Michael Gunner

Michael Patrick Francis Gunner (born 6 January 1976) is an Australian politician and was the 11th Chief Minister of the Northern Territory from 2016 to 2022.[1] He is a Labor member of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, having held his seat of Fannie Bay in Darwin since the retirement of then Chief Minister Clare Martin at the 2008 election.

Michael Gunner
Gunner in 2016
11th Chief Minister of the Northern Territory
Elections: 2016, 2020
In office
31 August 2016  13 May 2022
DeputyNicole Manison
AdministratorJohn Hardy
Vicki O'Halloran
Preceded byAdam Giles
Succeeded byNatasha Fyles
Treasurer of the Northern Territory
In office
8 September 2020  13 May 2022
Preceded byNicole Manison
Succeeded byNatasha Fyles
11th Leader of the Opposition in the Northern Territory
In office
20 April 2015  31 August 2016
DeputyLynne Walker
Preceded byDelia Lawrie
Succeeded byGary Higgins
Member of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly
for Fannie Bay
In office
9 August 2008  27 July 2022
Preceded byClare Martin
Succeeded byBrent Potter
Personal details
Michael Patrick Francis Gunner

(1976-01-06) 6 January 1976
Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia
Political partyAustralian Labor Party
SpouseKristy O'Brien
Alma materCharles Darwin University
OccupationPolitical adviser
CabinetGunner Ministry

Gunner was elected Labor leader in the Northern Territory, becoming Leader of the Opposition, in April 2015. He led Labor to a landslide victory in the 2016 Northern Territory election. He was sworn in on 31 August, the first Northern Territory Chief Minister to have been born there. Gunner led Labor to another victory in the 2020 election, albeit with a reduced majority.

On 10 May 2022, Gunner announced his intention to resign the position of Chief Minister.[1] On 27 July 2022, Gunner resigned his position as member for Fannie Bay.[2]

Early life

Gunner was born in Alice Springs in 1976, the eldest of four children, to Mick and Jane Gunner.[3] His great-grandfather settled in Tennant Creek in the 1930s from Tbilisi in Georgia, fleeing the country after the Russian Revolution.[4] He has indigenous relatives in Utopia north of Alice Springs.[3]

Gunner went to school in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Darwin. He began a law degree at Northern Territory University (now Charles Darwin University), switching to a Bachelor of Arts degree which he completed.[3] He supported himself by working at retail chain Big W and as an electorate officer. He has represented the Territory in rugby union. Gunner went on to work as a senior government ministerial and policy adviser between 2001 and 2008 to former Chief Minister Clare Martin.[4][5]

Early political career

Northern Territory Legislative Assembly
Years Term Electoral division Party
20082012 11th Fannie Bay Labor
20122016 12th Fannie Bay Labor
20162020 13th Fannie Bay Labor
20202022 14th Fannie Bay Labor

Member for Fannie Bay

Gunner was elected to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly for the Electoral division of Fannie Bay in 2008 after the retirement of Chief Minister Clare Martin at the 2008 election.[6] The election saw Gunner retain the seat for the Labor Party by only a slight margin, over Garry Lambert, former alderman and acting Lord Mayor.

Opposition Leader

After a failed attempt in 2013,[7] on 19 April 2015 Gunner announced he would stand for the leadership of the Northern Territory Labor Party against incumbent Delia Lawrie, who was facing criticism of her conduct during an inquiry into the gifting of heritage property Stella Maris to Unions NT while she was a minister.[8][9] Four days later, Lawrie resigned and Gunner was elected unopposed as leader.[10] He held the portfolios of Major Projects, Northern Australia Development, Police, Fire and Emergency Services, Open and Transparent Government and Business and was Shadow Treasurer. Originally a member of Labor Right, Gunner became factionally unaligned, resigning from the Right after taking over as Opposition Leader.[11] Gunner moved a Motion of No Confidence against the Adam Giles Government on 1 December 2015[12] but was unsuccessful.[13]

Chief Minister

2016 election

Labor went into the 2016 territory election as unbackable favourites, with Northern Territory opinion polls indicating a massive swing against the CLP. Additionally, at the 2016 federal election held two months earlier, Labor picked up a healthy seven-point swing in the Territory, and took the federal seat of Solomon—which is largely coextensive with the Darwin/Palmerston area—off the CLP in a large swing.

