Margin: Labor 3.7%
Location: Alice Springs/Outback, Northern Territory
In a nutshell: The area covered by Lingiari has been through an electoral roller coaster ride since the Howard government announced the intervention into Aboriginal communities in 2007, most recently when Labor suffered a huge remote area backlash at last year’s Territory election. This raises doubts about the security of Warren Snowdon, who has held Lingiari for Labor since the territory was first divided into two seats in 2001.
The candidates (ballot paper order)
KENNETH IMMANUEL LECHLEITNER
Lingiari covers the entirety of the Northern Territory outside of Darwin, and was created with the territory’s division into two seats at the 2001 election. The Northern Territory was first granted its own seat in the federal parliament in 1922, but its member did not attain full voting rights until 1968. Perhaps not coincidentally, the seat had recently fallen to Sam Calder of the Country Party after a long period of Labor control. Calder’s party status changed when the Country Liberal Party was established in 1978 as a local alliance between the coalition parties to contest elections in the the newly established Northern Territory parliament. He was succeeded as its member upon his retirement in 1980 by Grant Tambling, who was defeated after one term by Labor’s John Reeves in 1983, and returned as a Senator four years later. The seat thereafter changed hands with some regularity: future Chief Minister Paul Everingham recovered it for the CLP in 1984, Warren Snowdon won it back for Labor in 1987, Nick Dondas held it for the CLP for one term from 1996, and Snowdon recovered it in 1998.
The population of the Northern Territory is such that it consistently hovers between an entitlement of one or two seats according to the formula by which state and territory seat representation is determined. It first rose above the line prior to the 2001 election, resulting in the territory’s division between Solomon and Lingiari, which in accommodating all of the territory outside of the Darwin area has been the country’s second largest electorate in geographical terms. However, when the Australian Electoral Commission next conducted a determination of seat entitlements it found that the Northern Territory had fallen 295 residents short of the number required to maintain a second seat. With Labor and the Coalition both convinced they could win both seats, the parliament proved amenable to arguments that the determination left the territory under-represented and passed legislation to reinstate the second seat. Solomon and Lingiari accordingly have the lowest enrolments of any seats in Australia at around 62,000, compared with a national average of about 95,000 (which together with the extensive use of mobile booths explains the scarcity of numbers on the 2010 results map featured above).
Lingiari is notable for having by far the highest proportion of indigenous persons of any seat in the country, at 41.8% against 15.7% for second-placed Durack. Relatedly, and depressingly, it also has the lowest median age of any electorate. The support of Aboriginal voters has helped keep the seat in Labor hands, despite CLP strength in pastoral areas and the urban centres of Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek, with margins progressive over four elections from 5.3% to 7.7% to 11.2% to 3.7%. The diversity of the electorate’s components can make for highly variable local voting patterns, as demonstrated by booth-level swings over the last three elections. In the wake of the Howard government’s intervention into Aboriginal communities before the 2007 election, mobile booths serving remote communities swung 8.4% to Warren Snowdon off an already very high base of 78.7%. However, it was a very different story in 2010, when those same booths swung to the CLP by no less than 28.1% – a result variously put down to the troubled Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program, the actions of newly merged regional councils, and the ongoing suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act by the new Labor government. This could be seen as a harbinger of the result at the August 2012 Territory election, when Labor suffered a number of shock defeats at the hands of CLP candidates in remote electorates. Remarkably, the remote area patterns of the 2007 and 2010 elections were reversed in Alice Springs, with Snowdon down 2.6% on the former occasion and up 8.4% on the latter. In Tennant Creek the Labor vote fell from 58.7% in 2007 to 34.2% in 2010, while the Greens rocketed from 4.6% to 33.7%, a result credited to the Muckaty Station nuclear waste dump proposal.
Warren Snowdon is a figure in Labor’s Left faction, and has held junior ministry positions since the Rudd government came to power in 2007. He had earlier been a parliamentary secretary during his first stint as a member from 1990 to 1996, again reaching the position in opposition after the 2001 election. After Labor came to power in 2007 he received a substantial promotion to the junior defence science and personnel ministry, which Glenn Milne in The Australian credited to his close association with Julia Gillard. Snowdon was demoted to indigenous health, rural and regional services after Joel Fitzgibbon resigned as Defence Minister in June 2009, which Philip Dorling of the Canberra Times put down to incoming Defence Minister John Faulkner’s “longstanding lack of enthusiasm” for him, “and perhaps more specific concerns about the contribution Mr Snowdon’s office may have made in the past week to Fitzgibbon’s downfall”. Snowdon recovered defence science after the 2010 election and further gained veterans affairs, while dropping rural and regional services.
The CLP has endorsed Mataranka cattle station owner Tina MacFarlane after what proved a troublesome preselection process for Tony Abbott. Abbott sought unsuccessfully to recruit Alison Anderson, the Labor-turned-CLP member for the remote electorate of Namatjira in the Northern Territory parliament, who reportedly accepted Abbott’s offer only to be rebuffed when the party’s central council refused to grant her a waiver to nominate after the deadline. Abbott’s approach to Anderson copped a rebuke from then Chief Minister Terry Mills, who accused him of having “misread” Anderson and the party. Tina MacFarlane then proceeded to win a preselection vote in November 2012 ahead of Lawson Broad, a staffer to Mills, by what was reported to have been a comfortable margin. This constituted a defeat for Mills, who four months later was deposed as Chief Minister despite having led the party to victory at the election the previous August, as MacFarlane was said to be close to his potential leadership rival David Tollner. Abbott also got into trouble for saying Anderson would provide parliament with “an authentic representative of the ancient cultures of central Australia” which was not provided by the “urban Aboriginal” Ken Wyatt, his party’s member for the Perth seat of Hasluck.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.