31 October 2012
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Politics and Public Administration Section
An overview of the Territory
Labor Governments in the Northern Territory
The Country Liberals
First Nations Political Party
Political profile of electorates prior to 2012 election
The lead-up to the 2012 NT election
The campaign intensifies
The official election campaign begins
The final two weeks of the campaign
Appendix 1: 2012 NT Election results by electorate and region
Appendix 2: First preference votes by party / candidate / electorate
The Northern Territory has a unicameral parliament—the Legislative Assembly—elected under the provisions of the Electoral Act (NT) (the Electoral Act). The Northern Territory is divided into 25 divisions for Legislative Assembly elections. There are around 124 000 electors enrolled and average enrolment per electorate is under 5000 which means that a diligent sitting MP is likely to be reasonably well known by his or her constituents.
An electoral redistribution is conducted prior to each election by a process overseen by two independent committees.
Changes to the Electoral Act in 2009 specified a fixed election date, the fourth Saturday in August, every four years. As a result, the 2012 election was scheduled for 25 August 2012; the previous election had been held on 9 August 2008. The Assembly was prorogued on Monday 6 August, with close of rolls on Wednesday 8 August, and nominations finalised on Friday 10 August.
During its 38 years of existence, the NT Assembly has contained proportionally more Indigenous members and more female members than other Australian parliaments. In the most recent Assembly (2008–12) five of the 25 members were Indigenous, three of whom were women.
A comprehensive introduction to the 2012 NT election is available at a dedicated website prepared by election analyst Antony Green. This Background Note focuses primarily on the two month period preceding polling day, and provides an account and brief analysis of the election outcomes.
The population of the NT is around 230 000 people, of whom 30 per cent are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people. In the June 2011 quarter the population increased by 0.4 per cent and population growth was expected to be 1.8 per cent in 2012. The Territory’s economy, while small compared to other Australian jurisdictions, has an abundance of mineral and energy resources:
Its close proximity to Asia, the fastest growing region of the global economy, provides ample potential business opportunities for Territory businesses. … Territory growth (NT Treasury) is forecast to be 2.3% in 2011-12, driven by a higher trade surplus and a recovery in household consumption. Deloitte Access Economics December 2011 Business Outlook forecasts a higher economic growth of 2.5%. The Territory’s future economic outlook is expected to strengthen with a number of major projects in the pipeline.
In the August quarter 2011, average weekly full-time earnings in the Territory were $1400 per week, compared to national average weekly earnings of $1376. The NT maintained its position as having the third-highest average weekly earnings among Australian jurisdictions.
Indigenous issues remain a key policy and service delivery challenge for both the NT and Federal governments—especially in the wake of the Howard Government’s Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER)—the ‘intervention’. The NT Government is having to play its role in co-ordinating local programs and measures with the Commonwealth’s Stronger Futures policy and COAG’s National Indigenous Reform Agreement (to ‘Close the Gap’), and the various National Partnerships that support it.
According to the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Discussion Paper :
- progress has been made but there is a long way to go. Compared with other states, the Northern Territory has the widest gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people by a long way
- average life expectancy for Indigenous males and females in the Northern Territory is lower than all other states and territories
- the Northern Territory has the highest Indigenous infant mortality rate in Australia and the largest gap compared with the non-Indigenous population
- the Northern Territory has very low levels of literacy and numeracy among Indigenous students and the lowest school attendance rates. It also has the largest gap in Year 12 attainment rates
- the Northern Territory has the largest gap in the proportion of people of working age who are employed
- in the Northern Territory, consumption of alcohol is 1.5 times the national level, alcohol related harm is four times the national level and alcohol related deaths are 3.5 times the national level
- in the Northern Territory Indigenous children are nearly seven times more likely to be the subject of a child protection substantiation than non-Indigenous children. The Northern Territory also has a higher crime victimisation rate for assault than any other state or territory.
In 2001 Clare Martin led Labor to victory after 27 years in the political wilderness, becoming the first Labor and first female Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. She had been first elected to the Assembly in a by-election in 1995 and was elected Labor’s leader in 1999.
Martin won the 2005 election with an increased majority. As a result of the 2005 election the NT had 10 female members in its Legislative Assembly. Five Indigenous members (all ALP) were elected to the NT Parliament, proportionately reflecting the population: Barbara McCarthy (Arnhem), Alison Anderson (MacDonnell), Marion Scrymgour (Arafura), Elliot McAdam (Barkly) and Matthew Bonson (Millner).
Clare Martin resigned from parliament in November 2007, two days after Kevin Rudd won the 2007 Federal election. There had been growing disharmony within NT Labor, exacerbated by the intervention which had introduced a range of controversial welfare, land tenure and law enforcement policies.
