Clare Martin

Clare Martin
Clare Martin
7th Chief Minister of the Northern Territory
In office
13 August 2001 – 26 November 2007
Deputy Syd Stirling
Preceded by Denis Burke
Succeeded by Paul Henderson
Constituency Fannie Bay
Personal details
Born 15 June 1952 (1952-06-15) (age 59)
Lindfield, NSW, Australia
Nationality Australia Australian
Political party Australian Labor Party
Profession Journalist

Clare Majella Martin (born 15 June 1952) is a former Australian politician. She is the current CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS).[1] A former journalist, she was elected to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly in a shock by-election win in 1995. She was appointed Opposition Leader in 1999, and won a surprise victory at the 2001 territory election, becoming the first Australian Labor Party and first female Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. She led the ALP to a record win at the 2005 election, before resigning as Chief Minister on 26 November 2007.


Early life

Martin was one of ten children.[2] Her parents were strong Catholics and passionate Democratic Labor Party supporters.[3] Her uncle, Kevin Cairns, was a Liberal minister and MP in the McMahon government, but the family was not inclined towards his conservative politics. Martin's ancestry includes the Coughlin family which also had NSW's first female statistician and Australia's famous batsmen Victor Trumper. The family was originally from County Offaly, Ireland until the Cromwell invasion then left County Cork in the 1850s just after the Potato Famine.

After attending Loreto Normanhurst, Martin graduated from the University of Sydney in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, in which her major study was Music.[2]

Pre-political career

Having spent time in London and other overseas cities, she began working as a typist for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Sydney in 1978. In 1979, she became a trainee reporter.[2] After several years, she began to take an interest in presenting, but was told that she would not be given a position in Sydney unless she had experience elsewhere[citation needed]. In February 1983,[2] Martin was then offered a six-month position[citation needed] presenting a morning radio show in Darwin for the ABC Radio station 8DDD.

She had little intention of staying there, and briefly returned to Canberra in May 1983,[2] before being offered a job in Sydney. However, at the same time, Martin's partner was offered a partner's position at the law firm he had worked in Darwin. He liked living in Darwin and was keen to take up the position, so Martin agreed to decline the Sydney job and return to Darwin in May 1985 where Martin gained another position on an ABC Radio morning show.[2]

In 1986, Martin made the move to television, as the presenter of The 7.30 Report until 1988. After returning from long service leave where she cared for her two young children,[2] Martin returned to work in 1990 to work on ABC Radio's morning program.[2]

Political career

Martin had been interested in political journalism for some years, although she was not a member of any party, believing that party affiliation compromises journalistic integrity.[3] In 1994, she was approached to contest the Darwin Legislative Assembly seat of Casuarina for the Australian Labor Party at the 1994 election. However, she was defeated by Country Liberal Party candidate Peter Adamson. She soon resigned from the party and returned to journalism, but when CLP Chief Minister Marshall Perron resigned from his Darwin seat of Fannie Bay, causing a by-election, she decided to make another attempt to enter Parliament. While in some ways the odds of success were even less than in 1994[citation needed], she rejoined the ALP and successfully gained pre-selection. In one of the largest upsets in the Territory during the 1990s[citation needed], Martin went on to win the seat by 69 votes, becoming one of only two ALP MLAs in Darwin.

Martin worked hard to retain her seat, and was ultimately successful, holding Fannie Bay despite a heavy defeat for the ALP at the 1997 election. She subsequently served as Shadow Minister for Lands under then leader Maggie Hickey. When Hickey unexpectedly resigned in February 1999, Martin was in a position to succeed her, and was soon appointed as Opposition Leader. She soon emerged as a vocal critic of the Burke government's policy of mandatory sentencing, and began preparing the ALP for the election, which was then two years away.

Term as Chief Minister

Martin faced her first electoral test as leader at the 2001 election. At the time, the Country Liberal Party had held office for the 27 years since self-government, and the Australian Labor Party had never come particularly close to government. However, the ALP was coming off a particularly successful eighteen months, and Martin ran a skilled campaign. She was also able to take advantage of a number of gaffes made by Chief Minister Denis Burke, such as the decision to preference the One Nation Party over the ALP - which lost the CLP a number of votes in crucial Darwin seats. Despite this, most commentators were predicting a close result with the CLP returned. However, in a shock result, the ALP achieved majority government by one seat, and Martin became the first ever ALP and first female Chief Minister in the history of the Northern Territory.

As Chief Minister, Martin immediately set about making changes, repealing the territory's controversial mandatory sentencing laws,[4] and introducing freedom of information legislation, which had been neglected during the CLP's 27-year rule.[citation needed]

Aboriginal Issues

Although Martin appointed Aboriginal Territorians to her cabinet, she has been criticised for not improving the lot of her Aboriginal constituents, the majority of whom have a life expectancy well below that of white Australians. A respected commentator in The Bulletin has suggested that she has gone slow on Aboriginal issues because she fears a white backlash that could result in her government being toppled.[citation needed]

The life expectancy of the Northern Territory's Aboriginal citizens has not increased markedly during Martin's administration.[citation needed] Alcohol abuse continues to be a major issue in Aboriginal communities and third-world diseases like trachoma can be seen in remote Aboriginal townships.[5] However in 2006, Martin rejected accusations by John Howard and Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister, Mal Brough that her government had been underfunding Aboriginal communities.[6] A summit between the Federal and the Territorian Governments was proposed by Mal Brough in May 2006, but this, along with any potential to improve funding, was snubbed by Martin.[7]

Martin has been critical of the Federal Government's intervention in Aboriginal communities as announced in 2007. She opposes certain aspects of the intervention such as removal of the permit system. In response, the Federal Government has rejected the Territory's argument, saying it is essential to remove artificial barriers to Aboriginal townships that prevent the measures needed to improve living conditions for Indigenous children[8]


In the longer term, she oversaw the completion of the Adelaide-Darwin railway, which had begun under the Burke government, and vowed to resurrect the stalled statehood movement.[9] She also managed to markedly boost the ALP's standing amongst the electorate, as seen in the 2003 Katherine by-election, which saw a major swing to the party.

By 2005, the Northern Territory, under Martin's leadership, had achieved the following:

  • the highest economic growth in Australia at 7.2 per cent
  • the lowest small business taxes
  • record population growth
  • the highest building approval rates
  • surging house prices and record levels of home ownership.
  • Property crime almost halved
  • Approval for $1 billion development of Darwin wharf precinct[4]

As Chief Minister, Martin led the ALP to the 2005 election, which was their first as an incumbent government in the Territory. Martin campaigned largely on law and order issues. It was predicted that the ALP would win a relatively narrow victory. The final result gave 19 seats to the ALP, 4 to the opposition CLP and 2 to independents. The ALP won 6 new seats, including unseating the Opposition Leader, Denis Burke, in the most unexpected victory of all.

On 10 September 2007, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie announced he would leave politics that week. This left Martin as Labor's longest-serving current state or territory leader, and as the longest-serving state or territory head of government in Australia, until she herself announced her resignation on 26 November 2007.


On 26 November 2007, Clare Martin and her deputy Syd Stirling announced resignations at a media conference in Darwin.[10] Northern Territory education minister Paul Henderson was elected as the new leader and chief minister by the ALP caucus.[11]


External links

Northern Territory Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
Marshall Perron
Member for Fannie Bay
Succeeded by
Michael Gunner
Political offices
Preceded by
Maggie Hickey
Opposition Leader of the Northern Territory
Succeeded by
Denis Burke
Preceded by
Denis Burke
Chief Minister of the Northern Territory
Succeeded by
Paul Henderson

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