Northern Territory election: late counting

This post will progressively follow the late stages of the count in the Northern Territory election, reckoned to hinge on the outcome in Fannie Bay where Labor leads by 57 votes. There are two seats where the CLP holds narrow leads: Fong Lim (83 votes) and Brennan (148 votes). Labor also aren’t conceding Port Darwin, but the 177-vote (3.5 per cent) difference suggests it’s a long shot. All are two-horse races except Port Darwin, where a Greens candidate has polled 393 votes (15.6 per cent) of which 151 (61.6 per cent) have flowed to Labor. The column on the right shows redistribution-adjusted figures for each type of vote from 2005, to give an indication of how many votes might remain outstanding – remembering there should be an unusually high number of absent votes this time due to confusion over the new boundaries.

UPDATE (11/8/08): Antony Green explains all about the timeline for late counting; counting of the all-important absent votes will begin tomorrow. It seems there might be a great many such votes in Fong Lim, as voters formerly in its predecessor seat of Millner would have carried on voting at the Coconut Grove booth which is now in Johnston (Clare Martin said during the election night commentary that she herself had done so). Antony also weighs in on informal voting, and writes on this site that the much-ballyhooed low turnout will prove less remarkable when all the votes are in.

Monday 2pm. Minor adjustments made to booth and pre-poll results after re-checking, which in Fannie Bay has added four booth votes for the CLP and one pre-poll vote for Labor.

Monday 4pm. Antony Green in comments says Labor has gained an invaluable 40 votes in Fannie Bay from counting of absent votes, which is evidently being fast-tracked. Another commenter says counting of 789 absent votes in Fong Lim has increased the CLP margin from 88 to 113.

Monday 6.30pm. Terry Mills concedes defeat after 374 absent votes in Fannie Bay split 206-168 in favour of Labor. However, absent votes have also put the CLP’s hold on Fong Lim, Brennan and Port Darwin beyond doubt.

Sunday. As you can see, I lost interest in this exercise after Mills conceded defeat. I have now brought the results below up to date with what I believe to be final figures, although there may be a handful of declaration votes outstanding. The final turnout figure proved to be 76 per cent compared with 80 per cent in 2005.

Booths 1384 1333 2717 2829
Pre-Poll 170 170 340 225
Postal 79 94 173 159
Absent 245 203 448 509
Declaration 0 0 0 21
TOTAL 1878 1800 3678 3743

Booths 1068 1166 2234 2565
Pre-Poll 135 155 290 213
Postal 64 80 144 144
Absent 418 430 848 676
Declaration 0 0 0 21
TOTAL 1685 1831 3516 3619

Booths 1312 1456 2768 2372
Pre-Poll 195 212 407 211
Postal 55 57 112 109
Absent 245 284 529 653
Declaration 0 0 0 32
TOTAL 1807 2009 3816 3377

Booths 960 1133 2093 2251
Pre-Poll 207 198 374 265
Postal 88 113 201 124
Absent 314 313 627 364
Declaration 0 0 0 22
TOTAL 1569 1757 3326 3026

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.

227 comments on “Northern Territory election: late counting”

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  1. “Martin, it’s actually not the narrowest Labor win. Labor has won by small margins when coming to govt”


    MY point stands 😉

  2. 91 Martin – So a close result in the NT means the conservatives are back in the hunt only in the NT or over Australia? If you mean the NT well, anything can happen in the next 4 years if Labor win. It doesn’t guarantee the CLP government next time.
    If you mean across Australia that is a “courageous” conclusion to come to given that this is the first election since Rudd won government and the NT was fought on local issues.

  3. There have been successful governments that have ruled with a one seat majority. It should not really be a problem, if that is the outcome, I would have thought.

  4. Is there anything to stop the CLP waiting until the first day a Labor member is sick or on holiday and then holding a no-confidence or censure vote, which would be 11-11 on party lines with Woods to cast the deciding vote?

  5. Well, it hasn’t happened in the past 106 Diogenes. Of course such sickness would have to occur while parliament is sitting and usually they agree to pairing (I think the term is).

  6. Was Lorraine Brahams still CLP when the ALP came to govt in 2001 or had she become independent by then (think she must have been ind.)? I raise it because she was the speaker for their first term when they held 13 seats.