Upon Martin’s resignation, Paul Henderson, formerly Education Minister, became Chief Minister, but because the Martin government had passed legislation fixing the first three years of a government's term, Henderson could not call an election until July 2008, and not until a redistribution had been completed. Henderson called an election for 9 August 2008:
The election was called only days after the completion of an electoral redistribution. The Electoral Commission had no time to write to voters informing them of their new electorates. Sitting Labor MPs in marginal seats altered by the redistribution had little chance to connect with their new constituents. The snap poll was also responsible for an unusually low turnout, as fly-in fly-out workers and travelling voters found themselves with little opportunity to arrange postal votes.
In the end Labor staggered back into office courtesy of a 78 vote victory in Clare Martin's former seat of Fannie Bay.
The 2008 election campaign had lasted a mere 19 days, with Henderson making much of the need for certainty around a proposed Japanese $12 billion oil and gas plant. With a nine per cent swing against it, Labor lost five seats to the Country Liberal Party (CLP) which had won 45.4 per cent of the vote to the ALP’s 42.3 per cent. Labor was returned with a slender one seat majority—ALP 13 seats, CLP 11 seats, and one independent.
The calling of an early election was generally held to be a mistake, and the campaign was widely regarded as insubstantial. An editorial in The Australian described the affair in the following terms:
While the ALP was taken by surprise by the size of the swing, it was richly deserved. The Government of Chief Minister Paul Henderson has been more about spin than substance. The fact that Indigenous issues, the most pressing matter the Territory must confront, barely featured in the campaign, even after the Government's alleged failure to spend its commonwealth allocations, was a serious reflection of its indifference and negligence. The Opposition, too, intent on focusing on law and order, paid insufficient attention to the matter. As the Labor Government licks its wounds and analyses the result, it must now focus on the pressing social, educational, housing and health needs of its Indigenous constituents, who comprise 30 per cent of the Territory's population.
On 4 August 2009, Indigenous Affairs Minister Alison Anderson resigned from cabinet and from the Labor party following weeks of crisis involving housing programs. On the same day, former Labor Deputy Chief Minister, Marion Scrymgour—who had herself resigned from the ALP a month earlier—rejoined Labor, thereby preventing the immediate demise of the Henderson Government.
Anderson sat on the cross bench before joining the CLP in September 2011. This produced a hung parliament comprising 12 Labor members, 12 Country Liberal Party members, with the Government reliant on the support of the independent Gerry Wood, the member for Nelson. Anderson’s decision to join the CLP—and later to contest the 2012 election as its candidate in the seat of Namatjira—was described by one analyst as ‘part of a reconfiguration of the Territory’s Indigenous politics’.
The Northern Territory Country Liberal Party was first registered with the NT Electoral Commission in March 2005, and renamed Country Liberals in January 2010.
Following Labor’s electoral landslide of 2001, the party struggled to develop and sustain an effective Opposition. It was reduced to four parliamentary members in 2005. Its current leader, Terry Mills, first led the party in 2003, deposing Denis Burke, who had led the party since 1999. Mills was in turn deposed prior to the election in 2005 by Denis Burke, who then lost his seat at that election. The CLP parliamentary leadership went to its first female leader, Jodeen Carney, and another woman, Fay Miller, was appointed deputy leader.
Following a tied party room leadership ballot in January 2008, Carney resigned as leader, making way for the return of Terry Mills. Carney resigned from politics in September 2010. Election analyst Antony Green described the CLP’s position in 2008 as follows:
The CLP was poorly positioned to win the 2008 election. Labor went into the contest with 19 seats to the CLP's four, the two remaining seats held by Independents. The Country Liberals held only Araluen and Greatorex in Alice Springs, Katherine, and Mills's Palmerston based seat of Blain.
At the end of 2010 there were suggestions in the press that Mills would not be leading the party into the 2012 election. By early 2012 there were still reports of leadership struggles between Terry Mills and David Tollner. Other signs of tension within the CLP emerged when, in February 2012, sitting CLP Member for Drysdale, Ross Bohlin, was not endorsed by the party for the August election. A little over a month out from the election Bohlin announced that he would run for his seat of Drysdale as an independent. In reporting Bohlin’s move, the NT News observed:
It creates an interesting situation—the CLP is now running against an incumbent in a seat it otherwise would have been confident of reclaiming. The result in Drysdale could be critical in deciding who wins government in what is expected to be a close race…. And should he reclaim his seat, Mr Bohlin could well find himself with the balance of power.
Bohlin was also a supporter of Terry Mills during his leadership struggles. In the event, speculation about Mills’s potential demise proved wrong, and Mills led the CLP into the 2012 election as Opposition Leader and shadow minister across several portfolios.
