Australia’s Northern Territory (NT)’s Labor has selected a mother of two boys and a former physical education teacher to replace Michael Gunner’s surprise resignation as leader.
Former health minister Natasha Fyles Fyles was sworn in as the new chief minister by the territory’s administrator on May 13.
After becoming the Chief Minister in August 2016, Gunner announced his intention to resign from office on May 10, moments after handing down the NT budget, attributing his departure to wanting to focus on family.
“It’s no secret that the last few years have been intense. It’s taken a lot out of me like it has for plenty of us. Add to that a heart attack and a couple of kids, and it has caused me to reflect a lot over the past few weeks,” he said.
“The Territory is in safe hands, and that’s given me plenty of comforts as I came to a difficult decision in recent days,” he said.
Also born in the Northern Territory, Fyles completed her teaching degree at the University of Canberra and then returned to Darwin to teach in schools and deliver water safety programs across the territory.
“I’m a territory girl through and through. I’ve put my hand up to serve because I love this place. I want to work every day to make it better,” she told AAP.
“I’m ready for this job and I will hit the ground running.”
Fyles is the second woman in the NT to be appointed chief minister and the third to lead as a Labor leader, after having joined the Australian Labor Party in 1993.
Changes are expected in the new leadership team and cabinet that will be sworn in the week after.
While she is from the left faction of the party, as opposed to right-aligned Gunner, the government’s current debt makes it difficult to expand and adjust policies, according to political economist Rolf Gerritsen.
The latest budget showed that the territory’s deficit for the upcoming financial year is $1.1 billion (US$688 billion), with no surpluses expected until at least 2026.
“The logical point of difference would be fracking but the territory government s under intense pressure from the federal government to let it continue,” Gerritsen said.
“There’s not much room for a territory government to move,” he said.