Chief Minister Michael Gunner has been celebrated by a national public service publication as an “exceptional” leader, whose “unique rise” to power was “marvellous in itself” and a fascinating tribute to what can be achieved with a bipartisan approach to solving social problems.
The Mandarin also praised Mr Gunner for his approach to handling Indigenous issues, “making the NT a renewable energy superpower” and compared him to former prime minister Paul Keating.
The story that ran on Wednesday was based on a Q&A with Mr Gunner, in which he shared anecdotes from his “pretty tough” upbringing in Tennant Creek where he said his family “couch-surfed” between relatives’ homes while waiting for public housing and that that experience gave him the perspective he needed to get into politics to make life better for others.
“So for me, it’s only obvious as you get older in adult life and look back for why you are who you are,” he told the publication.
“There was a safety net, the government made sure there was a house available, the local community got around us with food. How do you give back? How do you make sure others are caught by that same safety net?”
The Mandarin, which is widely read by public servants across the country, wrote that Mr Gunner was an “authentic” politician and that the country needed more people like him to serve in public office.
“In Australia, you don’t get many politicians who have experience of actually being homeless,” The Mandarin wrote.
“And we don’t have enough politicians who are as authentic as Michael Gunner.
“There are still too many pale, stale, male politicians [across Australia]. There are too many from private schools, and too many from conventional professional backgrounds.
“Paul Keating was the last Australian PM not to have a university degree.”
Mr Gunner spent the bulk of the article praising former CLP Opposition leader Gary Higgins, whom Mr Gunner said always worked with him for the betterment of the NT, including supporting his minimum alcohol floor price measures.
“We kind of had that shared view about, ‘how do we tackle some of these long-term issues?’,” Mr Gunner said.
“When he was in office it was around alcohol and he was extremely supportive of our controversial alcohol policies.
“You can run a very cheap political argument against floor price … [But] he said ‘the abuse of alcohol is a huge issue’ and he basically got on board all of that.”
While Mr Higgins initially supported the concept, the parliamentary record shows Mr Higgins did not support Labor’s minimum floor price policy when it came to a vote.
‘My greatest bipartisan achievement … has been Gary Higgins”: Gunner
Mr Gunner did not mention working with current Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro, but continued to praise Mr Higgins.
“My greatest bipartisan achievement in the Northern Territory has been that successful relationship with Gary,” Mr Gunner said.
“To the point where Gary and I will catch up once a year, his wife, my wife, we have a dinner and we won’t talk politics. You can have good relationships across the aisle.”
Mr Higgins resigned as Opposition leader in early 2020 and did not seek re-election at last August’s general election.
Mr Gunner said he had so much respect for Mr Higgins that he approached the retired mango farmer to be a “commissioner” on his Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission, which he said made the TERC a bi-partisan project.
But Mr Gunner told the publication he thought there was too much bipartisanship when it came to the Closing the Gap initiative.
“If there was less bipartisanship on the issue, more debate, more tension or conflict or scrutiny, then we might be better at ‘Closing the Gap’ as a result,” he said.
“The mutual agreement ‘that this is important’ has meant that we’re not delivering the outcomes we should. There needs to be more of a rip on it.”
Not another ‘white cocky’: The Mandarin says of Gunner
Mr Gunner added that his approach to addressing Aboriginal disadvantage was working.
“We’re saying, clearly, we’re not going to succeed unless it’s from ground up,” he said.
“How can local decision-making drive those outcomes? So I’ve got a reverse policy, or rather a reverse delivery method, trying to achieve the same outcomes [as the federal intervention]. But how do I make the locals part of the achievement, as opposed to me rolling into town and telling them all what to do and how to do it?”
The Mandarin opined that Mr Gunner has shown that he is committed to fixing problems for Indigenous Australians.
“Michael Gunner makes the powerful point that he doesn’t want to be another ‘white cocky’. (People who roll into Aboriginal communities, merely talk to the local people and then roll out again, are known as ‘white cockies’: ‘They fly in, squawk a lot, shit on you and fly out again,’ said one local to the Koori Mail),” The Mandarin wrote.
“An out-of-the-box thinker and a left-field candidate, Michael Gunner ascended to one of the highest offices in the land. He now sits in the national cabinet next to the PM and the other state and territory first ministers.
“He is a figure of enormous respect in all parts of Australia.”
The entire article can be read here with a subscription to The Mandarin.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that Mr Higgins did not support Mr Gunner’s minimum floor price on alcohol policy and voted against it in Parliament.