In January 2011 Australia’s first Indigenous political party, the First Nations Political Party, was officially registered, with a view to contesting federal and Northern Territory elections. First Nations organiser Maurie Japarta Ryan is the grandson of early land rights activist Vincent Lingiari and ran as an independent in the federal seat named after his grandfather in 2007 and 2010. Mr Ryan said the party ‘would campaign on issues such as the NT intervention, statehood for the NT and greater consultation over the Muckaty Station radioactive waste dump’.
In a radio interview in June 2012, Mr Ryan said that the party had every chance of picking up seats in the Northern Territory election:
Presenter: Party founder Maurie Japarta Ryan says he'll be running candidates in a number of seats, arguing the Labor Party under Paul Henderson is no longer the party for Aboriginal people. Mr. Ryan says the mainstream parties' policies haven't worked and he wants to introduce compulsory military service for unemployed Indigenous people in order to learn a trade.
Ryan: "Everybody in the Northern Territory who is unable to get work, unable to get training, they can go into one of the armed services. They learn a trade and they can go back to their communities. There's nothing else. Everything else that's been put forward by governments has failed. So what's happened here is they'll be able to learn a trade and become train-the-trainer. They don't have to carry guns”.
The First Nations Political Party held its NT election official policy launch in Alice Springs on 13 June 2012.
The Greens were first registered as a party in the Northern Territory in March 2005 and fielded candidates in the 2005 and 2008 elections. The Greens won three seats in the NT local government elections in 2012—two in Darwin and one in Alice Springs. They contested 10 seats in the 2012 Assembly election.
The Australian Sex Party NT registered in November 2011 and contested five seats in 2012.
There had been speculation that Katter’s Australian Party might field candidates, but limited funds prevented the party from participating.
Source: A Green, ‘2012 Northern Territory election summary’, ABC website, viewed 16 July 2012, http://www.abc.net.au/elections/nt/2012/guide/preview.htm
In March 2012, the announcement by Marion Scrymgour that she would retire at the 2012 election prompted speculation that other Labor MLAs might also retire. In April, the sitting member for Nightcliff, Jane Aagaard, announced her retirement on health grounds, potentially making the seat ‘vulnerable to popular environmentalist Stuart Blanch, who is contesting the seat as an independent’. There was also evidence of some turmoil within CLP ranks as the party’s President, Sue Fraser-Adams, failed to win pre-selection for the swinging seat of Fannie Bay.
Towards the end of May 2012, the betting agency Centrebet had the CLP at $1.24 to Labor’s $3.90—although academic and former Labor MLA Ken Parish said that he understood that both ALP and CLP polling showed the result would be ‘very close’. The NT News reported that CLP polling suggested a status quo Assembly, with the main parties having 12 seats each with Gerry Wood holding the balance of power. The NT News also said that Labor polling indicated a one seat majority for the Henderson Government.
Throughout 2012, controversy surrounding the Gillard Government’s Stronger Futures proposals to extend for a decade the NT intervention fed into the mix of issues affecting the dynamics of politics in the Territory. The Stronger Futures legislation was finally enacted in June 2012 before the Federal Parliament rose for its winter recess.
In late June, two months out from the election, the NT News claimed that an internal CLP document expressed fears that the party would ‘lose the election because voters believe it lacks sound policies’, and saying that the party’s policy announcements had been ‘ill-disciplined’. The report quoted a CLP insider saying:
Nobody I talk to particularly wants Labor to get another term, but they all say that they never see us and don't know what we are about. If they don't know about us there is a danger that people will stick with the devil they know.
Meanwhile, independent MLA Gerry Wood was reportedly threatened when persons unknown entered his office and intimidated him and his staff. An alleged smear campaign was also reported, drawing on claims that Wood had been involved in a sexual harassment case some years earlier. Mr Wood told local ABC Radio that members of the CLP were behind an ‘orchestrated campaign’ to stop him running. He also claimed he ‘had made enemies of powerful businessmen, backers of the CLP, who wanted to carve up the rural area into smaller blocks’.
Opposition Leader, Terry Mills, subsequently issued a statement categorically denying the allegations, saying that ‘there was no Country Liberals involvement in the matters raised … by the Independent Member’ and calling on Woods to substantiate the allegations. It was later reported that the alleged intimidation was linked to Woods’s opposition to a property development proposed by a former member of Woods’ staff and her husband. Woods and the woman had previously settled confidentially a sexual harassment claim.
