NT Labor may yet survive

Independent MLA and “kingmaker” Gerry Wood has just about made up his mind how he’ll vote on Friday’s Legislative Assembly no confidence motion, and is delivering tantalising cryptic hints:

Mr Wood says he has almost made up his mind and will tell the leaders of his decision before Friday’s vote.

The latest whisper is that Wood is saying he thinks he should cast his vote in a way that “minimises disruption to the Territory economy”.  Now I admit it’s a real exercise in divining the political tea-leaves, but I tend to read that as suggesting that Wood is leaning in favour of voting against the no confidence motion and allowing Labor to continue governing in minority with his tacit support.

An immediate election would not only cost almost $2 million but result in 6 weeks or so of effectively paralysed government, followed by a prolonged period of stasis as a group of brand new and mostly very inexperienced Ministers learned the ropes.  Of course you can overstate that case, because the policy differences between ALP and CLP are quite small and government on a day to day basis is mostly delivered by the bureaucracy anyway.  Nevertheless, if Wood’s major premise is to minimise economic disruption then a “steady as she goes” status quo result would seem to be his most likely choice.

Certainly it would be much less disruptive than choosing to support no confidence and doing some sort of deal with the CLP to support minority government by it.  That would simply be creating a grossly unstable minority government permanently held hostage by the erratic, dubiously rational and unpredictably vindictive Alison Anderson, hardly a recipe for avoiding either political or economic disruption.

Another factor which Gerry Wood must certainly have been weighing up is whether exercising his vote  to bring on an election would in fact deliver certainty or stability anyway. It’s rumoured that internal party polling has Labor suffering a swing of 6% against it compared with last year’s election, but the same polling is also said to show the CLP’s Peter Styles in a weak and vulnerable position in the northern suburbs seat of Sanderson. Moreover, a 6% swing would only lose Labor the seat of Fannie Bay currently held by new MLA Michael Gunner who took over from Clare Martin after winning by just 74 78 votes, although Chris Burns in the northern suburbs seat of Johnson would also be at slight risk.

Last year’s election result was close to a “worst case” for Labor.  There would need to be a much larger swing than 6% for any other existing ALP seats to be in any danger, and Labor’s stronger party machine and more “cashed up” position would probably mean it would be able to run a stronger campaign than the CLP.  That advantage might be negated by people’s perception of serious Labor disunity, but as far as I can see from talking to people and listening to what they’re saying, most people except the politically committed see the current situation as merely the result of successive brain spasm-induced hissy fits by two self-indulgent indigenous MLAs rather than as an indictment of the Henderson government’s general capacity to govern.

Gerry Wood might reasonably have concluded that there’s a high probability that an election would simply end up being an expensive and disruptive way of reproducing the existing minority government situation. Putting that together with the undeniable democratic fact that Labor was elected to govern for a four year term only 12 months ago, and that painfully slow progress on remote indigenous housing is disappointing but hardly a hanging offence at this stage anyway, voting to keep Labor in office might well be the decision that a thoughtful, principled and experienced Independent politician like Gerry Wood will consider the best of a set of difficult choices.

Of course I might be completely wrong in these speculations. But if I was a betting man right now, I’d almost be tempted to have a hundred bucks on Labor to survive Friday’s no confidence motion.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Joshua Gans
14 years ago

I know nothing about Wood other what I’ve read above, but could he be holding out for an offer of a ministry from one side?

14 years ago

An immediate election would not only cost almost $2 million but result in 6 weeks or so of effectively paralysed government,

Ahhh, the most effective kind of government (from an economic point of view).

Essentially Hendo remains CM in name only and the Cabinet only nominally in charge: Gerry Wood has achieved an agreement with the CM to implement his wish list of pet projects and an effective veto on future legislation and programmes. If you want to get something done in the NT youll need Gerrys approval. Its the most extraordinary thing Ive seen in 40 years as a close political observer.

One presumes that NT Labor aren’t too confident about facing the voting citizens right now. Dare I say, it almost seems like having bums of seats might be more important than providing representation for their constituents. That said, if one man wants to shoulder the hard task of governing leaving the rest of them to walk around feeling just as important as before, but with a lot less responsibility… then seems like a win/win deal all round.