Arafura by-election live

A quick look at a by-election today in the Northern Territory, with live count coverage to follow this evening.

Live commentary

8.20pm. The outstanding booth, which handled almost as many votes as the others put together, moderated the Labor margin to 18.9%.

7.45pm. With four out of five booths in (four of them mobile, the other a Darwin pre-poll), the result is a surprisingly emphatic win for Labor’s Manuel Brown, who leads the two-candidate count by 1112 to 265 – a margin of 30.8% as compared with 3.6% at the 2020 election.

6pm. Polling has closed; the NTEC’s results page is here. I will provide occasional updates on the progress of the count as circumstances permit.


A by-election will be held today for the Northern Territory seat of Arafura, following the death of Labor member Lawrence Costa in December. Defeat would reduce Labor from 14 seats to 13, a bare majority in a parliament of 25 in which the opposition Country Liberals hold eight seats. This post will be updated with some sort of live coverage of the count after polls close at 6pm this evening, although updates may not be particularly timely.

Arafura covers the Tiwi Islands along with mainland territory around West Arnhem, and can lay claim to the title of the country’s most heavily indigenous parliamentary seat. Labor has held it for all but one term since its creation in 1983, past members including Bob Collins and Maurice Rioli. However, it fell to the Country Liberals together with Arnhem and Stuart as part of the bush rebellion that cost Labor power in 2012, and Labor’s margin at the 2020 election was a modest 3.6%.

Labor’s new candidate is Manuel Brown, a local community service worker. It was revealed during the campaign that Brown was convicted of driving without due care following a fatal car accident in 2009, when he was 26. The Liberal candidate is Leslie Tungatalum, Tiwi Islands Regional Council and son of Hyacinth Tungatalum, who became the first indigenous member of the Legislative Assembly in 1974. A third candidate is Alan Middleton of the obscure Federation Party, whose policies include opposition to vaccine mandates

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.

29 comments on “Arafura by-election live”

  1. Labor reports good turnout for them at the twenty booths conducted over the last ten days or so. Only Jabiru left today.
    CLP like Labor have invested substantial resources in this by election campaign only to do it again in 16 months at the NT general election.
    Turnout for a Wet season election has been surprisingly good and is well past the 2020 election.
    My tip Labor to hold with a slightly increased majority largely due to their superior ground game.

  2. I’m not a expert on Northern Territory politics. However, I doubt the CLP are much of a chance considering the tragic circumstances around the bye-election. It generally negates the factor of the public wanting to do a protest vote against the government in these types of bye-elections.

  3. Emilius van der Lubben says:
    Saturday, March 18, 2023 at 11:44 am
    Given that Mark Turner sits on the crossbench, this would put the government into minority if the CLP wins.
    I’ve lost track of how many minority governments there have been in the last decade, so if it comes to that, so be it.
    I’m looking forward to Labor throwing out a minority government next Saturday, though.
    While I expect Labor to form a majority government in NSW, in the highly unlikely event of a minority for them, so be it.
    If you do the hard yards in a minority government you can make it work. Just ask the experts, Julia Gillard and Annastacia Palaszczuk.

  4. Even if Brown loses I can’t see Turner refusing confidence & supply given he is still a financial member of NT Labor.

  5. “Given that Mark Turner sits on the crossbench, this would put the government into minority if the CLP wins.”

    That’s not correct – they started with 14, kicked Turner out but won the Daly by-election, so they are 14 now and will be 13/25 if they lose Arafura.

  6. Politcal Nightwatchman – I’ve looked at this quite a bit and at least federally there is no historic difference in swings between government by-elections caused by retirement and those caused by death. That’s not to say there is no sympathy vote but if there is it could be cancelled out by other things.

  7. Ah thanks Kevin, you are totally right. I did a -1 on my records due to Gunner’s resignation and did not update it after the by-election in Fannie Bay. Apologies all for misinformation.

  8. Does a lack of 2CP/2PP mean the NTEC expects Brown to win on primaries? Anyone familiar with past counting of rural NT by-elections?

  9. Emilius: more likely they just haven’t done it yet.

    Oh, and there ya go: it’s 73.5% to Labor.

    And here’s mobile #1: 86% Labor, 13% CLP, 1% other guy (who got thumped by the informal vote). Boom.

  10. Tiny little Darwin EVC (66 formal votes): 73% Labor, 26% CLP, just one lonely vote for whatsisname.

    Nine votes (yep, NINE) from Darwin mobile team, whatever that was – sounds like a waste of time. Split 4-4-1, all formal.

    Turnout so far is 27%, with one mobile booth to come. Unless that one’s a heap bigger than the others, that’ll be turnout well under 50%.

  11. And the last mobile booth goes 56-42-2 – slightly less of a thrashing, then. That one had 1350 votes, so turnout pokes its head above 50%.

  12. And there it is. 18.9% the margin. Nice quick count.

    Little bit of trivia: you don’t need a flat % of the vote (4% or whatever) to get your deposit back in the NT, it depends on what the winner got. Here, that’s about 13%, so Middleton missed out.

    A candidate is entitled to have their deposit returned in full if he or she:

    * is returned as elected
    * obtains a total number of first preference votes which is more than one-fifth of the total of the first preference votes received by the elected candidate
    * withdraws their consent to nomination before 12:00 noon on the day nominations close.

  13. Following the death of member there is a generally a sympathy vote in the by-election. In the small elections of the NT, I would suggest that would be amplified.

  14. If I’m not missing something here, this is a huge Margin win for Labour. 3.6% to 30% Margin is big, really big. 2PP below, why was this considered close I wonder – perhaps one area where the Voice was a factor not just the Roads.

    Totals 860 LNP 1,902 Labour

  15. Looking like a real thumping for the CLP. Perhaps the anti-Voice rhetoric from their Federal counterparts isn’t going down well in Aboriginal communities.

    Sidenote, from a Sydneysider’s perspective it’s incredible to see an electorate with only ~5,000 voters in it.

  16. Mark Toughsays:
    Saturday, March 18, 2023 at 9:58 pm
    If I’m not missing something here, this is a huge Margin win for Labour. 3.6% to 30% Margin is big, really big. 2PP below, why was this considered close I wonder – perhaps one area where the Voice was a factor not just the Roads.

    Totals 860 LNP 1,902 Labour

    Boom Tish!
    After all the Alice Springs brouhaha, where Albanese and NT Chief Minister got howled at and brickbatted by right wing ratbags for the troubles Aboriginal people were in in Alice Springs that is a substantial result IMO.

  17. 27% swing to the government in a by-election? WOWSERS.
    Let’s hope the good voters of Aston feel the same way in two weeks.
    And then of course let’s hope (well I will) the LNP in NSW have an equally shitty day next week as their CLP counterparts did today.

  18. Lidia Thorpe and her inner urban radical revolutionary comrades have almost nothing in common with people living in remote communities. Please let this result be an an endorsement of the Voice.

  19. It looks like curtains for Dear Lia after this result. She obviously can’t help her squeaky voice and her whingeing style, but my hearing and patience will be improved greatly by her passing.

Leave a Reply

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