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”, 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 Laborâ€™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.