On 6 July 2012, the prominent country music performer Warren H Williams was reported to have abandoned the NT Greens—for whom he had stood in previous elections—to run for the First Nations Political Party (FNPP) in the seat of Namatjira:
He will take on CLP incumbent Alison Anderson, who herself was a Labor candidate when elected in 2008. Williams said people were angry when Ms Anderson jumped ship from the Labor Government. …The FNPP is running on a broad platform that includes dismantling supershires, bringing back national service, creating an Aboriginal embassy in either Darwin or Alice Springs, and scrapping remand in prisons.
On that same day, the Chief Minster announced that he had written to the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) promising that no public servants would be sacked if the Labor government was returned. A week later the disendorsed CLP Member for Drysdale, Ross Bohlin, announced that he would seek to retain his seat as an independent, and potentially hold the balance of power in the new Assembly.
Six weeks out from polling day, Chief Minister Paul Henderson said that he would not be inviting the Prime Minister or any federal colleagues to contribute to Labor’s campaign.
On 16 July 2012, the Country Liberals launched a ‘5-Point Action Plan’:
- cut Labor’s waste and reduce debt
- strengthen law and order
- grow a “3-hub” economy
- plan properly for the future of the Northern Territory
- be accountable.
CLP leader Mills was reported as saying that he ‘would scrap the Government's banned drinkers register if the CLP won‘—but it remained the case that just over a month out from polling day neither party had begun identifying particular policies or initiatives designed to woo voters. In the words of the NT News: ‘Members of Parliament are left to hold increasingly bizarre or trivial press conferences in a desperate ploy to stay on the radar’.
Notwithstanding that the NT bookmakers Centrebet and Sportingbet both offered odds suggesting the CLP had a 60 per cent chance of winning the election, the ALP reportedly believed that it would hold its 12 existing seats in the 25-seat Legislative Assembly and that Labor would win the swinging CLP-held seat of Sanderson, enabling Labor to govern in its own right.
A 23 July editorial in the NT News lamented that the unofficial election campaign had been ‘droning on for months’, that ‘vague’ policies and promises were unacceptable, and argued that the election outcome would be ‘more-than-usually important for both major parties’. It said that the stakes were high for both the parties and their respective leaders, namely ‘years in the wilderness for a loss, years in power, on the back of an economic boom, for a win’.
The campaign is likely to be nasty and dirty. Voters wish it were otherwise. They would like to see the issues facing the Territory - such as how to handle the economic growth, planning, education, health and Aboriginal disadvantage debated in a forthright but honest manner. Don't hold your breath.
The sceptical mood of the NT News later shifted to a more defiant tone, declaring that the newspaper would have none of the usual ‘policy announcements … smothered in gluey political rhetoric’ and vowing to ‘take the election back for the people—the average voter’:
During the campaign, the NT News will treat each policy announcement - whether from major parties or an eccentric independent - purely on merit. Just because it's deemed an important announcement by Labor or the CLP won't guarantee it more than a few column centimetres. Instead, we'll ask ordinary voters - young or old, indigenous or non-indigenous, tradie or office worker, first-timer or veteran, mum or dad – what they want from the politicians.
The NT News also announced that it was teaming up with Sky News Australia to host a forum featuring the two party leaders on Thursday 23 August, just two days before polling day.
With a month to go before polling day, bookmakers favoured a CLP victory, with Sportsbet giving as the main reason for the ALP’s outsider status ‘the unpopularity of the federal Labor government’. The newspaper, The Indigenous Times, was predicting a ‘wipeout’ for Labor because of its support for the NT Intervention. Still others, citing a booming local economy, were confident of a Labor victory.
With three weeks to go, the NT News chief political reporter, Nigel Adlam—who had accurately forecast the 2008 NT election outcome down to the last seat—predicted that after the 2012 election the Assembly would comprise 13 Labor, 11 CLP and one Independent member. On 2 August, four days before the issue of the election writs, the Henderson Government announced what was described as ‘a major policy backflip’: an investment of $300 million ‘in improving conditions on some 500 homelands … tiny remote indigenous communities scattered across the Territory’.
With the issuing of the writs on Monday 6 August, the major parties formally embarked on their campaigns. One commentator described the campaign as ‘off to a somnolent start, with both sides keeping their powder dry until the final fortnight after the Olympics are finished’. Job cuts emerged as a key initial focus. The CLP pledged ‘to save tens of millions of dollars by sacking government spin doctors’, while Labor accused the CLP of ‘lying about plans for more sweeping cuts’. Meanwhile the CLP took out a local newspaper advertisement guaranteeing ‘the jobs of all frontline workers and public servants on base salaries of $110,000 or less’, while saying that the role of highly paid executives ‘”employed simply to promote the interests of government" would be reviewed’.
Law and order was also mooted to be a prominent election theme because of the high rates of violent crime. In Alice Springs, anti-social behaviour and economic growth were slated as key issues for discussion at a community election forum on 7 August sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. Labor had never won a seat in Alice Springs.
A total of 86 candidates nominated for the 2012 Assembly election—55 men and 31 women:
Source: NTEC, ‘Nominations declared today’, media release, 10 August 2012, http://www.ntec.nt.gov.au/MediaAndPublications/MediaReleases/Documents/12_08_10_Media-Release_NT_General_Election_Nominations_Declared_Today.pdf
Most eyes were on the ballot order that emerged in some of the crucial seats:
- in Johnston, the Darwin seat of retiring Minister Chris Burns, Labor’s Ken Vowles drew the last spot of five candidates, with the CLP's Jo Sangster just above him at fourth spot
- in the marginal seat of Fannie Bay, Labor’s Michael Gunner—who won the seat in 2008 by only 78 votes— drew top spot
- in Arafura, held by retiring Labor MP Marion Scrymgour, Dean Rioli’s main opponent, the CLP’s Francis Xavier Maralampuwi drew the first spot, followed by the Greens and then Labor’s Dean Rioli
- in Nightcliff, an electorate where environmental concerns are prominent, Labor drew top spot, with the Greens’ Owen Gale second and NT Environment Centre director Dr Stuart Blanch, running as an Independent in third spot out of seven, with the CLP’s Kim Loveday drawing bottom place. The CLP’s decision to prefer Blanch and Gale on their how-to-vote cards placed additional pressure on the chances of Labor’s Natasha Fyles winning the seat if it came down to preferences. But the independent Blanch decided to place the CLP last on his how-to-vote card.
The issue of race in NT politics is, according to political analyst Antony Green, ‘impossible to avoid’:
With a quarter of the Territory's population of indigenous origin, it is also impossible to avoid the issue of race. Many in the Territory feel that they are forced to wear the guilt felt by the rest of Australia about the dispossession of Australia's indigenous population.
'Race' issues also feed back into the issue of development. The restrictions placed upon the government being forced to deal with the land councils and various land claimants becomes a restriction on unfettered development.
Past Country Liberal governments were brilliant at exploiting the interplay of development and race politics. Development and race are still key issues after three terms of a Labor government, but there are obvious differences in how they play.
As to race politics, that has been entirely changed by the 2007 Federal intervention into indigenous affairs. The Territory has been stripped of many of its powers over indigenous communities, but the imposition of grog bans in outback communities has pushed more drunks into Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs. As usual in the Territory, this has fed into a vigorous debate about law and order policies. Given the cost of Federal intervention, way beyond anything the Territory could afford itself, neither Labor nor the Country Liberals have been calling for Canberra to butt-out of indigenous affairs in the Territory.
The Federal intervention does seem to have changed the Country Liberal party's positioning on indigenous issues. The party now seems to have entered the debate about the best way to structure indigenous welfare, and the party now seems willing to select credible indigenous candidates in winnable seats.
Several seats witnessed Indigenous candidates standing against each other. For example, the outback seat of Stuart—which surrounds but does not include the town of Katherine—is a very safe Labor seat, but with the NT Intervention and the Stronger Futures legislation remaining controversial, Indigenous candidates emerged to press their respective cases for and against the various welfare policies that are at the heart of these initiatives.
Labor's Karl Hampton faces a challenge from Maurie Japana Ryan, founder of the fledgling First Nations party. But also sizing up a run are two indigenous women Bess Price for the Country Liberal Party and Barb Shaw for the Greens—the public face of the cases for and against the emergency intervention into remote indigenous communities five years ago. …. No poll on the intervention was ever put to the people living under it... But the battle in Stuart, if it proceeds, may become a referendum of sorts on the policies of the past five years.
Among its candidates, the CLP chose four prominent Aborigines—Francis Xavier Maralampuwi (formerly a Labor supporter) standing for Arafura; Bess Price standing for Stuart; Alison Anderson, who resigned from Labor in 2009 then joined the CLP, standing for Namatjira; and Larisa Lee standing for Arnhem. The seats of Arnhem and Namatjira (formerly Macdonnell) were uncontested at the 2008 election. The seats of Arafura, Arnhem and Stuart have Indigenous populations of between 73 per cent and 83 per cent with ‘the potential to reverse very large Labor majorities’. However, Indigenous candidates in these three seats faced ‘a difficult task’ because voters were ‘well aware of their party’s sometimes overtly racist history in Indigenous affairs’.
The Australian newspaper described the 2012 situation as ‘one of the most extraordinary shifts in the agenda of remote Australia’:
The entire CLP has for years been largely shunned by remote Aboriginal people, with the bush voting Labor almost without exception. The decision of four prominent traditional Aborigines, three of them high-profile candidates, to back the conservative opposition … has gone largely unremarked. It records a change in thinking by some leaders, away from the welfare paradigm … and towards returning power and responsibility to local people.
