Country Liberal Party
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The Country Liberal Party (CLP), officially the Country Liberals (Northern Territory), is a liberal conservative political party in Australia founded in 1974, which operates solely in the Northern Territory.
The CLP first fielded candidates at the 1975 federal election, winning one seat in the Senate and the non-voting seat in the House of Representatives. Since 1979, the CLP has been formally affiliated with both the federal Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia (previously the Country Party and National Country Party). The Liberal Party, National Party, Liberal National Party of Queensland, and CLP form the Coalition of Australian centre-right parties, with the CLP alone contesting seats for the Coalition in the Northern Territory. The CLP has full voting rights within the National Party, and observer status with the Liberal Party. Currently, the CLP has one representative in federal parliament, Senator Nigel Scullion, who also serves as the Senate leader of the National Party.
The CLP dominated the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly from its establishment in 1974 until the 2001 general election, when the CLP lost government winning only 10 of the 25 seats, and was reduced further to four parliamentary members at the 2005 election. At the 2008 election it increased its numbers, winning 11 seats.
The CLP returned to office following the 2012 election, winning 16 of 25 seats, and leader Terry Mills became Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. Less than a year later, Mills was replaced as Chief Minister and CLP leader by Adam Giles at the 2013 CLP leadership ballot on 13 March. Giles was the first indigenous Australian to lead a state or territory government in Australia. Giles was defeated at the 2015 CLP leadership ballot but managed to survive in the aftermath. Multiple defections saw the CLP reduced to minority government a few months later. At the 27 August 2016 Territory election, the CLP was resoundingly defeated, winning just two of 25 seats. Gary Higgins became CLP leader and opposition leader on 2 September, with Lia Finocchiaro as his deputy.
The Territory Country Party members first contested the 1919 federal election, with a newly established federal Country Party contesting the 1922 federal election. The 1922 election saw the main opposition party to the Australian Labor Party, the Nationalist Party of Australia deprived of a majority, and were required to form a coalition in order to command a majority on the floor of parliament. The price for such support was the resignation of Nationalist (ex-Labor) Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, who was replaced by Stanley Bruce.
In 1922, the federal Division of Northern Territory was created, with one non-voting Member in the House of Representatives. Harold George Nelson was the inaugural member serving between 16 December 1922 and 15 September 1934. He was elected as an Independent but later joined the Australian Labor Party (ALP). Between 15 September 1934 and 10 December 1949 the Division of Northern Territory was held by Adair Blain, an independent member. Between 10 December 1949 and 31 October 1966 the Division was held by Jock Nelson, a member of the ALP. The Territory seat was won by the Country Party's Sam Calder at the 1966 federal election, who held the seat from 26 November 1966 to 19 September 1980.
In 1966, the Country Party was established in the Northern Territory, while the Liberal Party was a small party. In recognition of this, the local Liberals supported the Country Party's Calder for the sole NT seat from 1969 to 1972. An alliance had formed, primarily against the conservatives' main opponent, the ALP. After the gradual extension of limited voting rights, in 1968 the federal Coalition government gave the Member for Northern Territory full voting rights.
Foundation and electoral record
After the 1974 federal election and the subsequent Joint Sitting of parliament, legislation was passed to give the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory representation in the Australian Senate, with two senators being elected.
The Whitlam Government passed legislation in 1974 to establish a fully elected unicameral Northern Territory Legislative Assembly to replace the previous partly elected Northern Territory Legislative Council, which had been in existence since 1947. The term of the Legislative Assembly was four years. Initially, the Legislative Assembly consisted of 19 members, which was increased in 1982 to 25 members, the present number. The Northern Territory was granted self-government in 1978.
Following the creation of the Legislative Assembly in 1974, the Territory's branches of the Country and Liberal parties merged to form the "Country Liberal Party" (CLP) to field candidates at the 1974 general election for the Legislative Assembly, going on to win 17 out of 19 seats. Calder was largely responsible for the push to unite the non-Labor forces in the Territory.
The CLP fielded candidates at the 1975 federal election, winning one seat each in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. Since 1979, the CLP has been formally affiliated with both the federal National (previously the Country Party and National Country Party) and Liberal parties. The CLP contests seats for the Coalition in the Northern Territory rather than the Liberal or National parties. The CLP has full voting rights within the National Party, and observer status with the Liberal Party.
