Northern Territory election: August 25

With polling day three-and-a-half weeks away, my seat-by-seat guide to the Northern Territory election is almost ready for action, and will be posted after a bit more proof reading leading today (UPDATE: Make that tomorrow) (UPDATE 2: No, make it Monday). Local legal academic and former Labor MP Ken Parish relates the campaign has been off to a somnolent start, with both sides keeping their powder dry until the final fortnight after the Olympics are finished.

The only published polling one ever sees for the Northern Territory comes from Newspoll on the eve of the election, so for outside observers particularly the situation is not easy to read. But with a Labor government seeking a fourth term in a traditionally conservative polity after 11 years in office, and the examples of New South Wales and Queensland etched firmly in mind, the auguries seem to indicate that Labor is headed for an almightly shellacking. So it comes as a surprise to see Sportingbet taking bets on all 25 seats individually, and offering the CLP as clear favourites in only 12 of them.

Echoes of uncertainty have also been heard from the CLP camp itself. Last week the Northern Territory News reported on a confidential party document which warned its lack of policy development might cause voters to “stick with the devil they know”. Last year the paper reported that internal polling showed the party going backwards, putting it at risk of losing Port Darwin without making compensating gains. While the provenance of internal polling is always open to dispute, it is easy enough to believe the report’s claim that Paul Henderson was shown to be “comfortably the preferred Chief Minister” in comparison with the CLP’s uninspiring Terry Mills. One wonders how Mills’s leadership might have played out if he were subjected to the steady drumbeat of polling that federal and state leaders have to endure.

As it stands, Mills had little trouble seeing off a challenge in August 2010 from David Tollner, who held the federal seat of Solomon from 2001 to 2007 before entering Territory politics in 2008. Tollner only secured two votes in the party room against eight for Mills, but he is believed to have won over another two supporters since. He also returned to the front bench after a year of penance in the wake of the leadership challenge, with yet more alleged internal polling suggesting he was the most popular member on either side of parliament.

On the other side of the coin, Paul Henderson appears to have kept internal predators at bay through a difficult period of minority government, and things seem to have been eerily quiet on the scandal front. Ken Parish also makes the interesting observation that the government has been able to “keep politics off the front page” by fiendishly exploiting the Northern Territory News’s notorious obsession with crocodiles. He also suggests Labor may be coming off an artificially low base from the 2008 election result, which had a lot to do with Henderson’s poorly received decision to call the election a year ahead of time.

For all that though, my money is firmly on the CLP. Labor has been handicapped by the effective loss of the remote seat of Namatjira (formerly Macdonnell) with Alison Anderson’s defection to the CLP, so the starting point is 12-12-1 rather than the 13-11-1 recorded at the 2008 election. Independent Gerry Wood presumably had stability in mind when he announced mid-term that he would back Labor to remain in government, and if re-elected would be open to negotiation (though he would have to look past the fact that he accuses CLP members of being behind blackmail and physical threats against him).

It would only take one extra seat for the CLP to go one better, and a number of Labor’s look hard to defend. Fannie Bay (0.9%) and Daly (5.8%) are challenging by dint of margin alone, and the latter has shown a tendency to be volatile. Candidate factors are of paramount importance in the Northern Territory’s bite-sized electorates, so the retirements of Chris Burns in Johnston (margin 6.9%) and Jane Aagaard in Nightcliff (10.7%) make life a lot tougher there than the margins indicate. Conversely, the CLP should enjoy considerable sophomore surges in seats where Labor could realistically hope to make countervailing gains (although the same can be said for Labor first-termer Michael Gunner in Fannie Bay).

What follows is a quick regional breakdown of the electoral terrain into five regions, with party status identified as per the results of the 2008 election (so not including the defection of Alison Anderson in Macdonnell/Namatjira).

