s skin.,.” and “had become a law unto itself treating both the party hierarchy and most of the elected members with indifference, at best, and disrespect and hostility at worst”.
Terry, he concluded, could “bang on as much as he likes” comparing himself with Victorian Premier Ted Bailieu but “until he recognises the failure of his leadership, we will only achieve yet another term in opposition.”
Tollner also claimed the party was broke.
An unidentified CLP member had replied to Elferink’s email within hours.
“John, your email to David and everyone else just proves why you are not a leader,” it said, accusing him of doing the numbers behind “Terry’s back (while smiling innocently to his face).”
Anonymous, who claimed not to be one of Tollner’s “gang of five,” suggested Elferink “jam it up your backside with the tree branch.”
These are not divisions the first flush of new government are likely to heal.
Within days, Darwin’s sole daily newspaper, the Northern Territory News, had a story claiming internal CLP surveys showed Tollner was a lot less popular than Mills.
A few days later it had published extracts of all of the internal emails.
Local political observers told Tracker Mills, 54, who was first elected to the NT Parliament in 1999, does not possess the “mongrel” required of Territory politicians.
He came into politics as the headmaster of a private Christian school and does not rule the CLP with the iron fist of an Everingham.
He will find it tough to manage the internal politics of Government.
The obvious template for Mills, particularly given his promises to Aboriginal voters, is NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell rather than Bailieu.
Since his election in April last year, O’Farrell has taken a very considered approach to finding a new direction in Aboriginal affairs, working with Aboriginal leaders on many of the same issues which bedevil communities in the NT.
And although Mills was quick to acknowledge the support of Aboriginal voters and get out to Top End communities in his first weeks in power, there are already signals the good ol’ boys who pulled the strings when the CLP was last in power are being quickly drafted in.
One of the first moves of the new Government was to sack most of the NT’s public service heads, appoint a Razor Gang under the Chairmanship of former Under Treasurer Doctor Neil Conn, and place a freeze on the public service.
Political observers says all of the 30-something West Wing types who occupied the fifth floor of Darwin’s opulent Parliament House — the ministerial never centre — have vanished, replaced by a bevy of much older advisers.
Mills promised to advertise all senior government appointments, but few have been.
As Tracker went to press it was announced the former Federal Member for Eden Monaro, Gary Nairn would head up the Planning Commission, with no formal advertising process.
Nairn, who ran a mapping and surveying firm in the NT in the 80 and 90’s, was the Special Minister for State from 2006-07 and a Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister John Howard.
While public servants across Darwin are nervous about swinging job cuts, the Territory’s major Aboriginal land councils must also be preparing for a battle.
The CLP announced days before the election they would back moves to form breakaway land councils.
They will use this as a wedge issue against the bigger Councils on the basis the NLC and CLC are out of touch, and so government is handing more power to local communities.
It should also be noted that while the Mills faction was shafting Purick, there was a bloodless coup across the road. Outgoing Chief Minister Paul Henderson stood down and handed the job of Opposition Leader to former Treasurer Delia Lawrie.
She’s the daughter of long time Independent Member for Nightcliff, Dawn Lawrie, who was a constant thorn in the side of the CLP when last in government and was known by them as the ‘Witch of Nightcliff’.
It will be a fascinating four years.
• Brian Johnstone is a Walkley Award winning journalist, and a former correspondence based in the Northern Territory. He is an employee of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, and a monthly writer for Tracker.