The CLP governed the Northern Territory from 1974 until the 2001 election. During this time, it never faced more than nine opposition members. Indeed, the CLP's dominance was so absolute that its internal politics were seen as a bigger threat than any opposition party. This was especially pronounced in the mid-1980s, when a series of party-room coups resulted in the Territory having three Chief Ministers in four years.
2001–2011: In opposition
At the 2001 election the Australian Labor Party won government by one seat, ending 27 years of CLP government. The loss marked a major turning point in Northern Territory politics, a result which was exacerbated when, at the 2005 election, the ALP won the second-largest majority government in the history of the Territory, reducing the once-dominant party to just four members in the Legislative Assembly. This result was only outdone by the 1974 election, in which the CLP faced only two independents as opposition. The CLP even lost two seats in Palmerston, an area where the ALP had never come close to winning any seats before.
In the 2001 federal election, the CLP won the newly formed seat of Solomon, based on Darwin/Palmerston, in the House of Representatives. In the 2004 federal election, the CLP held one seat in the House of Representatives, and one seat in the Senate. The CLP lost its federal lower house in the 2007 federal election, but regained it when Palmerston deputy mayor Natasha Griggs won back Solomon for the CLP. She sat with the Liberals in the House.
The 2008 election saw the CLP recover from the severe loss it suffered three years earlier, increasing its representation from four to 11 members. Following the 2011 decision of ALP-turned-independent member Alison Anderson to join the CLP, this increased to CLP's representation to 12 in the Assembly, leaving the incumbent Henderson Government to govern in minority with the support of Independent MP Gerry Wood.
Historically, the CLP has been particularly dominant in the Territory's two major cities, Darwin/Palmerston and Alice Springs. However, in recent years the ALP has pulled even with the CLP in the Darwin area; indeed, its 2001 victory was fueled by an unexpected swing in Darwin.
2012 return to office
The CLP under the leadership of Terry Mills returned to power in the 2012 election with 16 of 25 seats, defeating the incumbent Labor Government led by Paul Henderson. In the lead up to the Territory election, CLP Senator Nigel Scullion sharply criticised the Federal Labor Government for its suspension of the live cattle trade to Indonesia - an economic mainstay of the territory.
The election victory ended 11 years of ALP rule in the Northern Territory. The victory was also notable for the support it achieved from indigenous people in pastoral and remote electorates. Large swings were achieved in remote Territory electorates (where the indigenous population comprised around two-thirds of voters) and a total of five Aboriginal CLP candidates won election to the Assembly. Among the indigenous candidates elected were high-profile Aboriginal activist Bess Price and former ALP member Alison Anderson. Anderson was appointed Minister for Indigenous Advancement. In a nationally reported speech in November 2012, Anderson condemned welfare dependency and a culture of entitlement in her first ministerial statement on the status of Aboriginal communities in the Territory and said the CLP would focus on improving education and on helping create real jobs for indigenous people.
2013 CLP leadership ballot
Adam Giles replaced Mills as Chief Minister of the Northern Territory and party leader at the 2013 CLP leadership ballot on 13 March while Mills was on a trade mission in Japan. Giles was sworn in as Chief Minister on 14 March, becoming the first indigenous head of government of an Australian state or territory.
When the CLP introduced mandatory alcohol rehabilitation for recidivist problem drinkers to replace a banned drinker register, Giles dismissed critics of the policy as "lefty welfare-orientated people".
2015 CLP leadership ballot
Willem Westra van Holthe challenged Giles at the 2015 CLP leadership ballot on 2 February and was elected leader by the party room in a late night vote conducted by phone. However, Giles refused to resign as Chief Minister following the vote. On 3 February, ABC News reported that officials were preparing an instrument for Giles' removal by the Administrator. The swearing-in of Westra van Holthe, which had been scheduled for 11:00 local time (01:30 UTC), was delayed. After a meeting of the parliamentary wing of the CLP, Giles announced that he would remain as party leader and Chief Minister, and that Westra van Holthe would be his deputy.
2015 opinion poll
Just one opinion poll has been released since the 2012 election – conducted by ReachTEL and commissioned by The Australian which surveyed 1036 residents via robocall on the afternoon of Sunday 1 March 2015 across all 18 electorates in Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs – which indicated a landslide 17.6% two-party swing against the incumbent CLP government since the last election.
Defections and minority government
After four defections during the parliamentary term, the CLP was reduced to minority government by July 2015. Giles raised the possibility of an early election on 20 July stating that he would "love" to call a snap poll, but that it was "pretty much impossible to do". Crossbenchers dismissed the notion of voting against a confidence motion to bring down the government.
2016 election rout
Territory government legislation passed in February 2016 changed the voting method of single-member electorates from full-preferential voting to optional preferential voting ahead of the 2016 territory election held on 27 August.
Federally, a MediaReach seat-level opinion poll of 513 voters in the seat of Solomon conducted 22−23 June ahead of the 2016 federal election held on 2 July surprisingly found Labor candidate Luke Gosling heavily leading two-term CLP incumbent Natasha Griggs 61–39 on the two-party vote from a large 12.4 percent swing. The CLP lost Solomon to Labor at the election, with Gosling defeating Griggs 56–44 on the two-party vote from a 7.4 percent swing.
At the 27 August Territory election, the CLP was swept from power in a massive Labor landslide, suffering easily the worst defeat of a sitting government in Territory history. The party not only lost all of the bush seats it picked up in 2012, but was all but shut out of Darwin/Palmerston, winning only one seat there. All told, the CLP only won two seats, easily its worst showing in an election. Giles himself lost his own seat, becoming the second Majority Leader/Chief Minister to lose his own seat. Even before Giles' defeat was confirmed, second-term MP Gary Higgins—the only surviving member of the Giles cabinet—was named the party's new leader, with Lia Finocchiaro as his deputy.
By the spring of 2016, the party website had turned into a redirect to its Facebook page. However, a full site was rolled back out in 2018.
The CLP stands for office in the Northern Territory Assembly and Federal Parliament of Australia and primarily concerns itself with representing Territory interests. It is a regionally based party, that has parliamentary representation in both the Federal Parliament and at the Territory level. It brands as a party with strong roots in the Territory.
The CLP competes against the Australian Labor Party (Northern Territory Branch) (the local branch of Australia's social-democratic party). It is closely affiliated with, but is independent from the Liberal Party of Australia (a mainly urban, pro-private enterprise party comprising mainly liberal membership) and the National Party of Australia (a conservative-liberal agrarian and regional interests party).
The party promotes traditional Liberal Party values such as individualism and private enterprise, and what it describes as "progressive" political policy such as full statehood for the Northern Territory.
Branch delegates and members of the party's Central Council attend the Annual Conference of the Country Liberal Party to decide the party's platform. The Central Council is composed of the party's office bearers, its leaders from the Territory Assembly and the Federal Parliament and representatives of party branches.
The Annual Conference of the Country Liberal Party, attended by branch delegates and members of the party's Central Council, decides matters relating to the party's platform and philosophy. The Central Council administers the party and makes decisions on pre-selections. It is composed of the party's office bearers, its leaders in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, members in the Federal Parliament, and representation from each of the party's branches.
The CLP president has full voting rights with the National Party and observer status with the Liberal Party. Both the Liberals and Nationals receive Country Liberal delegations at their conventions. After federal elections, the CLP directs its federal members and senators as to which of the two other parties they should sit with in the parliamentary chamber. In practice, CLP House members usually sit with the Liberals, while CLP Senators sit with the Nationals.
Territory electoral performance
17 / 19
12 / 19
11 / 19
19 / 25
16 / 25
14 / 25
17 / 25
18 / 25
10 / 25
4 / 25
11 / 25
16 / 25
2 / 25
|1974||Goff Letts||Majority Leader[Note 1]|
|1977||Paul Everingham||Majority Leader to 1978, Chief Minister of the Northern Territory from 1978|
|1984||Ian Tuxworth||Chief Minister of the Northern Territory|
|1986||Stephen Hatton||Chief Minister of the Northern Territory|
|1988||Marshall Perron||Chief Minister of the Northern Territory|
|1995||Shane Stone||Chief Minister of the Northern Territory|
|1999||Denis Burke||Chief Minister of the Northern Territory to 2001, then Opposition Leader|
|2003||Terry Mills||First time, Opposition Leader|
|2005||Denis Burke||Opposition Leader|
|2005||Jodeen Carney||Opposition Leader,|
only CLP leader to have never served as Chief Minister
|2008||Terry Mills||Opposition Leader to 2012, |
Chief Minister of the Northern Territory from 2012,
ousted in leadership spill by Adam Giles
|2013||Adam Giles||Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, minority government from 2015|
|2016||Gary Higgins||Opposition Leader|
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