Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles has survived a possible coup on Monday night, and he has a newly minted deputy.
Former deputy Dave Tollner resigned his commission in ignominious circumstances a week ago, with Giles elevating Peter Glen Chandler from relative backbench obscurity to the new Deputy Chief Minister position. Chandler’s career highlights prior to his election to the seat of Brennan on Darwin’s fringes in 2008 included time as an RAAF dog-handler, and working for the Darwin City Council as the “Animal Management Supervisor” (i.e. dogcatcher).
You won’t find much searching for biographical information on the man who will be one-Adam-Giles-heartbeat away from leading the NT. On Monday night Chandler’s Wikipedia page consisted of just two lines and the plea “This article about an Australian politician is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.” It has been given some accuracy, if not any more heft, with the addition of a notation that Chandler is “currently the Deputy Chief Minister”. Chandler’s electorate Facebook page adds a little more to the mix, telling us that Chandler played rugby as a young man and lives in the Darwin satellite city of Palmerston — that “most accommodating town” — with his wife and four kids.
Chandler was appointed to the two brief Terry Mills ministries following the CLP’s victory at the general election in August 2012, which returned the CLP to power in the NT after 11 years in opposition. Chandler’s most important position was the education portfolio, which he held for six days in the second Mills ministry before Adam Giles knocked Mills in an ugly coup in March 2013.
In February 2013, while variously minister for business, trade and economic development etc, Chandler was embarrassed when it was revealed that he had previously racked up over $100,000 in credit card debts. There but for the grace of God go us all.
Chandler retained the education portfolio in the first of the Giles ministries, in addition to housing and lands, planning and the environment. He was stripped of the housing brief in the reshuffle of September 2013. Chandler’s handling of his light responsibilities — in the NT ministers can carry upwards of six or seven portfolios, and Giles currently has responsibility for a massive 12 , including all of Tollner’s until after the upcoming Casuarina byelection — could best be described as unspectacular.
And for Giles and his embattled CLP administration, unspectacular right now must seem a pretty good deal. How Chandler handles his new role will emerge in due course. Whether Giles’ action will settle his restive backbench — riddled with factions and shifting alliances — will most likely determine the survival of his government.
And as many here suspect, we may have not yet have seen the last of Adam Giles’ “good mate” Tollner. Yesterday, The Australian reported that Tollner was likely to be “given back the Treasury portfolio, as part of a private agreement to persuade him not to quit”.
Whether Giles can afford to have Tollner languishing on the backbench for too long remains to be seen. For all his faults Tollner is hard-working, smart and very well-connected to territory business, particularly the exclusive group that forms the “silver circle”of business widely perceived to be favoured by the government, and Giles cannot afford to have them offside for too long. But bringing Tollner back — at all or too soon — could be seen as a further reinforcement of already widespread doubts about Giles’ leadership credentials and judgement. Absent further internal destabilising events these issues will crystallise in the coming months but there are no shortage of predictions that the Giles government will struggle to survive.