The First Nations Party fielded nine candidates:
- Edan Baxter in Araluen
- Valda Shannon in Barkly
- Maurie Japarta Ryan in Stuart
- Warren H Williams in Namatjira
- Bill Risk in Daly
- Dimitrious Magriplis in Sanderson
- Jeannie Gadambua in Arafura and
- Daniel Fejo in Blain.
Indigenous ALP candidates included:
- Karl Hampton in Stuart
- Cerise King in Katherine
- Russell Jeffrey in Brennan
- Malarndirri McCarthy in Arnhem
- Dean Rioli in Arafura
- Damien Smith in Goyder
- Rowan Foley in Greatorex
- Ken Vowles in Johnston
- Des Rogers in Namatjira.
Indigenous candidates standing for the NT Greens included:
- George Pascoe in Arafura
- Barbara Shaw in Braitling
The ALP officially launched its campaign on 13 August 2012, declaring the election to be ‘all about jobs, health and education’. The CLP campaign launch had occurred on 7 August in the presence of Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
On the day that nominations had been declared, the NT News ran a front page story headlined ‘One killer candidate’ when a Nightcliff man, who had been jailed for manslaughter in the late 1990s, announced his candidature. Peter Rudge said that his ‘experience at Berrimah jail had led to his decision to run’. The story prompted debate about whether people with a criminal record should run for a seat in the Assembly. Under NT law there is no prohibition against people running for office once they had served their sentence. The Labor candidate for Namatjira, Des Rogers, had earlier declared in a press statement announcing his candidature that 30 years previously he had been in prison for car theft and breaking and entering. Both party leaders appeared reluctant to approve of Mr Rudge’s bid.
It later emerged that Ken Vowles, Labor’s candidate for Darwin’s northern suburbs seat of Johnston, had also been charged with assault and fined in 1992 following an altercation with another man. The NT News said that ‘Labor pulled out all stops … to prevent this story being published even threatening legal action against the NT News’, but Vowles subsequently gave the NT News permission to publish the details of his spent conviction.
The matter snowballed, with claims and counter-claims between the NT News and Chief Minister Henderson. The NT News editorialised that the credibility of Henderson and his government was at stake. The election was barely a week away.
As the campaign entered its final week, an opinion poll commissioned by the NT News suggested that the CLP could win the election depending on the outcome in the Darwin seat of Johnston. Polling for the seat of Johnston took place prior to the controversy that erupted around Labor’s Ken Vowles and his spent conviction for assault.According to the NT News report, swings—‘some of them huge’— were recorded in three of four key Greater Darwin seats. In the seats of Johnston and Sanderson, Paul Henderson polled ahead of the CLP’s Terry Mills as preferred leader.
Four days out from polling day, academic lawyer and political commentator Ken Parish—a former Labor member of the Assembly—forecast a CLP victory by wresting the Darwin seat of Johnston from the ALP. Parish also believed that Labor could lose Arafura to the CLP's Francis Xavier and Nightcliff to Independent Stuart Blanch.
On the eve of the election there was no doubt that the result would be extremely close, with the Darwin seats of Johnston (where Labor’s sitting member was retiring) and Sanderson (held by the CLP) widely considered to be key seats. The Palmerston seats of Blain, Drysdale and Brennan were also considered vital.
In its final editorial the day before the polls opened, the NT News declared:
We have low unemployment, a strong housing market and a strengthening defence sector. For these reasons, and without any great conviction, we believe the Henderson Government deserves to be re-elected. The best result for Territorians will see Gerry Wood retain the balance of power.
At the close of polls—with what looked to be a swing of 5.3 per cent to the CLP and a swing of around 15 per cent in the rural and remote seats—Terry Mills claimed victory for the Country Liberals. Labor suffered a 6.7 per cent swing against it.
The CLP retained all its Alice Springs seats, and drew considerable support from voters in the remote, predominantly Indigenous, electorates. Territory Labor Senator Trish Crossin remarked that ‘for the first time in this nation's history, in any state or territory, the outcome has been decided by people in the bush, Indigenous people’.
The minor parties —the Greens, the First Nations Party, and the Australian Sex Party—‘had very little influence, apart from preferences in a handful of electorates’.
This election was marked by the fact that other than the five bush seats, no other seat moved party. This is a remarkable pattern of stability, with a changing of the guard in one sector only. The CLP won the Aboriginal seats, and won government, because it worked much harder and campaigned much better in the bush than Labor. And it utilised the deep dislike of the new local government system enforced by Labor. When the new Parliament meets, its membership of 25 will include 12 women and seven Aborigines. That is a praiseworthy record. Parties elsewhere might have a look at their records.