At the 27 August Territory election, Gunner led Territory Labor to one of the most comprehensive election victories on record at the state or territory level in Australia. Labor won 18 seats in the 25-member Legislative Assembly on a swing of over 14 percent, the largest two-party swing on record in the Territory. En route, Labor took all but one seat in Darwin/Palmerston, and even ousted Giles in his own seat—only the second time that a Majority Leader/Chief Minister had been rolled in his own electorate. The CLP was cut down to just two seats − the worst defeat of a sitting government in the Territory's history, and among the worst ever suffered by a state or territory government in Australia. Gunner declared that Territorians had "rejected the chaos of the last four years", in part a reference to the numerous reshuffles that had taken place during the previous government, including multiple leadership spills.[14]

Normal practice in Australia calls for a defeated government to stay in office on a caretaker basis until the final results are in. However, with Labor's victory beyond doubt even though counting continued until early September, Gunner arranged to have Administrator John Hardy swear himself, Natasha Fyles, and Nicole Manison as an interim three-person government until all prospective ministers were confirmed as elected. Accordingly, Gunner was sworn in as Chief Minister on 31 August 2016.[15] Gunner held 38 portfolios in the three-person ministry in contrast to Manison solely as Treasurer and Fyles as just Attorney General and Justice Minister. His full ministry was selected on 11 September and sworn in the next day, with Manison as his Deputy Chief Minister after former deputy leader Lynne Walker was narrowly defeated in her own seat. Notably, a majority of the new cabinet -five of its eight members − were women.[16][17]

First term

Gunner entered office in a formidable position. He won the third-largest majority government in Territory history (just percentage points behind Labor's 2005 landslide), and faced only two CLP members as opposition − fewer than the five independents in the chamber. Although Labor was technically the only official party in the legislature, Gunner pledged that the CLP would be properly resourced as an opposition.[18]

Despite Labor's massive majority, Gunner retained CLP-turned-independent Kezia Purick as Speaker of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly for a second term.[19]

A perennial election issue, Labor removed the CLP's open speed limit and implemented a 130 km/h speed limit along a 300 km stretch of the Stuart Highway between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek.[20][21]

Gunner ordered a moratorium on fracking, and also undertook a review of all water licences issued under the previous government.[22] The moratorium commenced on 14 September.[23] On 17 April 2018, the moratorium was revoked.

Gunner has expressed support for Chinese government investment in the Northern Territory in the form of the Belt and Road Initiative.[24][25]

2020 election

Gunner led Territory Labor through the 2020 NT election. Labor heavily centered their campaign around Gunner's leadership and government handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, even going as far to say the election was, "literally the difference between life and death,"[26] which drew criticism from his opponents.[27] Before the election, opinion polls suggested that Labor would suffer an almost certain swing against them, with the newcomer Territory Alliance party posing a serious threat to the typical two-party system that has dominated NT politics.[28]

Nevertheless, on election night, ABC psephologist Antony Green projected that Labor would win at least a minority government almost three hours after the polls closed. Gunner later declared victory an hour later, saying that he was "very confident" that Labor had won another term, with the Country Liberals refusing to concede defeat on election night.[29]

Ultimately, Gunner led Labor to win 14 of the 25 seats in the Legislative Assembly. Labor suffered a net four seat drop from the 2016 landslide, but retained a bare majority of two seats. Labor grabbed all but two seats in the Darwin/Palmerston area,[30] even managing to oust Territory Alliance leader and former CLP Chief Minister Terry Mills from his own seat of Blain.[31] The CLP, under Lia Finocchiaro, managed to snatch some of its usual heartland seats in Alice Springs and Katherine back from Labor that were swept away amid the massive 2016 landslide, allowing it to quadruple its seat count to eight.[30]

Second term and resignation

Gunner announced his new cabinet on the 7 September 2020. Gunner himself dropped half of his portfolios in favour for Treasurer, a portfolio once held by Manison. Like his previous cabinets, a majority of the members are women - outnumbering men 6 to 3.[32]

In October 2021, the United States Senator from Texas Ted Cruz posted a tweet that was critical of the Northern Territory's vaccine mandates.[33] Gunner's response to the tweet went viral quickly.[34][35]

On 10 May 2022, Gunner announced his resignation from his positions as the NT Chief Minister and Treasurer, citing a desire to spend more time with his family.[1] On 27 July 2022, two and a half months after he resigned as Chief Minister, Gunner announced in a speech to the Legislative Assembly his resignation as the member for Fannie Bay.[2] On 29 July, an ICAC report was tabled in Parliament which stated that Gunner had declined to provide cabinet documents to Independent Commissioner Against Corruption, Michael Riches, regarding a "serious allegation" that a cabinet submission had been "edited by a public officer so as to be misleading as to the true state of affairs." The ICAC Act prohibits the commission from compelling the production of cabinet-related material, so Riches had to close the investigation into that matter.[36] The ICAC Act (INDEPENDENT COMMISSIONER AGAINST CORRUPTION ACT 2018) was drafted and legislated by the Northern Territory Labor Government in November 2017.[37]

Personal life

On 3 December 2017 Gunner married ABC journalist Kristy O'Brien. It is his second marriage.[3] The couple has two sons, born in 2020 and 2022.[38]

In late January 2020, it was reported that Gunner would undergo heart surgery, after suffering a heart attack earlier in the month which had originally been described as a "minor heart scare".[39]


