Wicking — the daily cartoonist in the Murdoch-owned Northern Territory News — had it pegged today, the morning after the coup: a bloodstained telephone booth. The once all-powerful Country Liberal Party (CLP), now down to a rump of four members of parliament had split down the middle. In a ballot that went 2-2 between leader Jodeen Carney and former opposition leader Terry Mills, Carney fell on her sword and capitulated to the former Christian school teacher.

It was not so much a political bloodbath as a case of prolonged anaemia for the CLP. On his own admission — in the first term of Territory Labor — Terry Mills just wasn’t up to the job of leader. And now he’s back in the saddle, without even a majority in his own parliamentary wing.

This of course has happened less than two weeks after the establishment of the Council of Australian State and Territory Liberal and Country Liberal Leaders. Carney, at 30 months in the job, was the most senior — in terms of tenure, at least — of the conservative opposition leaders at Ted Baillieu’s love-in. Yesterday, still claiming she was the best person for the job, Carney cited John Gorton, rather than Adam Gilchrist, for walking off the field. The CLP has now had five opposition leaders in six years.

But the 2-2 split tells of more than just a political spat amongst the nation’s tiniest opposition. It is a geographic divide between Alice Springs and Darwin. CLP President, Rick Setter — himself a spectacularly unsuccessful former CLP backbencher — has cited the need for a “Top End” leader to take it to Labor. He told the ABC:

But the reality is that, you know, Jodeen Carney lived in Alice Springs and it was always difficult for her to spend a lot of time up here in the northern end of the Northern Territory where most of the voters are. And so, I mean, I’ve heard criticism myself from our members and from the general public about, you know, her lack of profile in the Top End and that was a matter of concern …

The party is now split along those lines, with Mills taking his support from Katherine, and Carney getting her sole ally from an Alice Springs seat adjacent to her own.

Not that Terry Mills has been getting out among the good burghers of the crucial northern suburbs electorates lately. Bizarrely, Mills spent six weeks out of the country a couple of months back — including a week of parliamentary sittings and four weeks of the federal elections — when he might have been expected to lend a hand.

Instead he spent his time in Taiwan—as a guest of the Taiwanese government. Since his visit to Taipei, there has been a change of government in the Republic, with the landslide return to power of the Kuomintang. “Taiwan Terry” was unable to get the landslide he needed. Even a 3:1 vote would have looked less than convincing in a phone booth.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey