North and south

The CLP has launched a challenge against the June 18 Northern Territory election result for the seat of Goyder, won by Labor with a margin of 124 votes (1.6 per cent). The party purports to be concerned that the seal on a package of votes was broken en route to Darwin after the polling booth officer was asked to check that the bundles were sorted correctly, leaving open the very unlikely possibility of vote tampering. Frivolous as the complaint may be, the Poll Bludger has three reasons for hoping it gets up. Firstly, a CLP win would bring his predicted outcome one seat closer to accuracy. Secondly, Labor’s success in winning 19 seats to the CLP’s four was (all together now) bad for democracy. Thirdly, and relatedly, it would be interesting to see how the dynamics of the by-election would play out.

Normally voters who are dragged to the polls outside of a general election are prone to react violently against the initiating party. An obvious example is the by-election for Lindsay that came six months after Jackie Kelly’s shock win at the 1996 federal election that dumped the Keating government. Labor couldn’t believe that the voters had meant to wield the baseball bat quite so forcefully, and launched a challenge against the result on the grounds that Kelly, as an RAAF officer, held an "office of profit under the crown" that disqualified her from taking her seat. The High Court agreed and the voters of Lindsay, an electorate overflowing with young families, had their Saturday interrupted for a second time. Nobody should have been surprised when Labor’s Ross Free suffered the insult of a 5.0 per cent swing to add to the 11.9 per cent injury he sustained at the general election. Moreover, the seat has stayed Liberal ever since. It would be interesting to see if the same scenario would play out in the face of Clare Martin’s bloated majority.

In other news, the report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission proposing boundaries for the newly reformed Victorian Legislative Council is released today. The Poll Bludger will need time to get his head around it before commenting, but Charles Richardson at Crikey tells us that the commissioners have ignored the major parties and "followed almost exactly the submission made by the Greens, with only three of the 88 districts (all in the eastern suburbs) allocated differently".

After the blast

CLP supporters hoping that late counting might add a skerrick of respectability to the Northern Territory scoreboard have once again been shatteringly disappointed. Labor’s leads have remained stubbornly intact in Drysdale (1813 to 1698), Port Darwin (1705 to 1609) and Goyder (1984 to 1860), while their other gains of Daly (2239 to 1199), MacDonnell (1705 to 1046) and Denis Burke’s former seat of Brennan (1912 to 1761) have never looked in doubt. But the CLP will hold Greatorex (1930 to 1821), maintaining the Labor lockout from Alice Springs. The independent member for Braitling, Loraine Braham, has defied conventional wisdom to strengthen her position in late counting and now looks likely to retain her seat, leading 1770 votes to the CLP’s 1717. Barring last minute miracles, the numbers in the Legislative Assembly will be Labor 19, CLP four and independents two. The Poll Bludger has thus emerged with five wrong calls out of 25, namely Drysdale, Brennan, Port Darwin, Goyder and Greatorex.

Compared to my score of 55 out of 57 at the Western Australian election (and I would argue that one of the two wrong calls didn’t fully count, since it went from one Coalition party to the other) this doesn’t look too special, but this was a very different election. Anyone who tipped Labor wins in Drysdale or Brennan before Saturday could have expected a visit from men in white coats, and even some of my accurate predictions attracted howls of derision from observers at the top end. Since the scale of Labor’s win was beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, the spoils went to whoever made the boldest prediction in their favour. In this respect, Peter Brent at Mumble and Bryan at Palmer’s Oz Politics might be said to have emerged as the winners with their predictions of 17 seats for Labor rather than the 16 tipped by myself and Charles Richardson at Crikey, but they weren’t tipping individual seat outcomes. Of those that were, Richardson was kind enough to note that this site was nearest the mark.

The Poll Bludger is too kind-hearted to draw attention to the legions of observers who weren’t even close (note Bryan’s observations at Palmer’s Oz Politics), and will limit the gloating over his detractors to this self-serving selection of highlights from the last three weeks:

I suspect that those who have watched Labor struggle over nine Northern Territory elections might prove a little slow to acclimatise to the entirely new circumstances now that Labor heads a stable government with a popular leader, and faces a divided rabble of an opposition. I would not be amazed if the CLP emerged with as few as six seats.