Darwin (ALP 6, CLP 3). Labor’s first ever election win in 2001 was built on a breakthrough in the capital, where they previously held only one or two seats. The CLP’s only holdout was the CBD electorate of Port Darwin, with an entire bloc of the middle and northern suburbs (Millner, Nightcliff, Johnston, Casuarina, Sanderson and Karama) moving to Labor, mostly for the first time. The 2005 landslide delivered Labor a clean sweep, Port Darwin being caught up in the flood. In 2008 the CLP recovered Port Darwin together with Sanderson and Fong Lim (formerly Millner). Labor’s most obviously endangered seats are Fannie Bay (0.9%), which Clare Martin wrestled from the CLP in 1995 and Michael Gunner narrowly retained when she retired in 2008, along with Johnston (6.9%) and Nightcliff (10.7%), which are respectively being vacated with the retirements of Chris Burns and Jane Aagaard. Conversely, the CLP has modest margins in its three seats, but will likely benefit in each from sophomore surge.

Palmerston (ALP 0, CLP 3). The CLP retained its hold on Palmerston’s three seats in 2001, but only Blain survived in 2005, with one of the casualties being party leader Denis Burke in Brennan. Both Brennan and Drysdale returned to the CLP fold in 2008. The CLP has surrendered its sophomore surge advantage in Drysdale by dumping its member Ross Bohlin, who will run as an independent. The margin is 9.3%, so Labor is not likely to pose a threat.

Alice Springs (ALP 0, CLP 3). Labor has never won a Territory seat in Alice Springs, despite being fairly competitive there at federal level, and did particularly poorly in 2008. The retirement of independent member Loraine Braham helped the CLP secure a clean sweep last time, and there is no reason to expect different this time.

Pastoral (ALP 1, CLP 2, IND 1). This basically refers to four seats outside of Darwin/Palmerston and Alice Springs which do not have Aboriginal majority populations. The only one held by Labor is electorally volatile Daly on the outskirts of Darwin (margin 5.8%). Katherine and Goyder are reliably conservative, although Labor managed a narrow win in the latter in 2005. Nelson has been held very securely since 2001 by independent Gerry Wood, who despite his hefty margin would be mindful of how independents have been faring in state elections lately – especially given his mid-term determination to support Labor in office.

Remote (ALP 6, CLP 0). This encompasses the seats with Aboriginal majority populations. One of these, Namatjira (the name of which has with good reason been changed from Macdonnell), presents Labor with a serious headache. Local Aboriginal community leader Alison Anderson had held the seat for Labor since 2005, but quit the party in 2009 and joined the CLP last year. If the electorate’s track record is anything to go by, personal will trump party loyalty and Anderson will retain the seat. The other five seats are held by Labor on hefty double-digit margins. The retirement of former deputy leader Marion Scrymgour in Arafura might have been problematic, but Labor has presumably done well by landing the services of former Essendon AFL star Dean Rioli.

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.

23 comments on “Northern Territory election: August 25”

  1. Thanks for this thread, William. As a non-NTian, I get virtually zero exposure to NT politics, even when digging for it and, indeed, even this close to their election.

    While this is a federal political question and probably more appropriate in the other thread (not inviting a federal political debate), do you think it will be likely that commentators will use this election as a “test” for Gillard’s leadership, or have they learned their lesson from the Melbourne state by-election, not to treat a result as inevitable and base their rhetorical narrative around it?

    Nevertheless, I look forward to any information and discussion on this very small and quiet election.

  2. Here’s a policy the NT govt is launching, not sure what impact this would have in the election…

    [Homelands Policy commits to development
    NT NEWS | August 1st, 2012

    THE Government’s new Homelands Policy will see $300 million invested in homelands infrastructure over the next ten years.

    The policy will see improved management and maintenance of existing infrastructure, including houses, roads, and essential services, at homelands across the Territory launched today in the town of Gangan in northeast Arnhem Land.

    Chief Minister, Paul Henderson said the Homelands Policy is committed to investing up to $20,000 for each homeland dwelling for power, essential services, repairs and maintenance, and to giving homeland residents more say in how funding is spent.]

    There are two more Ken Parrish Club Troppo articles (apart from the one already linked above) worth reviewing on NT politics

    [Posted on July 25, 2012 by Ken Parish
    Stopping debt and deficit in the Territory?

    Like Tony Abbott at a federal level, NT Country Liberals leader Terry Mills has been trying to fan the flames of a shock-horror theme on government debt, deficit and waste. Unlike Abbott, he hasn’t been notably successful at least in the mainstream media.]

