Michael Gunner

NT Chief Minister-elect Michael Gunner celebrates with Labor supporters

Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it
Be careful what you pray for, you might regret it
You get your hands on that glittering prize
Now everybody’s coming at you from every side — Be Careful What You Pray For, Paul Kelly

Far too late Adam Giles — after three and a half years — grew into the job of Northern Territory Chief Minister during the 2016 NT election campaign, when by his own words the Country Liberal Party was handed “a thumping” last Saturday night.

Over the past few weeks Giles has been the best performer out of a miserable CLP bunch that well knew they were going to be flogged by Michael Gunner’s Labor Party. Giles kept the faith, rallied his dwindling flock and like any good leader facing all-but-certain defeat, he ran hard right up to the close.

In his concession speech at 8.45 pm on Saturday Giles was everything that he and the CLP hadn’t been over the last four years. What they have been is without doubt been the worst government we’ve seen in the few years the NT has been a self-governing polity.

Giles was humble in defeat, gracious to his opponents and thankful to his party and the candidates, only two — perhaps three at best — of whom will get to sit in the Legislative Assembly for the next four years. Giles — whose own seat of Braitling was still too close to call at the end of the count Saturday night — might not be among them.

Giles didn’t — wouldn’t — speak of his own future in politics, and it might be better perhaps for Giles to lose at the ballot box than face the ignominy (we call it a “shame job” up here) of having to walk into the Legislative Assembly in a few weeks leading the smallest CLP contingent ever, after being the first NT chief minister to lose after one term. The independents — all experienced conservative-leaning politicians — look to have secured more seats than the CLP. Word on the street is that Giles will resign and Braitling  will fall to Labor in a byelection before Christmas.

At the end of the local ABC election night broadcast on Saturday, Antony Green had called three seats for the CLP — a loss of nine. Labor had 15 in the bank, and the three independents (Legislative Assembly Speaker Kezia Purick, Robyn Lambley — both former CLP members — and Gerry Wood) have all been deservedly returned.

In doubt are Karama in Darwin’s northern suburbs — where former Labor leader Delia Lawrie gave a much stronger showing than expected; Katherine — where incumbent CLP minister Willem Westra van Holthe was just three votes behind Labor’s Sandra Nelson; and Nhulunbuy — which should be a banker for Labor but …

That leaves Blain, where CLP minister Nathan Barrett resigned just before the campaign proper, and risen-from-the-political-dead former CLP chief minister Terry Mills — the victim of the ugly coup that installed Adam Giles as chief minister in March 2014 — ran a strong campaign against the odds. Mills might just squeak past Labor’s Damien Hale.

And for all that fun on Saturday night it was, for mine, the dullest campaign I’ve seen in my 30 and more years of living here. The CLP — in the past a reliable and entertaining source of race-based scuttlebutt, effective third-party ghost candidates, smears and scare tactic lauranorder campaigns — ran a dull and uninspiring show. Maybe they were short of dosh, maybe they just couldn’t pull any bright spark southerners up to lend a hand, or maybe they just didn’t care anymore.

Labor’s campaign was little better, through the local unions provided some comic relief with some funny and effective social media pieces and did well with single-issue side shows like the local firefighters, teachers, etc. The guerrilla-tactic corflutes mimicking CLP colours and hand-painted signs that cropped up all over the back roads of the Top End were a very effective touch.

But back to Saturday night. As gracious as Giles’ speech was, so Gunner’s was shambolic. “Tonight is extraordinary,” he said three times while the baying crowd called for blood and more beer.

Twenty-five minutes later he was still talking, getting more and more hoarse … I stopped counting the number of times he called out “Territorians” after I got to 30.

Labor’s toughest job will be to repair the manifest loss of confidence in their government that many — nay, most — Territorians feel after four years of chaos. That will be a tough gig. No less so for Gunner will be managing expectations within his caucus. With a ministry of say, 10 or 12, it’ll be London to a brick that sooner or later there’ll be chancers, wannabes, what-about-mes who’ll all reckon they deserve a gig or aren’t getting a fair go.

Effectively managing the expectations of — among others — the CLP’s new bush members elected in 2012 was a task well above the CLP’s wit or capacity and contributed in no small part to the party’s loss this weekend.

Gunner will face the same challenges and more. Giles tried and failed badly. Gunner’s challenge — easier because he has a substantial majority and a much more disciplined party wing — will be to try to succeed.

Michael Gunner would have woken up yesterday with a mild hangover and — just maybe — Paul Kelly’s words ringing in his ears.

Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it.

*This article was originally published at Crikey blog The Northern Myth