Comment at Troppo Armadillo, 1/6/05

As the Northern Territory election loomed, the Poll Bludger’s gut feeling was that Clare Martin and Labor were on course for a landslide win that would rewrite the top end’s electoral rule book. After probing deeper I was surprised to discover that this view had little currency among those more closely familiar with Territory politics than myself, which led me to back down on some of my bolder seat predictions. I did so without conviction … (Newspoll has) emboldened me to trust my original instincts. The poll suggests that participants in various online forums who have been debating which northern suburbs seats might deliver victory to the CLP have been barking up the wrong tree entirely. The real question as far as Darwin is concerned is whether the CLP can hold back the tide in Port Darwin, which it holds with a margin of 7.3 per cent.

The Poll Bludger, 11/6/05

I have developed a theory about this election that has inspired me to draw a different overall conclusion, not just from (thread commenter) Bonnie but from just about every other observer. It goes like this – unlike every previous NT election, this one will be held under a Labor government, which entirely changes the rules. For one thing, the CLP can’t scare people away from Labor now that it’s been practically demonstrated that the world won’t come to an end if they win … For another, the well-known advantages of incumbency for local members were always a boon for the CLP in the past because they had more sitting members than Labor. But this time, Labor goes into the election with 12 sitting members versus eight for the CLP. Yes, local issues still matter and there will be big variations in the result from one seat to the next. But my punt is that these will occur within the context of a seismic movement in Labor’s favour, such that the variations will amount to differences in the size of the pro-Labor swing.

Comment at Inside Politics, 18/6/05

Here we go

8.50. Clare Martin has given her victory speech. This seems like a good place to wrap up the Poll Bludger’s coverage for the evening. I had a fair chunk of my meagre reputation riding on this result and I don’t mind telling you that I’m feeling pretty damn vindicated (someone on ABC Radio just said "nobody was predicting a landslide tonight" – where you been darlin’?). There were as always wrong calls in individual seats (though fewer than I could reasonably have feared given the nature of Northern Territory elections), but I got the big things right. My only clanger was calling Goyder for independent Mary Walshe – it will either be won by the CLP or Labor. The only other seat I was definitely wrong about was Brennan, but I’m hardly Robinson Crusoe in this regard. Labor are ahead in Drysdale and Port Darwin, which I hadn’t picked, and have won Daly and MacDonnell, which I did. The CLP looks likely to hold Greatorex, which I tipped for Labor. The picture in Braitling is still confused – I had tipped independent Loraine Braham to hold, but it could go either way. The ABC projects a final outcome of 18-5-2, compared with my prediction of 16-7-2.

8.20. Richard Lim apparently confident of retaining Greatorex for the CLP. The NTEC now has him leading Labor’s Fran Kilgariff 1484 to 1402.

8.16. ABC computer has switched Port Darwin from Labor ahead to Labor gain, but they’re only in front by 19 votes.

8.07. Denis Burke giving his concession of defeat speech.

8.06. Antony Green just said the CLP’s lead in Drysdale was in single figures, so he obviously knows something the NTEC doesn’t – they only have 1346 votes counted. The ABC’s figures have 2417 counted and in fact have Labor slightly ahead.

7.59. Haven’t heard anything on Braitling for a bit, but the NTEC does in fact have Loraine Braham ahead by five votes – 1470 to 1465.

7.49. CLP looking safe in Araluen. The CLP’s John Elferink currently conceding defeat in MacDonnell on ABC Radio.

7.45. It doesn’t look like any late miracles are going to save Denis Burke in Brennan. The NTEC has Labor’s Jason Burke leading 1397 votes to 1225 on 2PP.

7.43. Labor are narrowly ahead in Goyder, which the Poll Bludger (among many others) tipped as a win for independent candidate Mary Walshe, who has polled only 14 per cent. The NTEC has Labor leading 832 votes to 824 on 2PP.

