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

Northern Territory election live

6.00pm. Booths have closed. Your first port of call in all respects should be the ABC site; me second.

6.29pm. The new Bayview booth in Fong Lim has apparently been reported: ABC radio says it shows an inadequate swing for David Tollner of less than 5 per cent, but this is based on Antony Green’s guesstimate of how the booth would go.

6.34pm. ABC Radio reports early figures from Brennan and Drysdale showing the CLP with a big enough swing for the former but not the latter.

6.38pm. A small booth in Daly shows a 5 per cent swing to the CLP, not nearly enough to put Labor in trouble if it’s indicative.

6.40pm. Trish Crossin says scrutineers say Labor are looking good in Fannie Bay and Fong Lim.

6.41pm. ABC site now providing results.

6.43pm. ABC computer says CLP retains Blain, Araluen and Drysdale (Drysdale is Labor-held but notionally Liberal post-redistribution); Labor retains Brennan (a big win if so) and Fong Lim.

6.45pm. ABC Radio reports CLP scrutineers sounding very confident about Braitling, no problems in Araluen.

6.46pm. I suspect that Brennan call is highly premature: one very small booth has reported. Labor Senator Trish Crossin tells ABC Radio that Drysdale is not looking good, having been made notionally CLP by the redistribution. Antony Green says consistent 5 per cent swings across Darwin.

6.49pm. ABC computer gives Labor Fannie Bay, Wanguri and Fong Lim – so no dice for David Tollner if accurate. It also gives Katherine to the CLP, which on the raw figures looks like a sound call. It was expected they would face a strong challenge from independent Toni Tapp Coutts.

6.52pm. CLP Senator Grant Tambling tells ABC Radio the two booths in Fannie Bay are highly disparate, so we shouldn’t assume they’re out of the hunt on the basis of the one that has reported.

6.54pm. The Ludmilla booth reporting in Fong Lim has changed the situation there dramatically, according to ABC Radio: apparently very tight. That’s with about 50 per cent counted compared with 11.8 per cent recorded on the computer.

6.56pm. ABC computer now calling Fong Lim for Tollner.

6.57pm. ABC computer calls Stuart for Labor: no surprise there.

7.00pm. ABC Radio reports about 30 per cent counted in Johnston and no trouble there for Labor.

7.02pm. Independent incumbent Gerry Wood romping home in Nelson.

7.05pm. Live coverage from Sky News, but no luck from ABC TV streaming.

7.08pm. ABC computer says CLP to retain Greatorex, Labor retaining Johnston.

7.12pm. ABC Radio says Greens polling strongly in Nightcliff; Labor to win.

7.14pm. ABC TV streaming now in business, but the news is still on.

7.15pm. Slight CLP lead in Labor margin Port Darwin. Another strong performance for the Greens.

7.17pm. ABC computer says Terry Mills to retain Blain for CLP.

7.19pm. Let’s look at the best case CLP scenario. They have won Drysdale and Sanderson; no figures for Goyder but let’s say it theirs; Brennan and Fannie Bay not good on early figures but too early to call; could well win Port Darwin and Fong Lim; haven’t won Nightcliff or Johnston; no real figures from Daly or Casuarina; anything else probably not winnable. ABC Radio indicates the Labor will win Karama. So I’m giving them seven seats, could well win another two, will need to do a lot better to win a further two, and another two we don’t know about yet. The outer limits of the best case scenario gives them 13 seats and a bare majority.

7.27pm. Labor has clearly retained Casuarina, so I’m now ruling out a CLP majority.

7.29pm. Clare Martin tells ABC TV the CLP is doing better than she had expected.

7.32pm. Martin says Labor in “serious trouble” in Brennan, but the ABC computer still only reporting 8 per cent. Fannie Bay very close.

7.34pm. Antony Green still indicating Labor will win.

7.36pm. Great result for Jodeen Carney in Araluen. Maybe if she’d been leader …

7.42pm. ABC Radio says Labor 12, CLP 9, independent 1, in doubt 3.

7.42pm. Antony Green confirms Labor defeat in Brennan, but Clare Martin says Labor looking good in Daly.

7.46pm. Outstanding seats to watch: Fong Lim (likely CLP gain) and Fannie Bay (likely Labor retain). If the CLP wins both it could be 12-12-1. Slow count in Daly but Labor 10 per cent ahead: maybe the CLP can still hope for a miracle there. Overall swing of over 9 per cent, according to ABC.

