Natasha Fyles has been selected by her Labor parliamentary colleagues as the new Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, telling Territorians that she will “put my own mark” on the leadership after nearly six years of rule by Michael Gunner.
In her first press conference as Chief Minister, Ms Fyles thanked Mr Gunner for putting “his heart and soul” into the job.
“He served the Territory well,” she said. “And we are grateful that our government can continue to count on his experience and advice.”
Ms Fyles said the Labor government would remain united to focus on the Territory and indicated her focus would be on jobs and growing the economy.
She added that being chosen as Chief Minister was “a bit of a shock” but “an absolute privilege”, further stating that she was not expecting this “while I was standing on the sidelines at soccer last week out at Bagot oval”.
Ms Fyles said she was up to the challenging role.
“I know it’s a tough job – but I’m pretty tough, I’m Territory tough,” she said.
“There’ll be easy days, there’ll be hard days. I can’t promise every day to make you happy. I can’t fix every problem overnight. But I can guarantee this. I will listen to you. I will always work my hardest for you. And I’ll always put the Territory first.
“I’m a Territory girl through and through. I put my hand up to serve because I love this place. I want to work every day to make it better. I’ve been in Parliament for nearly a decade, I’ve served on the opposition, [and on the] front bench as a cabinet minister and leader of government business. I’m ready for this job and I will hit the ground running.”
Ms Fyles is understood to have defeated Nicole Manison for the top job in the party caucus room Friday morning, although she refused to discuss that during the press conference.
Ms Manison will remain as Deputy Chief Minister through the next week of parliamentary sittings before a proper cabinet reshuffle will take place at later date, Ms Fyles said, when a “new leadership team” will be unveiled.
The selection of Ms Fyles prevented a vote of the Labor rank-and-file members, a process that would have taken the party and the Territory through four weeks of political uncertainty.
Ms Fyles did not reveal what conversations were carried out in the caucus room, adding that they were “passionate and quite respectful discussions”.
“We have each put our views forward, but we have stuck together and we will continue to do so. We’ve sorted this out quickly,” she said.
Ms Manison congratulated her “dear friend and amazing colleague” on being selected as the new leader.
“I am incredibly proud of her and know she will do a great job leading our team, working to make the Territory a better place for everyone,” she said.
Ms Fyles was first elected to the NT’s Parliament in 2012 and was mentored by former Labor leader Delia Lawrie, who Michael Gunner succeeded as leader in 2015 during an acrimonious period for the party.
Ms Fyles is from the left faction of the party, while Mr Gunner was from the right faction. In a party room vote, Ms Fyles had the advantage of not being known as Mr Gunner’s “wing woman” – Mr Gunner’s nickname for Ms Manison. The two have remained close, which may have hindered Ms Manison’s tilt at the top job.
A senior party figure had told the NT Independent yesterday that if Ms Manison had been selected, it most likely would have been viewed by many as Mr Gunner still controlling the party from the backbench. The Opposition CLP had already started calling her “Gunner 2.0” in Parliament on Thursday.
The selection of Ms Fyles represents a changing of the guard in the party, with the left faction now in control.
Ms Fyles pledged to have “tough conversations” about the problems facing the Territory.
“I will provide … stability and unity, but at the same time I am my own person and will put my own mark on that role and people will see that over the coming weeks and months,” she said.
Ms Fyles will be sworn in as the Northern Territory’s 12th Chief Minister by the Administrator this afternoon.