Summary information on parliamentary government, elections and periods in office
Summary information on Premiers, Government and Periods in Office in the Northern Territory
Parliamentary government in the Northern Territory is structured around the periods in office of first ministers (premiers). A new government is formed whenever a new first minister takes office (see commission), and the first minister is responsible for the choice of ministers and the allocation of departmental responsibilities. For this reason, this website organizes summary information on governments around the periods that first ministers, premiers and prime ministers have held office.
Although 1974 is given in this database as the date for the establishment of representative self-government in the Northern Territory, the necessary legislation to establish full responsible government was not implemented until 1978, even though a representative assembly had been elected for that purpose, and an executive chosen to govern the Territory, in 1974 (see Dean Jeansch in 'Sources', below). Notwithstanding this caveat, in general terms, self-government in the Northern Territory can be dated from 1974.
A parliamentary system of government requires that the first minister, as head of government, maintains the support of a majority of members of the lower house of parliament which, in the case of the Northern Territory, is the Legislative Assembly. The information in the three tables below and the notes which follow, summarizes the information held in the Australian Politics and Elections Database which relates to the duration of periods in office in the Northern Territory from the granting of representative self-government in 1974 (see 'Sources', below), the party support for first ministers, and information on the the number of ministers at the beginning of each first minister’s period in office.
Periods in office
The period in office of a first minister (premier) begins at the date on which he or she first takes office and continues until he or she is replaced by another first minister. This period may include major changes to the ministry as well as minor cabinet shuffles and the addition or resignation of ministers. A period in office can span several elections and several changes to ministries.
The period in office of a first minister ends when the first minister loses or resigns office. But the period can also be ended if there is a substantial change in the party composition of the first minister's parliamentary support: the first minister continues in office but the nature of the parliamentary support changes because of a split in the majority party or the break up of the governing coalition, and the formation of a new party grouping or coalition to support the first minister.
Changes in the extent of parliamentary party support for a first minister—changes from minority government to majority government (or the reverse)—do not affect the period in office of a first minister. But the move from single party support for the first minister to coalition support (or the reverse) does represent a new period in office.
Information on the periods in office of each Northern Territory first minister can be found on the 'Periods in office' pages of this website; summary information is set out in the table and subject headings below:
- Name of first minister: A first minister's name is listed each time the first minister held office.
- Party affiliation (at beginning of period):
- Start and end of period in office: Clicking on the start date of the period in office opens the details of that period; this includes sources and references on the first minister and the period in office. Note that the dates of the period in office of a first minister have sometimes been modified to correspond with the dates of general elections and are not necessarily the same as the precise period during which his or her government held a commission.
- Reasons for start and end of a period in office: Except for the first first minister of the Northern Territory, a first minister starts a periods in office when the previous first minister's period in office is terminated. This website lists six reasons for a first minister's loss of office:
- Loss of an election: The first minister's party or coalition support in parliament has fallen below half the seats in the Legislative Assembly after a general election, prompting the resignation of the first minister in favour of the leader of another party or coalition.
- Defeat in parliament: The first minister is forced to resign because the government has lost a vote of confidence in the Legislative Assembly, or lost a vote on a budget measure or a piece of legislation which the government has indicated will be treated as a matter of confidence. Governments are only under threat from defeat in parliament if they are minority governments or if there is a major split in the governing party.
- Change of party leader: The first minister resigns as leader of the party which, alone or in coalition, has a majority support in the Legislative Assembly, making way for a new leader of the party to become first minister. This heading covers a wide range of situations. The first minister may resign as party leader at a time of the first minister's choosing after a successful career as first minister, or resign to take up another office, or resign for reasons unrelated to politics. But a change of party leader may be forced on a first minister because of ill health or because he or she has been rejected as leader of the parliamentary party.
- Resignation of first minister: This is similar to 'Change of party leader' (above) except that all such resignations occurred in situations before parties had acquired the clear rules for membership and party discipline that parties now have. This provision does not apply to the Northern Territory
- Death of first minister:
- first minister dismissed by the representative of the Crown: This is a very unusual event for all Australian governments; this procedure would be executed through the Administrator of the Northern Territory.
Party support in this section refers to the parliamentary support a first minister and government have in the Legislative Assembly to remain in office.
Summary information on party support for first ministers in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly is set out in the table below. Table 2 replicates information on the start and end of periods in office listed in Table 1 but adds information on party support in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly and at elections during each period in office.
- Party support in Legislative Assembly: Party in this context includes independent members of the Legislative Assembly whose support is required for the first minister to stay in office.
- At beginning of period: If the first minister is supported by a majority of members in the Legislative Assembly who all belong to the same party at the beginning of a period in office, the first minister leads a majority government. If the majority support is achieved only by a coalition arrangement with another party, the first minister leads a coalition government. If the first minister does not have a party or coalition majority in the Legislative Assembly, the first minister must rely on the support of minor party and independent members to support a minority government.
- Coalition party: This column shows the name of the party (or parties) which has joined with the first minister's party to share government and to support the first minister in office.
- Change during period: In the sections above dealing with 'Period in office', it was noted that a first minister's period in office does not end if the level of support for the first minister in the Legislative Assembly varies, as long as the first minister is supported by the same party or coalition of parties which supported the government at the beginning of the period in office.
- Elections contested: This column lists all the general elections for the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly contested by the person who wasfirst minister during a period in office, or elections as a result of which he or she became first minister (see first minister after election). Each election date is linked to the results of the the Northern Territory general election held on that date and shows the level of party support for the first minister's party and, for all elections, provides notes and references for the election. In the Northern Territory, the elections listed all took place at the beginning, during, or at the end of the same period in office.
Summary information on ministries
This database has limited information on the composition of ministries and can display only summary details of the first ministry in a period in office (see the 'Periods in office' section above). The first five columns of Table 3 repeat the information in the previous tables, and the following four give information about the number of ministers under various categories.
Table 3 Summary information on ministries at the start of periods in office of Northern Territory first ministers
- Ministry at beginning of period: It must be stressed that figures in the columns under this heading only refer to the first ministry in a period in office. Periods in office may have several changes of ministry so that the first ministry in a period in office may be very different from the last.
- Ministers: This figure includes the first minister among the number of ministers.
- Ministers from coalition parties: This figure gives an idea of the relative bargaining strength of the parties in a coalition.
- Ministers from Legislative Council: This column does not apply to the Northern Territory which has no upper house.
- Women ministers: Although a woman was a member of the first executive of the Northern Territory in 1974, another woman was not a member of the ministry at the beginning of a period in office until the Burke government in 1999.
Sources and references
The summary information on this page has been compiled from records in the Australian Politics and Elections Database at the University of Western Australia. The individual records for each general election and period in office in the Northern Territory -- available through this website -- include sources and references.
For information on the government and politics of the Northern Territory, see Dean Jaensch, 'Northern Territory', in Jeremy Moon and Campbell Sharman (editors), Australian Politics and Government: The Commonwealth, the States and the Territories, pp 224-238 (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 0521532051).