  7. Not sure about the NT, but in ACT the motion doesn’t occur until a week after the initial call for a no confidence vote

  8. The Opposition doesn’t have to grant ‘a pair’ if they want to be especially bloody minded, as this ICAC inquiry shows:

    “The problem which is posed in relation to the effect of an appeal is not necessarily resolved by the prospect that the Member may elect not to sit or vote in the House pending the determination of an appeal. Should the House not grant the Member leave of absence this could have the effect of the Member’s seat being vacated in consequence of not being present in the House at any time during a session of the Parliament. It could also pose a problem in a Parliament in which the numbers are closely matched, the Member is a Government member and should the opposition not agree to a pair.”

  9. 103
    Gary Bruce Says:
    If you mean across Australia that is a “courageous” conclusion to come to given that this is the first election since Rudd won government and the NT was fought on local issues.

    Correct. Anybody who thinks this has any implications for politics in other or the federal level, does not understand Territory politics.

    Kitty Says:
    Lorraine Brahams was independent for both term ALP terms.

  10. Well, there’s always implications even if it is just the effect on media narratives or party morale, but I agree in general and point out once again – irony.

  11. Diogenes, the loss of one vote does not necessarily constitute defeat. If the government was prepared to wear the odd defeat, it can just continue on. The only one it couldn’t wear would be a defeat on an appropriation bill, the classic ‘I move the value of the budget be decreased by $1.’ That was the motion (in pounds) by which Curtin brought down the Fadden government in 1941. Even then, in 1945 when a similar motion was passed against the Victorian Dunstan government’s budget bill, Dunstan managed to pfaff around for about 6 weeks before growing hints from the Governors about intervention finally convinced his government to resign.

    If a Minister or backbencher was absent, and the opposition suddenly cancelled a pairing arrangement, the Government would be within its rights to ask the Administrator to prorogue a sitting. That is a convention that goes back to NSW in 1911. See

  12. Martin B, one likely implication is a brawl by the tories over the spoils of defeat – it is part of the political theatre in Queensland, not sure if it is a common practice in the NT.

  13. Also, wouldn’t a no confidence vote trigger a change of Government, but not necessarily an election?

    I mean, all the positions would change but the members itself would not.

    In which case, a “stealth” no confidence vote would immediately be reversed as soon as the absent politician returned…. Unless the new PM/Premier/Chief Miinsiter immediately called an election.

    But again, even then, wouldn’t the Governor concerned not look kindly on such shenanigans and possibly refuse the request?

  14. I will keep my responses brief as the thread is really about the Northern Territory.

    Kakuru (37),

    I agree that the federal/state structure needs serious work in Australia. The political problem is that it is easy for the Commonwealth MPs to interfere and promise solutions to state problems because they have the money, and the public is not interested in constitutional niceties.

    Adam in Canberra (42),

    I did not say that all large countries are federations, just that they had at least three tiers of government. In some, such as France, the regional, departmental and municipal levels are all subject to national control.

    J-D (45):
    Your explanation is correct, but the advantage of a federation is that it distributes power, even though the High Court is undermining federalism by its interpretation of the corporations and external affairs powers.

    Boerwar (58),

    The separate departments that you mention are necessary because they protect against the possibility that one central authority will make the wrong decision. There is a strange assumption in these discussions that having one body means having better decisions, when the one body might instead condemn the whole country to error. I shudder to think of Victoria having to suffer from WA’s education system because its proponents got control of the Commonwealth education department.

    Albert Ross (94),

    I was actually.

  15. The motion need not be against the Government. In SA, we recently had a failed no-confidence vote against our wonderful Health Minister. I’m sort of surprised that a Minister would be able to survive a successful, albeit dodgy, no-confidence motion.

  16. Adam in Canberra (100),
    I didn’t know that, but the resignation of Clare Martin meant that the last of the three ALP premiers/chief ministers from DLP families has departed the scene, leaving only the ALP PM from a partly-DLP family in place.

  17. Anyway, the Commonwealth can over ride anything the NT legislates if it wants to as we saw from Howard and Brough last year:

    [As a territory of the Commonwealth, the Northern Territory remains subject to the almost
    unlimited legislative power of the Commonwealth under section 122 of the Constitution.
    Even after the Commonwealth has conferred self-government on a territory, as in the
    Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, it retains ultimate power to
    legislate. Section 122 of the Australian Constitution (the “territories power”) states –
    The Parliament may make laws for the government of any territory . . . and may
    allow the representation of such territory in either House of the Parliament to the
    extent and on the terms which it thinks fit.
    This section makes it abundantly clear that the Commonwealth Parliament can virtually do
    what it wants in relation to laws for the Northern Territory (as the debate on euthanasia
    has shown) and in relation to our Federal representation. It is equally clear that even
    those rights, which have been so hard-fought over the years, can never be guaranteed
    while the Northern Territory remains a territory because of the broad power contained in
    section 122. However, if the Northern Territory becomes a State, Territorians are
    immediately accorded those protections guaranteed by the Australian Constitution.]