7.51pm. So CLP notionally retains its six seats; seems to have won Brennan, Port Darwin, Sanderson; ahead in Fong Lim, behind in Fannie Bay; has won Braitling from a retiring independent. So 12 seats not out of the question – meaning it’s too early to say Labor has won.

7.56pm. Daly count firming up, Labor has clearly won. All down to Fong Lim and Fannie Bay, and CLP likely to gain the former. Most likely result 13-11-1, but 12-12-1 not impossible.

7.58pm. CLP leads in Brennan by 3.2 per cent, 58 per cent counted, so they’re almost certainly home there.

8.01pm. For my own reference: Fong Lim CLP leads 2.4 per cent, 50.8 per cent counted. Fannie Bay Labor leads 1.4 per cent, 59.3 per cent counted.

8.03pm. NT Electoral Office site not handling the strain.

8.05pm. Well, isn’t this exciting. Labor 40 votes ahead in Fannie Bay: the 1.4 per cent figure is purely a projection, which are of less use in NT elections than other places.

8.06pm. Looks like the early scare for Labor in Stuart, based purely on speculative ABC computer projection, has now passed.

8.15pm. Antony says we will get 50 more pre-poll votes tonight from Fannie Bay, where Labor leads by 40 votes. Would like to hear a similar update from Fong Lim.

8.21pm. There seems to be some vague doubt about Arafura: independent preferences to decide the result on currently available figures, but yet-to-report Aboriginal communities should resolve the issue in Marion Scrymgour’s favour.

8.22pm. Antony notes low turnout in Fong Lim and speculates we could get a lot of absent votes from voters confused by the new boundaries, which makes sense because it’s a new seat.

8.26pm. I gather this independent in Arafura has directed preferences to the CLP: Antony says 11 per cent of preferences need to leak to Labor for Scrymgour to win.

8.34pm. ABC computer says the Labor lead in Fannie Bay is now 55 votes, up from 40.

8.36pm. Antony says 57 votes.

8.40pm. Antony says Labor’s scare in Arafura has passed.

8.45pm. Important political lesson: don’t knife a leader who takes you to a gigantic landslide victory without any historical precedent.

8.52pm. The overall vote is line-ball on two-party preferred, although this might be corrupted by the two seats where Labor members were elected unopposed.

8.56pm. David Tollner’s lead in Fong Lim has narrowed: with the vote count up from 50.8 per cent to 55.0 per cent, the margin is down from 2.4 per cent to 1.6 per cent.

9.00pm. Renewed doubt about Arafura: leakage required to Labor now 18 per cent rather than 11 per cent.

9.22pm. Antony says substantial preference leakage in Arafura means Scrymgour is out of the woods. All down to Fannie Bay then.

9.29pm. Remiss of me not to have mentioned the extraordinarily low turnout.

9.50pm. Paul Henderson’s speech concedes the CLP only nine seats, apparently regarding Brennan and Port Darwin as well as Fong Lim as in doubt. Much talk of the low turnout and the possibility of large numbers of absent votes as a result of the redistribution.

Northern Territory notes

With five more days to go:

• Nigel Adlam of the Northern Territory News wrote on Saturday that Labor’s Chris Natt faces a tough fight to hold Drysdale, but should be helped by Labor’s promise to build a water park and sports complex in Palmerston; tips the CLP’s Kezia Purich to gain Goyder from Labor’s Ted Warren; declares himself surprised that the bookies have Labor’s James Burke down to retain Brennan; says the CLP should have no trouble reclaiming Braitling with the retirement of independent Loraine Braham; and ultimately tips a result of Labor 14 and CLP 10 with independent Gerry Wood retaining Nelson.

Fong Lim CLP candidate and former Solomon MP David Tollner was seen to confirm his lack of interest in serving under Terry Mills’ leadership last week, when he talked over him to answer a journalist’s question regarding the party’s embarrassing failure to find candidates in Macdonnell and Arnhem. Former Darwin lord mayor Garry Lambert has given an “absolute undertaking” he won’t challenge Mills, but before not doing so he must win the outgoing Clare Martin’s seat of Fannie Bay. Lambert says he supports Mills’ leadership, “at the moment”. Jodeen Carney, member for the Alice Springs seat of Araluen and party leader until January, says “nothing’s ruled in, nothing’s ruled out”.

• The Radio National program The National Interest featured a lengthy item on the election on Friday, featuring interviews with Terry Mills, Loraine Braham and Treasurer Delia Lawrie. Transcripts from Friday’s action-packed episode of Stateline should also come online shortly.