  1. Gibson, Jano. "NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner announces intention to resign after delivering 2022 budget". ABC News. Retrieved 10 May 2022.
  2. Vivian, Steve (27 July 2022). "Michael Gunner, former Northern Territory chief minister, resigns from politics". ABC News. Retrieved 27 July 2022.
  3. Hope, Zach (23 May 2016). "Opposition Leader Michael Gunner opens up ahead of this year's NT election". NT News. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  4. "Michael Gunner: Meet the 'Labor apparatchik' who wants to be the Northern Territory ALP leader". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ABC News. 15 April 2015. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  5. "Opposition Leader, Michael Gunner, Member for Fannie Bay". Territory Labor. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  6. GUNNER, Mr Michael Patrick Francis, Members of the Legislative Assembly, Northern Territory Government.
  7. Bardon, Jane (18 September 2013). "Northern Territory Labor leader Delia Lawrie survives leadership challenge by MP Michael Gunner". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ABC News. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  8. "Labor to head to leadership spill, Gunner and Lawrie to announce intentions to contest later today". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ABC News. 15 April 2015. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  9. "NT Labor leader Delia Lawrie says she will not resign after Supreme Court criticism". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ABC News. 2 April 2015. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  10. "Delia Lawrie: NT Opposition Leader resigns in face of police investigation, Michael Gunner takes over". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ABC News. 19 April 2015. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  11. Hope, Zach; Manicaros, Ashley. "Fresh faces tipped to be named in Michael Gunner's first cabinet". NT News. Retrieved 1 August 2022.
  12. "Michael Gunner - Motion of No Confidence in the NT Government". Crikey. The Northern Myth. 1 December 2015. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  13. Brooks, Sally (1 December 2015). "Lack of support from NT independents for no-confidence vote against CLP Government". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. ABC News. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  14. La Canna, Xavier (28 August 2016). "NT election: Labor leader Michael Gunner says Territorians have rejected chaos after landslide win". ABC News.
  15. Breen, Jacqueline (31 August 2016). "Labor leader Michael Gunner sworn in as NT Chief Minister". ABC News. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  16. "NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner unveils new Cabinet". Northern Territory News. 11 September 2016.
  17. Oaten, James (13 September 2016). "New female-majority NT cabinet sworn in, Chief Minister vows to keep team". ABC News.
  18. Oaten, James (30 August 2016). "Independents won't be recognised as opposition in NT: official advice". ABC News (Australia).
  19. NT Labor Government announces female-dominated Cabinet: ABC 11 September 2016
  20. End of the road for Australia's open speed limit: BBC News 8 September 2016
  21. Porsche lets fly at NT Government's 'nanny state' approach to open speed limits: ABC 8 September 2016
  22. "Landslide victory for NT Labor brings moratorium on fracking, water licence review". ABC Rural. 29 August 2016.
  23. Fracking moratorium takes effect in NT, Chief Minister Michael Gunner says: ABC 14 September 2016
  24. Power, John (23 October 2019). "As Australia frets about Chinese influence, local officials tout Belt and Road Initiative". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  25. Gibson, Jano (15 August 2020). "What is the NT Government's stance on China's Belt and Road Initiative?". ABC News. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  26. Thompson, Jesse (13 August 2020). "Michael Gunner casts NT election as a 'life and death' choice on coronavirus leadership". ABC. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
  27. Breen, Jacqueline (21 August 2020). "In an election amid coronavirus, Labor says 'stay the course'. Will the NT opt against change?". ABC. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
  28. "MEDIA RELEASE: POLLING SHOWS TERRITORIANS WANT ACTION TO PROTECT OUR TOP END COASTS". Keep Top End Coasts Healthy. 6 July 2020. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
  29. Vivian, Steve (22 August 2020). "Michael Gunner 'very confident' Labor will retain government after NT election but CLP yet to concede". ABC. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
  30. "NT summary of two candidate preferred votes by division". Northern Territory Electoral Commission. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
  31. "Blain". ABC. 4 September 2020. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
  32. "The Cabinet". Northern Territory Government information and services. 16 September 2020. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
  33. Cosenza, Emily (13 October 2021). "Australia's strictest vax mandate imposed". News.com.au — Australia's Leading News Site.
  34. "Northern Territory chief minister and US senator Ted Cruz in Twitter spat over Covid vaccines". TheGuardian.com. 18 October 2021.
  35. "NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner fires back at US Senator Ted Cruz over Twitter post".
  36. "ICAC probe into 'serious allegation' ended after ex-chief minister declined to hand over documents". ABC News. 29 July 2022. Retrieved 4 August 2022.
  37. "Northern Territory passes laws to set up ICAC". ABC News. 23 November 2017. Retrieved 8 August 2022.
  38. Gilbert, Romy (30 April 2022). "NT chief minister announces birth of second child". www.9news.com.au. Retrieved 1 May 2022.
  39. Vivian, Steve (29 January 2020). "NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner to undergo surgery after heart attack earlier this month". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 29 January 2020.
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