  18. Anthony, Is there a convention on how long and in what situations the vice-regal person will prorogue parliament?
    I am thinking of the situation in Tasmania in 1981 when the parliamentary Labor party had clearly losed its majority after splitting on the Dams issue. Harry Holgate took the premiership from Doug Lowe but then had parliament immediately prorogued rather than face a no confidence vote. Parliament remained prorogued and Holgate remained premier for 5 months. This produced one of the best political one liners I can remember from the Democrat Norm Sanders ( ‘The only reason he is hanging on is so that every morning he can look in his shaving mirror and say “Hey, Harry Holgate! Premier of the Tasmanians!”‘)
    I presume parliament must eventually meet to consider appropriation and in the Australian constitution at least once a year, my guess is that if the governor is compliant then a vote of no confidence can be put off until appropriation needs to be addressed

  19. Chris Curtis @ 123

    Thank you. Your post caused me to question my assumptions.

    The one that was uppermost in my mind when I wrote in originally was that doing something eight times when it really only needs to be done once is a waste of resources. Personally, I don’t think we get good value from having eight parliamentary systems. For starters, both territories could be quite sensibly subsumed in a state system and be left with local government powers. Similarly, South Australia and Tasmania could quite usefully be subsumed. Adelaide and Hobart could just as easily be government by a local councils with some increased powers and that pretty well takes care of many of the relevant state populations.

    A second assumption, arising from your suggestion is that doing the same thing eight times (eg generating a new IR law, or generating a new curriculum for maths or the best way of delivering heart transplants) probably increases the chances of poor policy or wrong decisions being made. One reason is that not all of the eight have equal resources to generate good policy. In fact some of the states and territories in some areas either have de facto neglect or desperate piggy backing as their policy making processes because they cannot afford anything better.

    The smaller systems, whether from a limited pool, or limited desirability, also seem to attract a better than average share of mediocre pollies. However, perhaps I am being unfair, and maybe that is not limited to the smaller states and territories. Some of the larger states and the feds also seem to be able to attract some doozies.

    On the other hand if you do it only once and cock it up, then the costs are going to be nation-side rather than just stuffing up one state or territory.

    But then again, maybe if we do things once we could put more resources into that once, do it better, and come up with a quality product.

  20. Woo hoo a great day, another ALP win. The torries with their nearlies can sleep at night, with the little comfort it gives them. It’s amazing so many are on here in view of the great performance that our “clean” athletes in Beijing are giving us!

  21. Chris, I thought Rudd’s family were Country Party, certainly his father was. Does he have some Groupers in his attic as well?

    Re state premiers. Well at least we still have a premier with a PCI ancestry, which is nearly as good. Avanti popolo!

  22. Not to mention the Greens who can return to their caves safe in the knowledge that over 90% of the population see them as ratbags. Today nothing, tommorrow nothing!

  23. Holgate’s actions were very controversial. The fact the Liberals changed leader the same day and the fact a referendum to resolve the Franklim Dam issue was set for December gave some justification for Holgate to cancel parliament until the new year, but he held out until May the following year which was very controversial. The mess over the result of the referendum, and whether ‘No dams’ votes could be counted, added to the farce. Normally a parliament would be prorogued from its normal sittings with the expectation of an early election. That happens in NSW every election now, where the parliament sets sitting dates for February in election year the previous November, then every January the sitting in prorogued ahead of the election. Holgate’s sin was to go ahead and meet parliament rather than go to an election.

    The convention with a temporary problem with parliamentary numbers is that it only justifies parliament being prorogued until the short term problem is resolved. There are plenty of instances of parliament being cancelled until a by-election to fill a vacancy occurs. But the Governor would only act to do by proroging if the Opposition refused to co-operate by offering a pair or an agreed adjournment.

    The Holman case I referred to earlier is famous because Holman did not have the numbers to survive a vote of no-confidence. By getting his speaker to resign and then resigning the commission of the government (he was Acting Premier at the time as McGowen was in London at the Coronation of George V), he avoided a vote of no-confidence but put the Liberal opposition in a position where it would lose any vote of no-confidence if it took government, which would force the Liberals to hand the Commission back to Holman and grant his wish to prorogue Parliament. In 1920, Nationalist Leader George Fuller went through one of these farces but was silly enough to go ahead with forming a government that handed back its Commission 7 hours later. All this nonsense might have made sense in pre-party days, but now Governors just take the advice offered.

