Adam Giles

The Northern Territory has a new chief minister. That is perhaps not notable enough for fructovotantes except that Giles is Austraia’s first indigenous head of government and for the manner in which he deposed his predecessor. Terry Mills was replaced as leader of the Country Liberal Party, and therefore as chief minister, while attending a trade mission in Japan. Presumably he phoned in his resignation to the Administrator of the Territory.

That makes two head of government removals on the Coalition side in a fortnight.

19 thoughts on “Adam Giles

  1. Ironically, only Thursday last week I was listening to Murri [*] Country community radio station in Queensland. The host and interviewee (both Indigenous blokes) mentioned Adam Giles’ move for the NT CLP leadership. Both agreed that (a) Giles could have had the Deputy position on demand without a contest, but (b) the CLP caucus was not ready to dump Terry Mills, so (c) by demanding the top job – “wanting to be king and not settle for prince,” one of the two described it – Giles had sunk his hopes for the foreseeable future and would have to do a lot of bridge-building.

    Well.

    [*] “Murri” = Aborigines in the Queensland area. Overseas news reports sometimes use “Koori” for all indigenous peoples but it properly means the New South Wales/ Victoria regions only. Australia’s Indigenous population, unlike its population generally, is concentrated in Queensland, the Northern Territory and the north of Western Australia, so while Kooris are more familiar and proximate to the media and political players in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, they are a minority among first nations Australians overall. “Aborigine” and (as an adjective, not a noun) “Aboriginal” are, to my knowledge, quite acceptable in current usage.

  2. Deposed in a coup while out of the country. As political footnotes go, that’s picturesque at least.

    There is something of the golpista in every Australian politician, isn’t there?

  3. I blame single-menber electorates. I am sure the members of the Tasmanian house of assembly and the ACT legislative assembly would never stoop so low.

  4. As I see it, Giles has no direct constitutional obligation to resign until he loses a confidence vote. If, for whatever reason, Labor props him up in such a vote, this would effectively become a ‘Country Liberal Rebel 5’ minority gov’t with Labor outside support. In the more likely event that he loses the vote, Giles could either call an election or resign to allow van Holthe to form a government.

    Alan and Mark, correct me if I’m wrong…

    • JD,

      You’re absolutely right. The regrettable Australian tradition of blood on the floor of the party caucus has nothing to do with the Westminster system and the first minister can insist on meeting the parliament. On the other hand, the viceregal (the Administrator in the case of the Northern Territory) is likely to insist that confidence be tested at an early stage.

      It is not, however, quite that clearcut.

      In 1989 the governor of Queensland was advised to dismiss half the cabinet and appoint other persons. The deputy premier and party leader was among those to dismissed. In a rather elegant case of ‘don’t give me advice I can’t accept’ the governor advised his premier that a reconstruction of the government in that fashion would require a fresh commission to form a government and it may be that the governor would feel bound to commission someone other than the incumbent premier. The governor declined advice for a prorogation until it had been considered by the existing cabinet.

      The majority National Party then removed the premier as its leader and elected the deputy premier. The premier eventually resigned.

      The opposition is seeking an early return of the parliament and it would be reasonable for the administrator to insist on that as well.

      In later news, after many meetings of different CLP organs through the day, it’s been announced that the incumbent will remain chief minister and the new CLP leader will serve as deputy chief minister.

      It must be something in the water up there.

      After the LNP rout in the Queensland election, the federal LNP leadership and consequent prime ministership of Tony Abbot appears to be on life support. He addressed the National Press Club on Monday and at least hinted at doing a Giles in the event of his removal as party leader.

      I would imagine both the governor-general and the administrator are busy reading Wally Campbell’s papers on his action as governor of Queensland in 1989.

    • Just for the record, undoubtedly the silliest remark in Queensland in 1989 came from the Daily Sun:

      We submit that to allow this demeaning fight to continue to the floor of Parliament where anything could happen is not in Queensland’s best interests.

      You can almost see the editor quivering in terror as he peers through his lorgnette at the unpredictable horrors of parliamentary debate.

  5. Okay, the CLP parliamentary wing has now reversed itself and decided that Adam Giles will be both party leader and chief minister with Willem Westra van Holthe, who may or may not have been party leader for 24 hours, as his deputy.

  6. Behold the power of the threat of dissolution when the party in power looks sure to lose an ensuing election.

    A little strange that the unpopularity of a sitting government should make it harder, rather than easier, to replace.

    • The chief minister cannot request a dissolution in these circumstances.

      The Northern Territory legislative assembly has a fixed 4-year term. The assembly can only be dissolved if it rejects an appropriation bill or passes a vote of no confidence. The NT Electoral Act 2004 provides:

      S26
      Criteria for deciding whether to issue writs
      In deciding whether a writ for a general election should be issued under section 24 or 25, the Administrator must consider whether a viable alternative Government can be formed without a general election and, in so doing, must have regard to any motion passed by the Legislative Assembly expressing confidence in an alternative Government in which a named person would be Chief Minister.

      S26 really only adopts a standard Westminster convention and most of the fixed term states have similar provisions.

      Oddly enough, an assembly elected after a dissolution has a fixed 3 year term instead of a fixed 4-year term.

      The prime minister could request a dissolution but I would be surprised if it were granted. It would be easy enough for the new LNP leader to secure a vote of confidence from the house.

      • Well, I didn’t necessarily mean ‘threat’ in the sense of the chief minister threatening dissolution, but in the more general sense that the Country Liberals are likely to see the prospect of new elections as threatening considering recent electoral developments. The question is, do the party’s MPs have a way of constitutionally removing the chief minister and instating their preferred man in his stead, all the while avoiding that threat? I don’t see how.

      • Neither the administrator, nor for that matter the governor-general have power to call an election unilaterally. It is just not part of the job.

        The administrator is particularly constrained by detailed provisions in the Northern Territory (self-Government) Act and the territory electoral act. Had Giles not backed down it would have been a matter for the parliament, not the administrator.

      • This is why the ACT system works better. No weak administrator who can’t carry out the actions to do his job. If you can’t have a Governor, don’t institute a political system in which one is neccesary.

      • I agree the ACT works better but I’m not sure I expressed myself clearly enough.

        If the Giles situation happened in a state or the commonwealth, the result would not be the governor calling an election of their own motion. Even in Queensland in 1989 the governor, despite famously silly appeals from the Courier-Mail to ‘end the chaos’ by dismissing Bjelke-Petersen, left it to the politicians to work things out. Bjelke-Petersen resigned, he was not dismissed.

        All a governor who decided to ‘end the chaos’ would really be doing is substituting their own judgment for that of the parliament or the people.

      • Alan, I agree that the Governor should not act unilaterally. However, if the CLP had actually split, would Giles be able to advise the Administrator to call an election on the basis that there was no alternative government? I assume here that there is no possibility of either part of the CLP or Labor forming a coalition.

      • hd

        In the event of a formal split I’d imagine that Giles would have found himself in the same situation as Bjelke-Petersen in 1989.

        The territory is slightly different because a majority of MPs can require the speaker to summon a meeting of the assembly, so the chief minister does not have the option of longterm prorogations.

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