    [Posted on July 22, 2012 by Ken Parish
    NT political campaigning under the radar

    On the surface at least, nothing much has changed since my first two reports on the forthcoming Northern Territory election. The mainstream media campaign is very quiet indeed, even though it’s now less than 5 weeks until polling day. Almost certainly the parties are saving their money for an ad blitz in the last 3-4 weeks, probably with most concentrated in the last fortnight after the end of the London Olympics. By all accounts both parties are fairly well cashed up. Labor spin doctors make no secret of that claim, while it’s strongly rumoured that the CLP campaign is being heavily bankrolled by eccentric Queensland billionaire Clive Palmer.]
    The July 22 one on campaigning is especially worth reviewing, great background.

  3. BB

    Spot on about the role of the media and PR spinning up the inevitability of the Olymians success.

    I have some advice for Magnussen, some of which I have stated before.

    1) The media is not your friend. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing

    2) Try using the personal pronoun “I” a little less frequently

    3) Swim to 81% of your capacity (the 80% you said would suffice was not quite enough)

    4) At least once in follow up interviews, mention the victor

    5) Recognise that in all competitions there are winners and losers. Accept this or take up knitting.

    My last bit of advice is probly unfair. Kids’ pathologically extreme competitive sprit doesn’t develop through osmosis. In his background are 2 people of great influence to him who have nurtured his development for 20 years. What role have they played?

    We have all seen the extremes of you-must-win-at-all-costs weirdo parents over the years in those Yank interviews of beauty pageant child abusers …… the ones who dress their 3 year olds in sexy gear and make up, and train them to pose provocatively, so they will win.

    They are the blatant examples.

    But there are more subtle forms of this. Parents who fail to whisper in their competing, hard training kid’s ear day after day “but in the end you can only do your best and that’s the important thing; doing your best is what makes us proud of you” are no different to the beauty pageant mums. Sadly, those who don’t whisper such caveat words invariably shout “win, win, win” at every opportunity, both in words and body language.

    In the lead up to the final the commentators spoke of Magnussen’s relatively recent take up of swimming as his sport. He had been devasted !!!!!! by losing a football grand final when he was 17, and he (the parents????) decided that an individual (rather than team) sport would be in his best interests. By implication, it was evidently the other members of the team who caused the grand final loss.

    To conclude, it was nauseating to hear Sutcliffe and Warren spruiking up Magnussen’s certain win right up till the “go” buzzer.

    James Magnussen, if you tried your best and I think you did, very well done. But do not forget the media is not your friend!

  4. Speaking for myself and what my feeling is; it will be close, very very close, I think the CLP will most likely win, albeit with a small majority and possibly will need to deal for a minority government position. Independents is the big uncertainty, your story has little to say about this, otherwise good story.
    The general feeling on the committment to funding of outstations, is positive, but the context is bigger than what you have written. Consider the amount of Federal funding that is now tied to measurable outcomes, the recent changes to Shire councils and the move to ‘growth towns’.
    BTW I live here in Darwin, I have been here in the NT for going on 18 years, another year or 3 and I could almost be considered a local.

  5. Couple of things to keep in mind in NT elections. It is usually won in the northern suburbs. Aboriginal voters vote overwhelmingly ALP but that is shakier this time around following high profile defections like Mario and Anderson. Defence and its families play a big role and are scattered across several electorates. The more military, the more CLP votes. And turnover is enormous. In no other place in Australia are so many of the voters first time voters in that electorate. It makes looking at past results less useful than you’d think.

  6. Who is standing against Anderson? Don’t underestimate the political sophistication of voters in such seats. I’ve seen the ALP beat popular CLP Indigenous candidates in both Stuart & McDonnell in the past, simply on the basis of superior policy on Aboriginal matters.

    Mmm. The real trouble is that since “Stronger Futures” passage and earlier decisions wrt to education language policies, etc etc etc by the NT Labor government, “superior policy on Aboriginal matters” is no longer something Labor can really shout about. Still, the hatred of Brough’s even cruder Intervention, and long standing, very well justified, suspicion about the CLP in such areas, might still count in these electorates.

