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Northern Territory Chief Minister Natasha Fyles says her team is united. That claim will soon be tested

Natasha Fyles, understandably, was still coming to terms with her sudden ascension.

“It’s a bit of a shock, but it’s an absolute privilege,” the 43-year-old said yesterday.

At the start of the week, Ms Fyles was a senior Labor minister.

By the end of it, she was the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory.

Speaking after her selection as the new Chief Minister, Ms Fyles said the last week had been unexpected.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

“When I was standing on the sidelines at soccer last week out at Bagot oval, I certainly didn’t expect the week to end this way.”

Most pundits had assumed that when Michael Gunner made his shock decision to resign on Tuesday, his likely successor would be his loyal deputy, Nicole Manison.

Michael Gunner stands at a lectern as media stand around during a press conference Mr Gunner resigned on Tuesday, six years after he was elected Chief Minister.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

Instead, it was Ms Fyles who emerged triumphant following a meeting of the Labor caucus on Friday morning.

“We’ve had passionate but respectful discussions,” she said at her first press conference in her new role.

“We have each put our views forward, but we have stuck together and we will continue to do so.”

In politics, disunity is not a good look, and Ms Fyles was keen to portray herself as the “unanimous choice” of a “united and stable team”.

Only those at the caucus table know whether the discussions were indeed as “positive” as Ms Fyles made out.

Nicole Manison laughs during a press conference with Natasha Fyles in the foreground. Ms Manison was congratulatory and praised Ms Fyles during the announcement.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

But it was significant that, whether through party loyalty or genuine friendship, Ms Fyles’s main leadership rival was the person standing beside her at the press conference.

“You have got somebody who loves this place, who is so committed to the Northern Territory, who is tenacious, hard-working, determined, and she is going to make a huge difference,” Ms Manison said.

For most Australians, Ms Fyles became a familiar face on TV as she delivered regular COVID-19 updates during the height of the pandemic.

NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles speaking at a press conference in NT Parliament House. Ms Fyles addresses the media as Health Minister at a COVID press conference last year.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

Closer to home, the Member for Nightcliff and Leader of Government Business is viewed by her colleagues as a fierce political fighter.

“I don’t know what’s better,” Mr Gunner said on Tuesday.

“Seeing how much fun she has on the floor of parliament, or seeing how much the other side hates it.”

The Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro has derided the leadership change as “the same Labor circus with a different Labor clown”.

Like her predecessor — who suffered a heart attack and endured death threats during his reign —Ms Fyles will have to get used to the personal barbs thrown her way.

The mother-of-two insists she’s “Territory tough” and has been up for the rigours of politics since she was first elected in 2012.

“When someone runs for parliament at 38-weeks pregnant, you’re not doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for your community,” she said.

NT Health Minister Natasha Fyles stands looking concerned in front of some large flags. Ms Fyles first joined the Labor Party in 1993.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

Ms Fyles is part of Labor’s left faction and is considered to be more socially progressive than Mr Gunner, who sits with the party’s right faction.

The new leader’s success may well rest on her ability to differentiate herself from her predecessor, whose policies polarised sections of community, particularly over crime, fracking and economic management.

But while she’s promised to put her “own mark” on the role, the new Chief Minister is yet to articulate a vision beyond broad intentions of harnessing the region’s economic potential and overcoming its entrenched social challenges.

And as important as those long-term issues are, a more immediate political concern for Ms Fyles will be the management of her own party.

Labor members walking near Government House in Darwin. The Labor caucus selected Ms Fyles as Chief Minister at a meeting on Friday morning.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

It could be telling that, as she strode towards Government House for her swearing-in yesterday, only a handful of her 14 fellow caucus members were there to witness it.

Those not in attendance included Ms Manison and Mr Gunner. 

“There is much more infighting to come,” the Opposition Leader has predicted.

Territorians will find out just how “united” Labor is under its new leader when a ministerial reshuffle takes place next week.

About the author

Krzysztof Stanowicz

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