    I’ll stand corrected, but the power to prorogue is a reserve power, only constrained by requirements for annual sittings as set out in Constitutions. Like the issue of writs, it’s one of those obscure hangovers of monarchy.

  24. Boerwar,

    I’ll get back later. I’ve taken a quick break from The 7.30 Report while it does its boring Olympics story, but I’ll go back when it returns to something of substance- should that be ‘if’?

  25. Having come close but lost, the challenge for the CLP is to not neuter themselves between now and the next election. More elected members means more egos and more people to fight with. I can’t see Mills outlasting the old and new egos he now has joining him.

  26. Boerwar,

    I’m back early: the 7.30 Report has another sport story – about some NSW game!!!

    I think you need to consider geography even with modern communication. Each state has a substantial population centre, with more than half the state’s population in five out of six cases, which is a very long way from every other state’s such centre. This focuses the state’s political activity.

    If we were starting Australia from scratch, we would not have the present states. We might, for example, have a Murray-Darling Basin state. However, we don’t get to start from scratch.

    Doing something eight times probably increases the chance that one way will be bad, but doing it only once increases the chance that the whole country will have to put up with a bad system. WA has the worst education system in the country, but at least no other jurisdiction has to put up with it. If there was one national system, the chances are that on occasion the whole nation would be enduring a substandard system. Currently, there is some competition of ideas going on. Not ideal, I know, as we also tend to import dumb ideas from England to our education systems. (See the Times Education Supplement website forum to see how bad the system is there.)

    Different functions can be more effectively handed at different levels; the economy, defence, foreign affairs at the Commonwealth level; education, transport at the state level; garbage and community centres at the local level. I’d see health as a state responsibility except that Medicare funding of doctors, which is sensibly a Commonwealth matter, conflicts with state responsibility for hospitals.

    I am prepared to endure some inefficiency as the price for protection of freedom, and a federal system gives the latter and is not necessarily inefficient, though ours is.

    In a close parliament the opposition if they are serious should never grant
    pairs… but this doesn’t really change the balance
    a By election in a labor held seat would be a problem though
    how many would be and ex leaders amongst the clp parliamentary party?
    It appears the clp does not hold a single non- urban seat… Katherine and the 3
    Alice Springs based seats are all urban
    2 of the seats won by the clp were on personal votes
    Fong Lim…. for Mr Tolner
    Sanderson … against the ALp member

  28. Thankfully the punters will get paid rather than the bookies just scooping the pool into their pockets which looked possible at one stage on Saturday night.

  29. Chris Curtis @ 138

    I would be happy to have two levels of govt (national and regional) instead of three. The problem even then would be buck passing.

    I accept the idea that having some redundancy and complexity somewhat reduces the changes of total stuff ups and acts as a sort of checks and balances.

    Quite happy to take geography into account, as long as it results in a reduction of parliaments. Even four states: northern, eastern, southern and western would be a useful number. Australia is increasingly ‘hollow’ and a lot of that hollow country requires little or no governance because there are very few people and very little actually happening. Perhaps a ‘central’ to mainly take in the dead centre and the pastoral interior?

    I agree that our forebears have saddled us with a governance camel designed by a committee and that we are unikely to escape it any time soon.

  30. Ahem…
    just back from a computer-free 5 days to discover that perhaps the Greens did rather better than one would have thought likely…???

  31. I’m a long way from having any relevant opinion on territorial politics,,

    but I really need to ask the obvious question

    is this result a validation of “the intervention” at all?

    even just a little bit?

  32. The NT ALP should be thanking its lucky stars that it just managed to avoid a repeat of Victoria ’99.

    The real question now is – Can Carpenter survive or will the Canal Man be resurrected?

  33. Hi Gar,

    Maybe after all these years, the electorate can tell the difference between on ghe one hand

    1) coming up with a ballsy idea that no-one else would dream of doing

  34. Hi Gary,

    Maybe after all these years, the electorate can tell the difference between on the one hand

    1) coming up with a ballsy idea that no-one else would dream of putting forward (eg Mal Brough)

    and on the other hand

    2) simply agreeing with someone else after they have shown leadership on an issue (eg the ALP on indigin????… on indigin????,,, on aboriginal issues)

    while I’m at it, why are politically correct names harder to spell??

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