Terry Mills has been replaced as Northern Territory chief minister while on an overseas trip to Japan.
Taking his place will be Transport Minister Adam Giles, who will become Australia’s first indigenous head of government.
Mr Mills’ removal comes only seven months after the Country Liberal Party‘s victory in the NT election, and just a week after Mr Giles made an earlier, failed leadership bid.
The NT is the second Liberal-led jurisdiction in a week to dump first-term leaders, after Victorian Premier Denis Napthine replaced predecessor Ted Baillieu.
According to Sky News, the CLP partyroom voted 11-5 to roll Mr Mills, who is in Japan on a trade mission and was told of his removal by telephone.
Mr Giles said colleagues asked him to challenge Mr Mills for the top job, but he still counts the former chief minister as a friend.
In a brief statement this evening, Mr Giles confirmed he had been elected by Country Liberal Party MPs to be chief minister, ousting Mr Mills.
“I am truly humbled to be asked by my colleagues to … undertake this role,” Mr Giles said.
“It is a significant challenge to take the leadership of the Northern Territory in the times we are in at the moment and I look forward to that role.”
He expects to be sworn in to the role tomorrow afternoon.
The NT’s former health minister Dave Tollner, dumped from cabinet last week by Mr Mills, has been named the new deputy leader.
“I do count Terry as a friend and I wish him all the best and I look forward to him continuing his role in the parliament of the Northern Territory,” Mr Giles said.
Mr Mills, meanwhile, is returning home from Japan but says he stepped aside after learning he had been defeated by Mr Giles.
Mr Mills has cut short his meetings and will fly home as soon as he can but says he accepted the decision imparted on the phone by acting chief minister Willem Westra van Holthe.
“He advised me that this is real, that it appears that there are numbers insufficient for me to continue,” Mr Mills told ABC radio in Darwin.
“As I have always sought to do the right thing and act in the best interest of the Northern Territory, and albeit (it was) not possible to continue in these circumstances as chief minister, not having sufficient support … I then stepped aside from that position.”
Mr Mills said he would not be leaving the CLP as “that’s not my style”, and would support Mr Giles.
“He will have my support because I am here to serve the best interests of the territory.”
Asked if he felt betrayed, Mr Mills said he thought his colleagues had been under a fair bit of pressure to find a “way forward”.
He said he would go back and talk to them.
“But my main business is to make sure we get on with the job of serving the territory well.”
Asked if he thought Mr Giles would make a good leader, he replied “probably”.
Sources confirmed the change occurred after influential Aboriginal MPs switched their support in a factional dispute that has raged for days.
Senior government sources loyal to Mr Mills expressed disbelief at the change.
CLP president Ross Connolly told ABC TV it was “unusual and disappointing” that Mr Mills had to learn by phone that he had been dumped as leader.
Mr Connolly said Mr Giles had confirmed it had happened after a “substantial shift in alignment” in the parliamentary party in the past 24 hours or less.
He said Mr Giles had sworn his colleagues to secrecy but the news leaked.
“There has been quite consistent leaking and what have you,” Mr Connolly said.
“It is disappointing that it was released because I think it was Adam’s intention to await Terry’s return to ensure a more orderly transition.
“But clearly the information got out in a manner that Adam would not have been happy with.”
Mr Connolly said if the numbers were solid it “boded well for a steady future”.
The CLP government has been wracked by leadership ructions since taking office last August.
Mr Mills’ dumping comes after a Newspoll showed just 26 per cent of people in key CLP seats approved of his performance.
The poll result came just weeks after the CLP suffered a massive defeat in the Wanguri byelection, where the party managed to secure just 28 per cent of the primary vote.
Today’s shock move also follows a marathon parliamentary meeting last week, when Mr Tollner was sacked from cabinet, Mr Giles was blocked from challenging for the top job, and Willem Westra van Holthe was elected the deputy.
Only last week Mr Mills admitted that Mr Giles had challenged him for the leadership at a marathon meeting of CLP MPs.
“There was a change in direction for a time where there was a discussion over a tilt at the chief minister’s position,” Mr Mills said at the time.
“The room resolved, and I can report to you, that that was not acceptable and then we turned back to the matter at hand.”
Indigenous Advancement Minister Alison Anderson said later that the CLP had been “bleeding” during the meeting, which involved hours of infighting.
She said Mr Giles could have been the NT’s first Aboriginal treasurer and deputy chief minister but he threw that back in the face of his colleagues.
“He said, ‘I don’t accept it because I want to be the chief minister,’ and he just threw a spanner in the works,” she said.
“We sat there for hours while this infighting was happening and the party bleeding everywhere.”
Other details of the meeting were also leaked to reporters including threats from four MPs in bush seats to sit in the parliament as independents if Mr Giles took the leadership.Source: The Australian – “NT Chief Minister Terry Mills dumped by phone, Adam Giles to be first indigenous leader”
- NT leader loses job – over the phone (smh.com.au)
- NT has Aust’s first indigenous govt leader (news.theage.com.au)
- Australian government defends indigenous policy (craighill.net)
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