Aaron Bunch Journalist with Australian Associated Press | Collection of published work | + 61 484 008 119 | abunch@aap.com.au

Aaron Bunch
NT chief minister vote could take weeks

The Northern Territory may have to wait weeks for a new chief minister if Labor’s left and right factions fail to agree on a replacement for Michael Gunner.

May 12, 2022

The Northern Territory could face weeks of leadership uncertainty following Michael Gunner’s shock resignation as chief minister.

The 46-year-old stood down moments after handing down the NT budget on Tuesday, saying his head and heart were no longer in the job.

His deputy and acting chief minister Nicole Manison said the NT Labor caucus would announce a new leader on Friday.

But it may not be that simple.

If two or more Labor parliamentary members nominate to contest the leadership and that person has 20 per cent or more support from the caucus, the ballot must be broadened to include rank-and-file members.

That would likely take four weeks, potentially leaving the NT with an acting chief minister until well after the federal election.

None of the 14 caucus members has publicly nominated for the top job, but three possible contenders have emerged.

They are police minister and right faction member Ms Manison, as well as Health Minister Natasha Fyles and backbencher Joel Bowden, who are both from the left.

A former union boss and AFL player, 43-year-old Mr Bowden is unlikely to receive caucus support given his lack of parliamentary experience.

The contest is more likely to be between Ms Manison and Ms Fyles, both 43 and high-profile politicians in the NT, having been elected in 2013 and 2012 respectively.

The left and right factions each have six members, with Attorney-General Selena Uibo and recently elected Dheran Young unaligned.

Energy Minister Eva Lawler was tight-lipped about the leadership race when she faced media on Thursday.

“There is considerable depth in the Labor team. The leadership will be decided on Friday,” she said.

“The opportunity is there for caucus first and foremost to have that opportunity to choose their chief minister, and then it can go to rank-and-file if that’s not the case.”

Ms Lawler appeared to rule herself out of contention, but declined to say who she would support other than it would be a member of the right faction.

“Everyone understands I’m on the right in Labor and I’ll be working to support whoever goes forward on the right,” she said.

Asked about Mr Bowden’s aspirations given he has not held a ministry, Ms Lawler said it was vital for chief ministers to have such experience.

“Being chief minister is hard work, let alone with the overlay of COVID, which makes the job even more complex,” she said.

Political economist Rolf Gerritsen believes the factions will do a deal before Friday’s vote.

“The votes are about even in caucus,” he told AAP.

“They will agree that Manison remains chief minister, which makes the deputy position vacant, and they will appoint someone from the left.

“My guess is Bowden or Fyles will be deputy.”

Federal opposition defence spokesman Brendan O’Connor refused to be drawn into the faction stoush, saying it was up to the local government members to decide who should be the next chief minister.

“They’re the people who understand the government here. They’re ones intimately aware of their colleagues’ capacity and it’s entirely up to them who they choose,” he said while campaigning in Darwin.

It is understood the caucus will have to make its decision by 2pm on Friday. No other details have been provided.

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