7.35. CLP now ahead in Drysdale, according to the ABC computer. It has Greatorex down as CLP retain, but a 2PP count at the NTEC has the CLP leading narrowly, 1484 to 1402.

7.31. Sure enough, the ABC website now says "Independent ahead" in Braitling. However, Braham said there were a surprising number of Labor votes leaking to the CLP and the ABC computer might not be accommodating this.

7.29. Loraine Braham not sounding too confident about holding Braitling. The ABC figures seem to be lagging behind the NTEC on this one – the latter has the CLP on 39.6 per cent, Braham on 34.0 per cent and Labor on 22.2 per cent. I personally would have thought this gave Braham a pretty fair chance. MacDonnell appears to be solidifying for Labor.

7.17. First mention of Blain, the other Palmerston seat along with Brennan where Denis Burke is headed for defeat. There is a swing to Labor of over 10 per cent but Terry Mills should probably hold. The ABC Radio commentators say he is likely to emerge as leader for want of any alternative.

7.14. A rush of new figures from Greatorex suggests the CLP should hold.

7.12. Close in Greatorex, but Labor’s Fran Kilgariff not sounding hugely confident.

7.09. Only 15.8 per cent counted, but clearly Mary Walshe has flopped in Goyder. She’s on 9.3 per cent. Labor leads the primary vote count 40.9 per cent to 36.5 per cent but the ABC computer expects that the CLP will hold on preferences.

7.06. The ABC computer has Greatorex down as a Labor gain, but Antony Green is not so sure because there are no figures from the Sadadeen booth. Warren Snowdon just said on the ABC that indications from the Sadadeen booth are the the CLP is in fact just ahead.

7.03. ABC Television chamber graphic has Labor with 19 seats. Both the leader and deputy leader (Richard Lim in Greatorex) apparently heading for defeat and the CLP may lose their status as the opposition.

6.59. First indications coming in from Greatorex, and already the ABC has it down as a gain for Labor’s Fran Kilgariff.

6.56. Told you so – the ABC has already done 180 degree flip on MacDonnell, now down as a Labor gain. After an early scare, the CLP are drawing ahead in Katherine.

6.55. The ABC is calling Brennan for Labor. Lineball in Drysale. Better news for the CLP in MacDonnell, which unlike the aforementioned I did call for Labor, which the ABC has down as CLP retain. But it could be that the mobile booths will do particularly well for Labor because of their candidate, former ATSIC commissioner Alison Anderson.

6.49. Labor expecting to win Brennan from Denis Burke!! The other independent-held seat of Nelson (member Gerry Wood), a natural CLP seat, only has "independent ahead" on the ABC site, but on the raw figures it looks like Wood will do it easily with Labor preferences. Labor apparently drawing further ahead in Port Darwin.

6.45. Labor ahead in Drysdale! You have just witnessed the Poll Bludger’s first ever exclamation mark.

6.43. All swings in Darwin are at least 10 per cent. Denis Burke’s seat of Brennan is down as CLP retain at the ABC, but he’s only 2.3 per cent ahead on 2PP.

6.40. Good job I changed my call on Araluen, because it’s the only Labor versus CLP contest so far where the CLP has a swing, this being a correction from a result that was heavily influenced by an independent last time.

6.35. It’s already clear Labor has won. Antony Green’s calculation on the ABC site has Daly as a "Labor gain". Very close in Port Darwin, but Labor marginally ahead. Labor taking it right up to the CLP in Katherine, which they hold with a margin of 15.3 per cent.

6.24. ABC Radio reports early 10 per cent swing to Labor in Daly, which would narrowly win them the seat. Not many votes for independent Dale Seaniger, but he will apparently do better in the rural booths. An 8.8 per cent swing to Labor in Clare Martin’s seat of Fannie Bay. A booth in Wanguri shows a 14 per cent swing to Labor member Paul Henderson; a 10 per cent swing to Labor in Arafura. Independent member Loraine Braham reportedly suffering a swing in Braitling, the only good bit of news for the CLP so far.

6:20. Still early, but all concerned on ABC Radio are expressing surprise at the size and velocity of the swings to Labor. Shouldn’t crow too early, but it serves them right for not listening to me.

6:14. It’s already clear that my big idea about a maintaining my own statistics is not going to work. I’ll just pop in from time to time to give you a general idea of what’s happening, though if you’re interested you’ll probably know anyway. Early figures suggest a very big across-the-board swing for Labor, but it’s still too early to read much into them.

Darwin stubbies on ice

As Charles Richardson noted in Crikey last week, "as far as election watching goes, a Territory election is a good one for beginners because everything happens in miniature: smaller seats than anywhere else (4,000-5,000 voters in each), fewer of them (25), fewer candidates (only two or three in most seats), and less than three weeks of campaigning". The Poll Bludger is taking advantage of this state of affairs to apply a new degree of sophistication to his election night results watching, having mapped out a spreadsheet of booth results to calculate swings as the results come in without having to take Antony Green’s word for it (I am assuming that the NT Electoral Commission will be so good as to provide booth results on their website). Tonight this site will provide a running real-time commentary on these results on this site as quickly as his touch-typing skills (85wpm) and FTP upload speed will allow.

Highlights of weeks two and two-and-a-half

Innumerable Bexes and five good-lies-down have elapsed since the Poll Bludger boldly amended his Northern Territory election predictions to award Labor a faintly ridiculous 17 seats out of 25. Nevertheless, he is sticking with them against his better judgement even though they no doubt flatter Labor to the tune of at least one or two seats. It needs to be stressed that when it comes to the Northern Territory, predictions like these are to be taken with a grain of salt regardless of who makes them. The list of reasons why these contests are hard to call is as long as your arm – the tiny size of the electorates, and the premium this places on local candidate visibility; the lack of polling, published or otherwise; high immigration and emigration rates between elections; and the modest scale of local media coverage. News Limited’s croc-tastic top end flagship the Northern Territory News is studiously careful to avoid boring its readers with too much politics, so much so that election tragics are likely to derive more joy from the humble weekly Alice Springs News. In this context, online forums such as Inside Politics and the one operated by the ABC’s website have taken on a new significance for those of us who just can’t get enough. As sources of information go these need to be treated with great caution, especially since they seem to be magnets for rabid CLP partisans.

The Poll Bludger has so far managed to avoid saying anything about either party’s policies, but this can be put off no longer. The centrepiece of the campaign has been the CLP’s promise to connect Darwin to the national electricity grid via a 3000 kilometre transmission line, with the $1.3 billion tab to be picked up by gentleman admirers in either the private sector or Canberra. The parallels with the Liberals’ Western Australian election promise to build a canal of similar length from the Kimberley to Perth hardly need reiterating, and the plan has received similarly short shrift from informed observers such as John Quiggin and Ken Parish. The overwhelmingly negative media response suggests that the policy will fail to achieve its objective of winning the CLP seats in Darwin’s much-touted northern suburbs, while also alienating voters outside Darwin who do not stand to gain. However, internet chat suggests Labor has a similar difficulty with its Darwin waterfront development, which has apparently fed into concerns in Alice Springs that the party is "Darwin-centric" while also failing to excite locals.

The other point of interest has been Labor’s newly acquired concern about "habitual drunks" – one of innumerable top end code words for "aborigines" – which led Clare Martin to announce a policy that would order repeat offenders to seek treatment or face imprisonment. Remarkably, this prompted Denis Burke to accuse Labor of chasing the "redneck white vote", sentiments heretofore unheard of from a CLP leader. Politically speaking, one suspects Martin has the better end of an argument that has helped neutralise resentment over Labor’s abolition of mandatory sentencing, and that Labor will accordingly enjoy a boost in Darwin and Alice Springs.