Some commentators argued that the intervention (NTER) was a significant factor in the rejection of Labor by Indigenous voters. Others argued that ‘it would be a mistake to interpret Saturday's indigenous vote for the Country Liberals as a vote against the intervention’:
For a start, two indigenous candidates for the Country Liberals who polled astonishingly well, Alison Anderson (who gained a 29 per cent swing) in Namatjira and Bess Price (15 per cent) in Stuart, are high-profile supporters of the intervention. The most high-profile anti-interventionist, Barbara Shaw, who stood for the Greens in the Alice Springs seat of Braitling, polled dismally.
Rolf Gerritsen, a professorial fellow at the Alice Springs campus of Charles Darwin University, offered three reasons for Labor’s defeat and argued that ‘they all hold implications for the next federal election’. Gerritsen contended that :
Labor treated the Aboriginal communities unjustly. On coming into office in 2001 the ALP inherited a system where general purpose horizontal equalisation grants to the NT from the Commonwealth (the GST disbursement) were redistributed to the benefit principally of the “whitefella” residents of Darwin. Having surprised themselves by winning the supposedly crucial seats of Darwin’s northern suburbs, Labor continued this system.
NT Labor put Aborigines in a mould. They were supposedly rusted-on Labor voters because the CLP governments of the 1980s and 90s attacked land rights. So Aborigines could be ignored or patronised.
[The] major reason Labor lost was that the CLP pursued a canny strategy for the bush. Credit for this must go to [former Labor MP] Alison Anderson and the CLP leader Terry Mills. …. Anderson did a deal with Mills that if the CLP would allow the communities, rather than the party machine, to select the candidates and would listen to the communities, then she would join the CLP. Labor was caught napping. Their Aboriginal candidates were pre-selected by the party machinery; they were Darwin-focused and unable or unwilling to challenge the fiscal status quo.
The effects of the system of equalisation grants are tricky to untangle. In 2008, the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs had held an Inquiry into Government Expenditure on Indigenous Affairs and Social Services in the Northern Territory. Among other things, the inquiry concluded that:
A significant proportion of the large transfer to the Northern Territory from the GST pool is, directly or indirectly, a reflection of the funds that would be needed by the Territory government to be able to provide services to the Indigenous community at a national average standard. As discussed in paragraphs 2.24 to 2.33, the ‘expense disabilities’ making the largest contributions are either specifically related to the cost of providing services to Territory's Indigenous population or heavily influenced by it. However, it is not possible to put a precise figure on that proportion.
The claim that these grants were ‘redistributed to the benefit principally of the “whitefella” residents of Darwin’ was rejected by Labor, who commissioned an Independent Expenditure Review on the matter. The key findings of the 2006-07 IER and can be summarised as:
- 52.4 per cent of the Territory’s expenditure in 2007-07 was Indigenous-related
- 44.4 per cent of the Territory’s revenue in 2006-07 was Indigenous-related
- Indigenous-related expenditure exceeds that of revenue by 8.0 per cent or around $248 million and
- on a per capita basis, spending on Indigenous Territorians is 2.5 times that of non-Indigenous Territorians.
Whatever the reality, there appears to have been a strong perception in ‘the bush’ that funds widely regarded as intended for Indigenous benefit were not properly distributed.
On the Tuesday after polling day, Chief Minister Paul Henderson stepped down from the leadership of the parliamentary Labor Party and handed the reins to his deputy Delia Lawrie, with one term Assembly member Gerry McCarthy becoming the new deputy leader. Meanwhile, in the CLP camp, the incumbent CLP deputy Kezia Purick failed to win the internal party vote for the position. Robyn Lambley, from the Central Australian seat of Araluen prevailed. Purick had previously been endorsed by Terry Mills to continue in the deputy’s role after the election.
At the close of counting on Tuesday 28 August, the seats of Arafura and Stuart were still undecided, with the CLP Indigenous candidates holding a slender lead in both seats. But when the official count was declared on 3 September 2012, the CLP prevailed, winning 55.8 per cent of the two-party preferred vote. Labor lost sitting members in Arafura, Arnhem, Daly and Stuart.
The CLP won 16 seats, with Labor eight and one Independent. Of the nine women elected to the Assembly, six are CLP members and three are ALP members. A total of five Indigenous members were elected—four CLP (Francis Xavier, Bess Price, Alison Anderson, Larisa Lee) and one ALP (Ken Vowles)—together constituting 20 per cent of the Assembly.