Darwinian evolution

The Poll Bludger’s guide to the August 9 Northern Territory election is now in business, as indeed is Antony Green’s definitive effort. It is tempting to dismiss the election as a foregone conclusion, with the Country Liberal Party needing to increase its representation in the 25-member Legislative Assembly from four to 13, and looking in no state to do so. The four-member parliamentary party is currently headed by the recycled Terry Mills, whose first stint last term ended with him admitting he was “not up to the job”. The leadership was then resumed by former Chief Minister Denis Burke, who led the party to a defeat so disastrous that he lost his own seat with a 20.9 per cent swing.

The electoral pendulum clearly points to four seats which are low-hanging fruit for the CLP, two having been made notionally theirs by redistribution (by the reckoning of Antony Green, who cautions that such calculations for the Territory’s small electorates can be heavily influenced by arbitrary split booth estimates). On the CLP side of the ledger are the Palmerston seat of Drysdale, where Labor member Chris Natt who has built a high profile as Mines Minister, and the outer Darwin rural seat of Goyder, which Ted Warren won in 2005 with a 16.4 per cent swing. The two Labor seats are the erstwhile CLP strongholds of Brennan (Burke’s old seat, located in Palmerston) and the Darwin city seat of Port Darwin.

Anything beyond that requires a double-digit swing. However, candidate factors are notoriously important when the average enrolment per electorate is less than 5000, so consideration needs to be given to the three Labor seats not being contested by sitting members. These include Clare Martin’s electorate of Fannie Bay (margin 15.7 per cent) and former deputy leader Syd Stirling’s seat of Nhulunbuy (25.5 per cent). Fannie Bay was held by the CLP before Martin won it at a by-election in 1995, and will be contested this time by Garry Lambert, who until recently was lord mayor of Darwin. Nhulunbuy on the other hand is Labor’s safest seat, and the CLP’s nomination of a local indigenous leader in a seat dominated by a mining town does not suggest they are confident. Of more interest is the new seat of Fong Lim, to be contested for the CLP by David Tollner, the recently defeated federal member for Solomon. Labor’s candidate Matthew Bonson is the member for abolished Millner, which provides the new seat with fewer than half its voters.

Two naturally conservative seats are held by independents, one of whom is retiring. Loraine Braham is a former CLP member who has held her Alice Springs seat of Braitling for two elections as an independent, and is now bowing out. Braham won Braitling only narrowly in 2005, and it seems likely to return to the CLP despite Braham’s endorsement of independent Eli Melky. However, the CLP is unlikely to have much luck in the outer Darwin seat of Nelson against sitting independent Gerry Wood, who won lost time by 16.2 per cent. One other seat that might warrant scrutiny is Sanderson in northern Darwin, where Labor member Len Kiely has proved a subject of controversy: first when he was stripped of the Deputy Speaker position in July 2006 over a sexual harrassment incident, and then in November 2007 when Paul Henderson overlooked his indiscretion to reward him with a cabinet post as Environment Minister. Any further gains for the CLP would be greatly surprising, remembering that surprises do happen in Territory elections.

It would thus seem that the rosiest scenario for the CLP involves them retaining their four actual seats and two notional ones, further picking up two Labor marginals, prevailing against the odds in Fannie Bay, Fong Lim and Sanderson, and recovering Braitling from Loraine Braham. That would put them one seat short of a majority, leaving independent Gerry Wood with the swing vote. However, it seems much more likely that their gains will be limited to about four – and this assumes they do not lose their existing seat of Katherine, where member Fay Miller is retiring and her nominated successor has just had to stand aside due to staff bullying allegations. Two very different voices could be heard on ABC Darwin radio on Monday estimating a CLP gain of four seats: Ken Parish, former Labor MP and Club Troppo blogger, and Peter Murphy, former adviser to multiple CLP Chief Ministers.

UPDATE (28/7/08): Candidates and ballot paper order have been announced by the NT Electoral Commission. At first glance, the most noteworthy independents appear to be Eli Marky in Braitling, who has the endorsement of outgoing member Loraine Braham; Katherine councillor Toni Tapp Coutts in the vacated seat of Katherine; and Randall Gould, former mayor of the recently abolished Tennant Creek Town Council, in Barkly.

It’s August 9

The Northern Territory election, that is. One day after the thought of a poll entered my consciousness, courtesy of Antony Green, Chief Minister Paul Henderson has sprung it on even earlier than expected – in less than three weeks’ time. The previous election was on 18 June 2005, and the latest possible date for the next one was 27 June 2009. My election guide is, er, not quite ready yet, but hopefully will be in good-ish time before polling day.