Over the coming weeks I will be going through the country region by region offering at least some commentary along the way on the result in every seat, a valuable exercise that will undoubtedly pick up a lot of nuances currently still obscure to me. I’m starting with Northern Territory as a target of opportunity, given comments made yesterday by Anthony Albanese brought my attention to the result in Lingiari.
For those not familiar with the situation at the top end, the Northern Territory is divided electorally into Solomon, which neatly accommodates Darwin and its satellite city of Palmerston, and Lingiari, accounting for the remainder. Since the territory’s population leaves it on the cusp of one seat and two when state and territory seat entitlements are determined, these electorates have enrolments of around 75,000, compared with around 120,000 for the average seat in the mainland states.
Not for the first time, Lingiari was perhaps the most under-discussed marginal seat contest in the country at this election. Since the weight of remote indigenous communities in this electorate makes accurate polling essentially impossible, both sides typically make efforts to campaign in the seat but apparently fly blind as to their effectiveness, while the journalistic default is to assume the result will once again be a fairly narrow win for Labor, as has indeed been the case at every election since the seat was created with the territory’s division into two seats in 2001.
Lingiari was of particular interest this time around due to the retirement of Warren Snowdon, who had held it for Labor since its inauguration. How Labor might fare in the absence of a personal vote accumulated through a political career in the territory going back to 1987 was one of the election’s great imponderables. The verdict is now in: Labor’s new candidate, former Deputy Chief Minister Marion Scrymgour, has retained the seat, but by only 0.9% in the face of a swing to the Country Liberals of 4.5%. But there was another aspect to the result: a fall in turnout from 72.8% of enrolled voters in 2019 to 66.8%. Asked about this at a press conference yesterday, Anthony Albanese diagnosed the situation as follows:
It’s not rocket science to know what happened here. They ripped resources out of the Electoral Commission. There was a deliberate policy of the former government to restrict people voting in the territory. They tried to abolish the seat — and we fought very hard to get two seats in the territory — they restricted the numbers of people who were working for the Australian Electoral Commission to get people on the roll. This was straight out of the right-wing Republican playbook. It was an outrage, what occurred. And then there was a lack of resources to enable peeople to vote. We have one vote, one value in this country. It’s an important principle of our democracy. And the fact that 66% of people vote means that one in three people in the electorate of Lingiari didn’t get to vote. That was a part of the former government’s design. It wasn’t by accident, and they should be held to account for it.
The claim that the previous government “tried to abolish the seat” doesn’t seem altogether fair: the seat was set to be abolished because the territory’s population fell below the level required to entitle it to a second seat under the existing formula, and it was a government-sponsored bill that effectively overturned it, although not in terms that formally guaranteed the territory a second seat in all circumstances as per an alternative bill introduced by Labor.
In any case, it’s interesting to observe that it was the remote mobile booths that bore the brunt of the drop in turnout, with the total formal vote down 14.8% compared with 3.3% for the other booths in the electorate, while declaration votes of all kinds were up 4.1%. Labor suffered swings of 1.4% on the other booths and 5.7% on the declaration votes, but of 9.7% on the remote mobile booths. I’m in no position to judge whether the size of the latter swing was fuelled in any way by under-servicing of indigenous communities. I would observe though that Labor had an indigenous candidate and the Country Liberals a white candidate this time, whereas the opposite was true in 2019.
Meanwhile, traditionally marginal Solomon swung heavily to Labor, though here too turnout was down, from 83.1% to 79.5%. The 6.3% swing to Labor member Luke Gosling has left the seat with a margin of 9.4%, comfortably bigger than the seat’s previous record of 6.0% and maintaining a clear break in Labor’s favour over the last three elections. While every booth but one swung to Labor, swings appeared to be strongest around the Darwin central business district, consistent with the broader story of the election.
The same might be said of the fact that the two-party swing was driven by a 13.1% slump in the Country Liberal primary vote rather than a surge in support for Labor, whose primary vote was down 0.6%. Less typically, the slack was taken up by the Liberal Democrats, whose candidate topped 10%. This may have been driven by her position on the top of the ballot paper; the party’s raised profile arising from Sam McMahon running as its Senate candidate after losing Country Liberal preselection; and the absence of any independents to soak up the disaffected conservative vote. For her part, Sam McMahon got 9.2% of the vote for the Senate, which has delivered its usual result of one Labor and one Country Liberal.