A by-election called Alice: form guide

The tea leaves will not be easy to read, but tomorrow’s Northern Territory by-election for the Alice Springs seat of Greatorex might be of broader interest as a test of the federal government’s intervention into Aboriginal communities. Here as elsewhere in Alice Springs, voters who were happy to back Labor at federal level have traditionally refused to touch the territory party with a barge pole, and there is little question that racial issues have played a role here. Labor nonetheless made a concerted bid to defeat sitting member Richard Lim at the 2005 election, fielding an extremely high-profile candidate in Alice Springs mayor Fran Kilgariff. They succeeded in narrowing the margin from 9.0 per cent to 1.5 per cent, but Lim nonetheless emerged as one of only four surviving Country Liberal Party members in a chamber of 25. After 13 years in parliament, Lim announced late last month that he was standing aside due to ill health in his family.

In Kilgariff’s absence, a correction in the CLP’s favour should have been expected even without taking into account the Martin government’s recent humiliation at the hands of the feds. With the party’s stocks further boosted by a high-profile candidate, the stage appeared set for a swing to the CLP that would no doubt have been over-interpreted as a pointer to the federal election. However, the waters may have been muddied by the emergence of an independent candidate whom local observers reckon to be in with a real chance. Should that come off, the parliament will have three CLP members and three independents. This will make it possible for the independents to band together and demand half the public funding available to the official opposition for “parliamentary running costs”, said by the Northern Territory News to total $900,000 a year.

The candidates in ballot paper order:

Jo Nixon (Labor). An audiologist by trade, Nixon is apparently known locally as “organiser of the annual Beanie Festival&#148, which the ABC describes as “increasingly famous”.

Paul Herrick (Independent). Until he quit the job to focus on his campaign, Herrick was the territory’s deputy chief fire officer with specific responsibility for the “southern region”. He has lived in the electorate for 16 years, competed in four Sydney to Hobart and two Melbourne to Hobart yacht races, and can boast involvement with “AFL Central Australia, Centralian Senior Secondary College Council, Rugby League Referees Association and the Alice Springs Cycling Club” (list compiled by the Centralian Advocate). Herrick is being heavily backed by Loraine Braham, the independent member for the north-western Alice Springs seat of Braitling.

Matt Conlan (CLP). Conlan is described by the Northern Territory News as “the Centralian John Laws”, which if accurate would surely make him a hard man to beat. He has nonetheless been targeted over the short term of his residence in Alice Springs. Nick Calacouras of the Northern Territory News describes him as a “radio shock jock”, while contentious Poll Bludger commenter Isabella calls him a “vocal critic of Labor’s soft touch when it comes to out of control Aboriginal crime in the town”. Conlan nonetheless describes his radio program as “non-political”. The Northern Territory News reports he won preselection unopposed after two unidentified rivals withdrew. Those mentioned as potential nominees had included Alice Springs alderman David Koch, former CLP president Jenny Mostran and Alice Springs businessman David Douglas.

Jane Clark (Greens). An Alice Springs alderman, Clark initially sought Labor preselection, seeking and receiving Greens endorsement when this fell through. It had earlier been reported that the Greens were not planning on running.

Tune into the Poll Bludger from early tomorrow evening for half-arsed live commentary.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

12 comments on “A by-election called Alice: form guide”

  1. While Alice Springs is no Nightcliffe for Greens, they did poll 10.6% in Greatorex and 9.2% in Araluen at the last Territory election, so its not unreasonable that they should contest the byelection.

  2. Forget Alice, a by election in Williamstown will be even more interesting!!

    Any idea on possible dates for the by election? It’s a strong Labor seat so it will be fascinating to see what happens. In any case I’d imagine it will be before the federal election…

  3. Don’t live in that area, so am not prepared to call it, but I will say that being a long term resident with strong community ties will serve Herrick very well. Being an ex-firie won’t hurt his chances either.

    And Territory Labor wouldn’t be able to take much heart from a win (unless it is a big one), because (as already noted by Mr Bowe) the Federal interventions on Aboriginal issues could play a big part in rejecting the CLP candidate.

  4. Both ALP and CLP have directed preferences to the Independent, Herrick, giving him a better than fair chance at winning, if no-one wins outright. The greens lady was miffed at missing the ALP preferences, and The Independent is playing smart and has not directed so far, leaving it ‘up to individuals”.

    Howards plan should go in favour of CLP with all the past antisocial behaviour in town – locals will look on it as increasing safety, but the CLP or ALP candidate has to win in his or her own right or the independent is a sitter.

    There is much anti Clare in town as funds are directed ‘north of the Berrimah line’. Alice was the brith place of the CLP so it is an interesting mix and very hard to call.

  5. It is all about local politics here in the NT. This election wont have much to do with the Federal sphere at all or with the Aboriginal issue. Whilst this issue might something new to Southerners it has been a perenial problem here. The CLP when they were in power used to play the ‘race’ card at every election.

    Martin was heckled pretty badly the last time she showed her face in Alice over lack of police numbers there. There is a fair bit of anti-Claire going around at the moment – but then again there is still no opposition party here to speak of and they are pretty much considered a joke. My guess is people might avoid voting ALP just to maintain at least a semblance of an opposition party here.

    An independant is a distinct possibility since our best and most liked politician here at the moment is an independant – Gerry Wood. He is basically the opposition party all by himself. Anyway, my feeling (being a local) is that Federal Politics wont come into it when people vote.

  6. (How) are the Greens directing preferences?
    If the Greens give the Independant preferences then he is more likely to get ahead of one of the major candidates (probably Labor).

  7. Again I live out of town so like Just Me won’t have a stab at calling this one. Howard has learnt much from CLP politicians (Nairn, Stone et al) about playing the race card, something that I don’t think current CLP leader Jodeen Carney would endorse openly, though Conlan won’t withdraw his comments of last year.
    I also think it is a mistake to underestimate Carney – she is obvuiosly smarter than your average CLP pollie and has had the benefit of recent grooming by the Libs in how to be a better media tart – she is becoming a polished performer with good delivery.
    Unfortunately her party has been reduced to a rump and could/should lose it’s status as either/or both a Party and an official opposition (if such a creature exists – I don’t have the legislation to hand).
    I’d be watching Carney to hang around for some time – I think it will be at least two NT elections before they’ll get back in and if she can hold her party together for that long, and put up with being in opposition for…well…too long for a sane person with better things to do with her life.
    Loraine Braham will be a very happy independent member indeed if Herrick get up and there will most likely be a few more opportunities for independents at the next election if not before.
    Katherine is one to watch – I’ve heard word that Faye Miller will pull the pin at the next election if not before. So there might be another by-election around the corner…

  8. I see the prepoll results are up, and they show a landslide to Conlon, 59% of primaries. Henrick is only two votes behind the ALP so if the Green preferences favour him he could get ahead, but on these figures he’ll need the Lib vote to drop a long way to have a chance.

  9. PS, way too early to read much in, but a satisfactory start for the Greens. Having lost the donkey vote and competing with an independent you would expect the Green vote to drop a fair bit compared to 1995, but so far we are up from 7.4% to 7.6%.

  10. Postal, mobile and the smaller booth results all now in and the CLP lead just increases. Although most of the votes are in the one big booth the pattern is pretty clear, landslide to the CLP.

    Why do I get the feeling I’m talking to myself?

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