The CLP’s victory brought to an end eleven years of Labor rule. The size of swings against Labor in rural and remote seats that had long been secure were quite remarkable, and were widely interpreted as a repudiation of Labor by their traditional supporters—Indigenous Territorians living in the bush. Commentators sought to explain this loss of support by reference both to federal factors such as the Intervention, and local factors including the amalgamation of 63 smaller councils into eight ‘super shires’. Whatever the consensus of reasons that might finally emerge, it seems clear that Territory Labor may have a substantial job ahead of it to win back the support that it so dramatically lost.
Source: ABC Elections, ‘Final figures for 2012 Northern Territory election’, website, viewed 3 September 2012, http://blogs.abc.net.au/antonygreen/2012/09/northern-territory-election-updates.html#more
Seats won by Indigenous candidates marked with (#)
||Australian Sex Party
||Robyn LAMBLEY 68.7%
|Malamdirri McCARTHY 44.7%
|Gerry McCARTHY 45.2%
||Valda SHANNON 14.5%
|Geoff BAHNERT 33.6%
|Barbara SHAW 9.1%
||Peter CHANDLER 64.2%
||Russell JEFFREY 35.8%
||Jane JOHNSON 40.7%
||Kon VATSKALIS 59.3%
||Gary HIGGINS 51.1%
||Rob KNIGHT 39.0%
||David POLLOCK 5.1%
||Trevor JENKINS 1.8%
||Lia FINOCCHIARO 56.5%
||James BURKE 27.6%
||Tony CLEMENTSON 41.1%
||Michael GUNNER 48.8%
||David TOLLNER 54.5%
||Ashley MARSH 35.8%
||Matt HAUBRICK 6.6%
||Peter BURNHEIM 3.0%
|Damien SMITH 29.4%
||John KEARNEY 8.4%
||Matt CONLAN 56.7%
|Evelyne ROULLET 9.6%
||Phil WALCOTT 14.6%
||Jo SANGSTER 38.8%
||Ken VOWLES 45%
||Krystal METCALF 4.2%
|Frances ELCOATE 5.8%
||Willem VESTRA van HOLTHE
||Alison ANDERSON 63.2%
||Allen FANNING 22.7%
||Lynne WALKER 55.0%
||Kendall TRUDGEN 22.3%
||Kim LOVEDAY 32.4%
||Felicity WARDLE 1.9%
||Stuart BLANCH 18.5%
Peter RUDGE 4.4%
||John ELFERINK 55.5%
|David ANDREWS 6.4%
||Rowena LEUNIG 5.1%
|Jillian BRIGGS 4.0%
|Karl HAMPTON 37.2%
|Paul HENDERSON 57.0%
Source: Drawn from official election results published by the NT Electoral Commission, viewed 6 September 2012, http://www.ntec.nt.gov.au/ElectionLAgeneral/Results/Pages/default.aspx
. As well as Martin, other Labor women in the Assembly were Barbara McCarthy (Arnhem–ALP), Delia Lawrie (Karama–ALP), Marion Scrymgour (Arafura–ALP), Alison Anderson (MacDonnell–ALP) and Jane Aagaard (Nightcliff–ALP). The non-Labor female candidates to win seats in 2005 were Jodeen Carney (Araluen–CLP), Fay Miller (Katherine–CLP), Kerry Sacilotto (Port Darwin–CLP) and Loraine Braham (Braitling–IND).
. A Green, ‘2012 Northern Territory election summary’, ABC News, op. cit.
. Betts, ‘Ross now his own boss Independent from CLP’, op. cit.
. The Poll Bludger, op. cit.
. NT Electoral Commission, Nominations declared today, op. cit.
. D O’Sullivan, op. cit.
. For example, K Parish, ‘Arrogant Indigenous policies that toppled NT Labor is a lesson for Feds’, The Conversation, 27 August 2012, viewed 28 August 2012, http://theconversation.edu.au/arrogant-indigenous-policies-that-toppled-nt-labor-is-a-lesson-for-feds-9037?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+28+August+2012&utm_content=
campaign_monitor&utm_term=Arrogant+Indigenous+policies+that+toppled+NT+Labor+is+a+lesson+for+Feds and E Cox, ‘NT Labor counts the cost of federal and state indigenous policies’, The Conversation, 27 August 2012, viewed 28 August 2012, http://theconversation.edu.au/nt-labor-counts-the-cost-of-federal-and-state-indigenous-policies-9081?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Latest+from+The+Conversation+for+28+August+2012&utm_content=
. Northern Territory Government, 2006-07 Indigenous Expenditure Review, Auditor-General’s report to the Under Treasurer on the Indigenous Expenditure Review for 2006-07. (Tabled paper no.92, 28 October 2008, Northern Territory Parliament, 2008).
. Details of the voting outcomes appear in Appendices 2 and 3.
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