The Poll Bludger’s Northern Territory election guide remains your one-stop shop for electorate-level factoids, which will be embellished with the following nuggets when he gets time:

Goyder (Country Liberal 14.8%): Two independent candidates have added interest to this contest, with most fancying the chances of Litchfield shire president Mary Walshe. The CLP had long been trembling in fear at the prospect of a Walshe candidacy, although she may be handicapped by the circumstances of her entry. The Territory Times reported that Walshe was in "a frantic state of indecision" about whether to run when they spoke to her two hours before the nomination deadline, which she ended up meeting "just in time". She also entered the campaign with the burden of a recent 17 per cent rates hike at Litchfield. The other independent is Andrew Blackadder, chairperson of Freds Pass Management Board, whom the Territory Times reports was "knocked back for CLP preselection". The Northern Territory News reported on June 12 that internal polling results had the CLP expecting to lose to either Walshe or Blackadder. The paper seemed unduly excited to learn that a property owned by the CLP candidate, Keith Phasey, had been raided by police seeking information on the deaths of four Western Australian cancer patients who had been treated by his wife. Well-informed Inside Politics commenter "Bonnie" says "the Walshe family is the biggest name in Humpty Doo" and that "without the rates stigma, Walshe would win it by a street".

Daly (Country Liberal 9.5%): Dale Seaniger is widely being spoken of as one of the election’s most fancied independent candidates, along with the aforementioned Walshe and Blackadder. Seaniger’s job titles (variously "Thamarrurr Regional Council deputy chief executive" and "deputy council clerk at Wadeye") don’t look too exciting to me, but what would I know. The retirement of CLP member Tim Baldwin means the electorate is more precarious for the CLP than the margin makes it appear, given the enormous advantages of incumbency in the territory’s micro-electorates.

Greatorex (Country Liberal 9.0%): Opinion is sharply divided over the prospects for Labor’s high-profile candidate, Alice Springs mayor Fran Kilgariff, in her bid to unseat the CLP’s Richard Lim. Alex Nelson of the Alice Springs News reckons "no mayor of any town in the Northern Territory who has run for office in the Legislative Assembly has succeeded in translating their support at council level to the next tier of government", with the conspicuous exception of the current independent member for Nelson, Gerry Wood (Mary Walshe’s predecessor as Litchfield shire president). The Centralian Advocate reports that Kilgariff is running ads that make no mention of her being the Labor candidate.

Millner (Labor 1.2%): The Poll Bludger has variously heard it said that Paul Mitchell, the CLP member here until his defeat in 2001, is running as an independent to deliver preferences to the CLP’s Paul Mossman (by Kevin Parish), or because the CLP had lost confidence in Mossman (by the Northern Territory News). The latter theory is consistent with reports of a widespread view in the CLP that the party erred in preselecting its candidates too early, and with a Northern Territory News item on June 12 saying the party had "given up" on Mossman on the basis of internal polling, but still "hoped" Mitchell might win. The same day’s edition also carried this little item:

Two 14-year-old boys, Simeon Lawler and Tim O’Hagen, make a few dollars after school by delivering advertising material. They were letterbox dropping a brochure for Labor MLA Matthew Bonson when they noticed a man following them and removing the brochures. They confronted him – and, lo and behold, it was Paul. He told the lads the brochures had fallen out of the letterbox and he was just putting them back. They didn’t believe him.

Mossman has had a fair bit to say at the Inside Politics forum (posting as "PaulM"), or at least he did until recently. Labor spooks and local news outlets fell upon the site when it emerged he had said a 13-year-old American girl denied an abortion "should have just kept her legs closed", and that there were "plenty in line waiting their chances" to replace Denis Burke as party leader. The Northern Territory News reported on June 4 that nine people were enrolled at Mitchell’s residence, including his adult children, his sister-in-law and her partner, and a son’s girlfriend.

UPDATE (17/6/2005): The above assertion that the two online forums "seem to be magnets for rabid CLP partisans" has sparked this frank exchange of views at Inside Politics. In an unrelated development, I have decided that I should in fact withdraw a seat from Labor on the election guide, eventually settling for Araluen. That puts the tally at Labor 16, CLP six and independents three.