  7. [quote]As a non-NTian, I get virtually zero exposure to NT politics[/quote]

    Territory politics can be very weird, and often has little relationship to national or even other “northern Australian” politics. When I first lived there the entire “opposition” to the then rampant CLP was a single independent, Dawn Laurie. Not a single Labor member in sight.

    Improved for Labor in 1977. When missionaries stopped filling out the votes for Aboriginal people on one mission I worked on as a scrutineer in the 1975 Fed election, Labor recorded a swing of over 90% at that booth! Funny that! Amazing what knowing who your vote is actually being cast for can do in an election! 😉 The change stuck in the 77 Territory election and Labor actually won a handful of seats.

    Labor only finally won govt there when Howard was at his peak federally though, in 2001. ALP repeated the dose in 2005, not long after Howard’s huge 2004 victory!

    Lord knows what they will make of the current situation. No guarantee at all that they’ll “go with the flow” in other parts of Aus, though!

  8. I agree that NT politics and elections don’t tend to follow normal patterns, but I think this election will be a little different. We’ll have the same forces of hatred of Ju lia and ignorance fed by the media that will probably play a much stronger role than previously. The NT News hasn’t been as rabidly pro CLP so far, in my opinion, but the Fed politics are subject to the usual Murdoch lies and misinformation.
    The Northern suburbs have increased their population of military families too, which could take votes away from Labour.
    Gerry Woods is pretty safe. He’s made a few enemies, but he still seems to have good support from the rural population.
    I think Labor will hold on, but it will be close. The ALP has achieved so much but they get very little acknowledgment for it. But Terry Mills, the opp. leader, doesn’t seem to have a really strong following.
    Another important factor that makes out difficult to pacify along party lines its the small electorates, where the personal vote is very strong.

  9. “Another important factor that makes it difficult to pacify along party lines its the small electorates, where the personal vote is very strong.”
    Absolutley agree with that.
    ABC news last night (02/08), we hear for the first time Dave Tollner’s plan (CLP), for the re-development of Bagot community; why, well obviously because the lease on Bagot is a ‘special circumstances’ one; the govt has the ability to change that, so the current inhabitants will be forced to buy and or rent their own homes. Does this prospect appeal to the Bagot community leaders and residents, of course not, but hey Dave don’t worry about consulting with them, dont worry about informing them first, lets just ‘impose’ this on them. Got to admire the consistency with that. What makes it even more crazy is the fact that almost across the road is a large area of RAAF housing, a lot of it empty. I seem to remember previous committments to making this housing available to community for rent or buy, is that area also not under a ‘special circumstances’ lease arrangement. Housing availability, purchase costs, rent costs, these are all major issues up here.


    [NT poll a judgment on intervention from the people most affected
    Date August 5, 2012
    Misha Schubert

    In the desert, it’s personal experience that matters, not statistics.

    IN THE indigenous heart of the country, a democratic tussle is in the making. The Northern Territory heads to the polls on August 25. When it does, the desert people from Yuendemu to Kalkarindji, from Lajamanu to Barunga, could get a choice of four indigenous candidates in the seat of Stuart – a lifetime on from the era when they were few and far between in politics.

    Labor’s Karl Hampton faces a challenge from Maurie Japarta Ryan, founder of the fledgling First Nations party. But also sizing up a run are two indigenous women – Bess Price for the Country Liberal Party and Barb Shaw for the Greens – the public face of the cases for and against the emergency intervention into remote indigenous communities five years ago.]
    more in the article

  11. Tonight the LNP outdid their Southern cousins! The Academy Award goes to Opposition Leader Mills and his “ex-policeman” offsider, Elferink. They were outside with the tv cameras all running, to tell us how bad our crime rate is and how they’re gonna fix it (In fact I think I saw where they’ve guaranteed to reduce it by 10%), when some nasty little blighter happened to come up behind Elferink and “kick” him in the back of his knee!

    Well, Elferink, being an ex-cop, immediately tried to make a ‘citizen’s arrest’, holding the guy’s hand up behind his back. But wait there’s more! Another one or two nasties come along and have a go at Elferink.

    And what did those useless Police do? Well they just drove on past, even when Mills and Elferink tried to hail them! And the bad guys ran away!

    But the LNP will fix the Police too, and increase their numbers by…..lots!

