As the Northern Territory election loomed, the Poll Bludger’s gut feeling was that Clare Martin and Labor were on course for a landslide win that would rewrite the top end’s electoral rule book. After probing deeper I was surprised to discover that this view had little currency among those more closely familiar with Territory politics than myself, which led me to back down on some of my bolder seat predictions. I did so without conviction – as I commented at Troppo Armadillo after Ken Parish poked fun at me for calling Araluen for Labor, "I suspect that those who have watched Labor struggle over nine Northern Territory elections might prove a little slow to acclimatise to the entirely new circumstances now that Labor heads a stable government with a popular leader, and faces a divided rabble of an opposition. I would not be amazed if the CLP emerged with as few as six seats". One reason to doubt the orthodox view was the lack of polling in the Territory, without which even close observers are driving blind. But today Newspoll has filled the gap with a comprehensive survey of Darwin-area voters, the results of which have emboldened me to trust my original instincts. The survey covers an impressive sample of 1200 of the 54,000 voters in the 12 electorates surveyed and gives Labor a stunning 57-43 lead on two-party preferred, pointing to a swing of 9.5 per cent. Labor leads on the primary vote by 52 per cent to 40 per cent, compared with 43.8 per cent and 48.3 per cent in 2001.
The poll suggests that participants in various online forums who have been debating which northern suburbs seats might deliver victory to the CLP have been barking up the wrong tree entirely. The real question as far as Darwin is concerned is whether the CLP can hold back the tide in Port Darwin, which it holds with a margin of 7.3 per cent. The Poll Bludger’s assessment is that the incumbency factor will just barely save sitting member Sue Carter. There is little reason to doubt that there will also be a swing on to Labor in Alice Springs, despite their barren track record there in past territory elections (although they hold their own in local booths federally). Despite the exceptional circumstances that reduced the CLP margin to 2.0 per cent in 2001, such a swing should deliver Araluen to Labor. The margin of 9.0 per cent in the neighbouring electorate of Greatorex would normally make it a bridge too far, but Labor’s star candidate Fran Kilgariff could very well make up the difference. Further afield, the steady stream of bad publicity surrounding Labor’s candidate for MacDonnell, Alison Anderson, had me doubting the consensus view that her links with the local area would deliver her the seat, but Newspoll has emboldened me to keep this as a Labor gain. I have also decided to move the other CLP-held outback seat of Daly into the Labor column, where the Labor tide should combine with the departure of a popular sitting member to overcome the existing 9.5 per cent CLP margin.
A surge in the Labor primary vote might spell trouble for Loraine Braham, independent member for the Alice Springs seat of Braitling, who will need to stay ahead of Labor to override the CLP with their preferences. She managed this in 2001 with a fairly comfortable primary vote advantage of 34.0 per cent to 22.2 per cent, but the 10 per cent plus hike in the Labor vote projected by Newspoll might close the gap and return the seat to the CLP. I am nevertheless predicting that she will hang on. The other independent-held seat is Nelson in outer Darwin, where member Gerry Wood will have little trouble overcoming Labor, whom he outpolled 41.4 per cent to 9.7 per cent in 2001. Although the redistribution has slightly weakened his position, a likely poor show from the CLP should leave him in the clear. I expect that Braham and Wood will be joined on the cross-benches by Mary Walshe, independent candidate for Goyder, whose profile as Litchfield shire president should combine with the messy departure of outgoing member Peter Maley to deprive the CLP of another formerly safe seat.
With the election guide thus amended, the Poll Bludger officially offers the following crazy-brave prediction: 17 seats for Labor, three for independents and five lonely survivors from the CLP wipeout. Bryan at Palmer’s Oz Politics concurs, tipping Labor to win between 15 and 17 seats.