The Northern Territory’s new opposition leader Lia Finocchiaro has rejected the suggestion her time at the helm could be short-lived and the Country Liberals might install a leader who is not in parliament.
Ms Finocchiaro inherited the opposition leadership after Gary Higgins, the only other CLP MP in the NT parliament, announced on Monday he was quitting the job seven months out from the next election.
There has been speculation the CLP could parachute in a high-profile leader as the Queensland Liberal Nationals did with Campbell Newman when he was not yet an elected MP but led them to a crushing victory.
“I am looking forward to working with our outstanding group of candidates that we have got already and meeting the future candidates that will be announced in a few short weeks and showing Territorians that we really are the alternative government.
“I don’t think anything that happens in Queensland is really relevant to the Northern Territory at all.
Her first test will be a by-election in the seat of Johnston that pits CLP candidate indigenous community worker Josh Thomas against former AFL star and Labor candidate Joel Bowden.
She is the second woman to lead the 45-year-old CLP.
A former chief executive of the powerful NT Cattlemen’s Association, Tracey Hayes, is the CLP candidate running against Mr Gunner in his seat of Fannie Bay.
Ms Finocchiaro has already moved to reassure public servants their jobs would be safe if the Country Liberals won government.
Mr Higgins became leader after there were the only two CLP members left at the 2016 election when Labor swept to power, winning 18 of the 25 seats.
He had a difficult job holding Michael Gunner’s Labor government to account.
Mr Higgins, 65, held an emotional press conference in which he said the decision to quit was solely his and he could no longer “effectively serve as opposition leader” due to his health problems.
He said he thought the CLP had some exceptional candidates in Ms Hayes, Alice Springs Mayor Damien Ryan and Barkly Mayor Steve Edgington with broad experience and life skills.
“What we need in parliament are politicians with experience other than with unions or as advisers,” he said, saying that had caused problems for both the CLP and Labor in the current and previous governments,” he said.
He will quit as leader on February 1 but will remain as MP for the rural electorate of Daly until the August election.