Yesterday afternoon the slow moving train wreck that is the Northern Territory Country Liberal Party government led by Terry “Freckles” Mills drove itself over a cliff.

Just six months old and riddled with in-fighting and struggling to get a message — any message — across, the CLP may soon split into a smattering of fringe parties and coalitions. If that does happen you can expect a new election within months.

Yesterday the CLP’s parliamentary wing met to select a deputy from what is a rapidly diminishing — in number and quality — political gene pool. The result pleased no one and leaves the leadership of the CLP more in doubt than ever. Adam Giles was nominated as deputy and Treasurer by Alison Anderson — he declined her nomination and called on a spill for the chief minister’s job.

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Crikey understands Anderson withdrew her support for Giles taking the top job and that the three newly elected Aboriginal MLAs (Larissa Lee, Bess Price and Francis Maralampuwi Xavier) followed her lead. Anderson apparently threatened to resign from the CLP and would take her “bush coalition” to form a new party that would enter into a balance-of-power coalition with independent MLA (and former king-maker) Gerry Wood and, bizarrely, NT Labor led by Delia Lawrie.

Maralampuwi Xavier apparently told the meeting “I’m gonna tell all the media that I’m no more CLP, I’m going with Gerry Wood and we are going with Labor to form government in a coalition”.

Crikey understands current Speaker and former Mills deputy (in opposition) Kezia Purick then nominated Anderson for the position of deputy, which she then also declined.

During the 27-year reign of the CLP from 1974 through to Clare Martin’s drought-breaking win in 2001, it was said the toughest job in Australian politics was to lead the NT Labor Party in opposition. Now it seems that has been turned on its head, with the toughest — and apparently least-wanted job — being the deputy leadership of the CLP in government.

The CLP spent the day doing an extended run around the table looking for nominations for the second-to-top job. By late afternoon their very surprising choice was Willem Westra Van Holthe, the member for the bush seat of Katherine, 300 kilometres south of Darwin.

Westra Van Holthe has some political lead in his saddlebags. Last year he faced a bitter pre-selection fight — that still rankles locally — for his seat and in 2011 was the subject of an Ombudsman’s report into his activities while a serving NT Police officer .

Anderson may not be the only one considering a breakaway from the CLP. Crikey understands at least two CLP branches held emergency branch meetings in the wake of yesterday’s chaos and that there are calls for a new party to be established.

Number-crunching — very optimistic in my view — suggests that as many as seven of the CLP’s MLAs could join. But the important numbers would be in the bush, where Mills has done a great job alienating many of the rank and file members.

If the CLP can’t get rid of Mills through a gutless parliamentary wing they may just have to resort to extreme measures.

As Crikey hit deadline the new ministry was announced: John Elferink will be Treasurer; Westra van Holthe takes on Trade, Land Resource Management and Public Employment while retaining Primary Industry and Fisheries and Mines and Energy; Lambley will have responsibility for the Health, Alcohol Rehabilitation and Policy, Business and Employment and Training and Giles retains the Transport, Infrastructure, and Local Government portfolios.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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