    I think they should probably reassess their security staff too, and maybe all those hangers on and camera men and interviewers might have to search their consciences about why they didn’t step in to help.

  12. IMOHO 12

    That kinda just helped their message.

    “See, not even we’re safe with these cameras around. And you saw how weak the police were. It will be a priority of a Mills Government to immediately fix this problem by… etc.”

  13. Sorry if this sound cynical, but after watching the CLP’s tactics for more than 30 years I wouldn’t put it past them to have staged that encounter.

    If they didn’t, then I genuinely apologise to Mills and Elferink, and the CLP.

    But I remain very sceptical at this point. It is just too convenient.

    I mean, really, how likely is it that complete strangers will attack you, while you are being interviewed in public, in front of cameras, in broad daylight, and the policy you just happen to be promoting is all about Laura Norder, with an emphasis on drunken violence?


    Never forget the CLP are the loins from whence that ruthless gutter-level propagandist Mark Textor was spawned and nurtured.

    Incidentally, his Wikipedia page reads like a nauseatingly hagiographic job application, with not a critical word in sight. For example:

    As a pioneer of values-based communication in Australasia , Mark’s insight into behavioural change has been sought by business and community leaders around the world. Mark has earned the recognition of some of Australia ‘s most respected commentators and academics for his work, which has also included counsel for some of the most significant investor and consumer communications campaigns in Australia.

    Perhaps the best example of his ‘craft’ at work?

  14. Carey and Just Me,
    That’s precisely what I was trying to convey! An a very amateurish attempt it was, too!
    They are obviously taking advice from Qld and others in the deep South – nothing new about that, except that this time it’s even more pronounced. I remember pre the Rudd election, every State’s newspapers and propaganda machines pushed the same issues as if it was unique to that state – ALP soft on crime, hospitals failing, schools bad. But since the advent of the “obnoxious” and lying Abbott free-speechers, the LNP have stooped to accusing the ALP Govt. of lying, corruption, manipulating figures, bullying public servants into reports that reflect well on Govt., etc. And yesterday’s farce was just a part of it.

    I didn’t know Mark Textor was a Territorian – how upsetting!

  15. Interesting how CM Henderson has been at pains to stress again and again the the NT election issues are separate to the Federal govt and that Territory elections will be decided on Territory issues. “No we dont want their help or support” Henderson says in a million different ways. Well wake up bloke, we are tied to the Fed by unbreakable strings of financial dependence. He is not fooling anyone.
    The dissapointing thing is that neither major party is focussing on the ’causes’, of crime, of alcoholism, of lack of housing etc. etc.; honestly it is just more bandaids.

  16. William. After reading through what you have written. I seen nothing which informs me what the CLP acronym means! Edward James

  17. IMOHO

    Fair enough.

    I agree that Mills is showing signs of playing a dirty, a lá Abbott, in the campaign.



    “Well wake up bloke, we are tied to the Fed by unbreakable strings of financial dependence. He is not fooling anyone.”

    Pretty sure Henderson is talking about political help or support from federal Labor during the NT campaign, not about the primary ongoing source of funds for the NT budget.

    Pretty sure you know that.



    CLP = Country Liberal Party. The NT’s home grown conservative amalgam.

  18. Thanks for the Mackerras link, Leroy.

    I am not seeing electoral baseball bats being dusted off for NT Labor. The main meat-and-potato issue is housing, and there are no easy answers for that one, regardless of who is in government.

    The timing of the election is looking quite fortuitous for Labor, given the heat the conservatives, and Abbott himself, are increasingly feeling across the country right now.

    So it probably wasn’t a good idea for Mills to have used personal appearances by Abbott in the NT campaign. I would have kept it strictly local.


    [Tracking the intersecting NT fear campaigns
    Posted on August 9, 2012 by Ken Parish

    One of the more fascinating aspects of the current NT election campaign from an afficionado’s viewpoint is the phenomenon of intersecting and overlapping fear campaigns by the two major parties. Spin doctors take exactly the same set of facts (in this case NT net debt and deficits, which I dealt with in an article a couple of weeks ago) and then reassemble them for their own opposing purposes to scare the pants off voters.]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *