NT Labor govt announces majority female cabinet

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The Northern Territory government has a majority female cabinet, newly elected chief minister Michael Gunner has revealed as he unveiled his ministry.

The cabinet has the largest proportion of women ever in any Australian government.

Gunner also revealed the government would support the nomination of independent MP Kezia Purick to return as parliamentary Speaker, and a subcommittee concentrating on Aboriginal affairs would drive public discussions on a treaty.

The former chief minister Adam Giles took to social media on Monday to reject accusations he was not taking responsibility for his party’s heavy loss.

The Labor party won government last month, winning 18 seats in the 25-seat unicameral parliament after going to the election defending seven.

Speaking after the swearing-in ceremony in Government House, Gunner described the 62.5% female representation as a “watershed moment” in Australian history.

He also referred to comments made last week by the former prime minister John Howard who had said parliament would unlikely ever have 50% women because of their role as primary carers.

“I always treat the position of prime minister with respect, whether it’s former or current, but I did believe the former prime minister was wrong,” said Gunner.

“I think you can see from our team, we have got a strong female team, and there should always be strong female voices in our parliament. We’ve got that, we celebrate that, and I do believe that. It’s 2016 and let’s celebrate the fact we have a lot of women in parliament.”

On Sunday the chief minister announced he would also hold the portfolios for police, fire and emergency services, Aboriginal affairs, trade, business and innovation, and northern development.

Nicole Manison as his deputy, replacing Lynne Walker who lost her north-east Arnhem Land seat of Nhulunbuy by fewer than 10 votes to independent Mark Yingiya Guyula.

Manison is one of five women in the eight-member cabinet, and is also the treasurer and holds the portfolios of infrastructure, planning and logistics, and children.

Re-elected MP Lauren Moss holds three portfolios including environment and natural resources, and tourism.

Dale Wakefield, who unseated Giles in the Alice Springs seat of Braitling through favourable preference votes, was rewarded as minister for Territory families, a newly created ministry encompassing a host of youth and family-related departments, including youth justice. Labor had pledged to move youth justice from the corrections portfolio as part of a “philosophical” change to address the wide-ranging and high-profile crisis in the sector.

Eva Lawler was the second new MP to be given a ministry. The former public servant was appointed as minister for education. Lawler has experience in the department of sport and recreation, and the department of education as an advisor to former NT education minister Marion Scrymgour.

The other 10 newly elected MPs have been made assistant ministers for no extra remuneration.

The Northern Territory parliament has seen a number of leadership challenges and instability over successive governments, and Gunner addressed speculation this was the reason all backbenchers were given assistant ministries.

“Let’s learn from the lessons of the past,” he said.

“I want those assistant ministers to have tasks they can deliver on for the betterment of Northern Territorians and they can go back to their electorate in 2020 and say I was an assistant minister, this is what I did as well as being a good local member.”

Newly elected Indigenous MPs, Chansey Paech and Selena Uibo, have been appointed assistant ministers for Aboriginal affairs, and will co-chair the Aboriginal Voice – Shared Future subcommittee. The subcommittee, which will include all Indigenous MPs and representatives of bush seats, will concentrate on delivering Labor’s promise of local decision-making powers, and to progress public discussion on a treaty.

Gunner dismissed concerns the treaty focus could derail the federal move for constitutional recognition, which he supported, and said people had to be “mature enough” for parallel conversations.

“It’s very clear there is a message for treaty, a demand for treaty, and the first step is listening.”

Gunner also noted that Mark Yingiya Guyula, the independent MP who unseated the Labor deputy leader in Nhulunbuy, had campaigned on pushing for a treaty.

Natasha Fyles, who retained the seat of Nightcliff with one of the biggest margins in the election, is the attorney general and minister for justice, and will be sworn in as the minister for health and leader of government business.

Fyles said Australian parliaments, and particularly the NT’s had made a transition over the past couple of decades, and “this parliament is a reflection of that change”.

Fyles told ABC radio the assistant ministries were “an opportunity to include people, particularly in key areas”.

The 62.5% female rate eclipses that of Queensland’s Labor cabinet under premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, which was the first Australian majority-female cabinet.

The current federal parliament is 17% women, and its cabinet 35.3%.

At June this year 22.8% of all national parliamentarians in the world were women, according to UN women. Just 17% of ministries were held by women, the majority of them in social sectors.

Just one member of the NT Labor government – Gerry McCarthy – has previous experience as a minister. McCarthy held a number of portfolios under the Henderson government, including corrections, and is expected to be involved in some manner with the royal commission into the protection and detention of children.

Under the Gunner government McCarthy will oversee housing and community development, essential services and public employment.

The new NT parliament will move to their offices in Darwin’s parliament house on Monday, and the Country Liberal party, which saw just two members elected, will form the opposition.

Defeated chief minister Adam Giles wrote “a final word” on Facebook on Monday morning rejecting accusations he was not taking responsibility for his party’s loss.

He said it was “simply not true”, and the result was not surprising “given some of the distractions” which occurred.

“As I said on election night – as the leader of government the buck stops with me,” Giles said.

“What I wanted to also emphasise was that disunity in politics is a disaster for governments, particularly those seeking a second term. For this reason I will not respond to personal attacks by any detractors who do not realise that their comments perpetuate disunity. Leadership requires you to shut up sometimes knowing that the way forward for the party and the NT is to work together.”

“I am immensely proud of the work our Country Liberals team achieved during its four-year term. My government built the Territory for its future. We will be remembered for this legacy.

Giles had been criticised for his comments on election night that his career was “starting” and the loss was a “stepping stone” for him.

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