As obergruppenfuhrer of a nominally Northern Territory-based blog, I can’t help feeling I should write about the only piece of even slightly significant political news to come out of Darwin in quite some time (except the Bob Collins saga, which we can’t talk about anyway). Former CLP Chief Minister Denis Burke was re-elected as Opposition Leader yesterday at a party meeting said to have lasted all of 5 minutes.
I suppose that isn’t really surprising given the drastic lack of seasoned talent in current CLP parliamentary ranks. How this once seemingly-impregnable political machine has fallen apart since it governed for 23 unbroken years from self-government in 1978! This was the machine that spawned Shane Stone, Mark Textor and quite a few almost equally formidable political operators. Now, a nice guy wimpish nonentity, in former high school principal Terry Mills, has resigned after 14 months of conspicuous non-achievement as Leader, and been replaced by the bloke who lost the apparently unloseable election in 2001. Burke is a retired Colonel Blimp who floundered around for a couple of years after the election loss in directionless, impotent, bitter and twisted alternating bouts of rage and depression. Nevertheless, apparently Mills was seen as even bigger electoral poison, and is said to have been tapped on the shoulder by party heavies and told to walk the plank with dignity or be unceremoniously shoved.
As this morning’s Wicking cartoon commented in the NT News: “the bloke who led us into the tunnel reckons there’s a light at the end of it“. The trouble with commenting on Territory politics is that it’s almost impossible for a non-apparatchik to get an accurate idea of the state of play between the parties. No published public opinion polling is regularly conducted, and the parties’ internal polling seldom leaks. But judging by the smug, complacent grins on Labor pollies’ faces, and the hunched shoulders and resigned expressions on their opponents, it’s a fair bet the CLP aren’t travelling well.
That’s more or less what you’d expect. Clare Martin’s Labor government has efficiently applied the standard ALP model for state governments: competent and uncontroversial, quickly and ruthlessly putting out brushfires whenever they break out, massaging the media as its number one priority. Moreover, the NT economy is again strengthening after a long slump, business confidence is high, building activity is strong, and tourism has recovered after a trough brought on by the Ansett collapse and then September 11 and Bali. The multi-billion dollar Wickham Point gas project is pumping money into the economy, as is the new railway, and a huge mega-billion dollar public-private waterfront development (a poor man’s Darling Harbour) is about to commence, just in the nick of time for a Territory election which must be held before the end of this year. Meanwhile a recent (if distinctly dubious) research study found that Darwin residents are the happiest in Australia!
It doesn’t look like a political climate conducive to opposition electoral confidence. And that’s the way CLP members are behaving. Several have announced they’re retiring and not standing for re-election, while the rest are all but invisible in the electorate, except as sad barflies late at night in Mitchell Street nightclubs. Meanwhile, the member for Goyder, one Peter Maley (a lawyer and one of CDU Law School’s less distinguished alumni) has gone one better. He’s actually announced that he’s effectively retired and gone back to legal practice, although he’s still drawing a full MLA salary, and has the gall to claim that it’s approved party strategy to adopt a low profile so the new candidate for his seat can improve his visibility! Constituents aren’t impressed, but Maley doesn’t seem to give a shit and his party is powerless to do anything about it (although if I was Burke I’d have him expelled from the CLP and condemn him for ripping off taxpayers).
Despite his drawbacks, Burke will probably be a marginal improvement on poor old Terry Mills. At least there’s a bit of fight in the old duffer. But I don’t imagine Clare Martin is losing a lot of sleep over it. Complacency remains Labor’s big worry, but ex-ABC journo Martin is media-savvy enough to avoid looking Kennett-esque or Goss-like.