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Cathy Madden, Politics and Public
The Northern Territory (NT) has a unicameral parliament—the
Legislative Assembly—elected under the provisions of the Electoral Act (NT).
The NT has a fixed election date, the fourth Saturday in August, every four
years: the previous election was held on 25 August 2012. The Northern Territory
is divided into 25 divisions for Legislative Assembly (Assembly) elections. The
Parliament was prorogued on 8 August 2016 with the election held on 27 August
In the lead up to the 2016 election political commentators
seemed united in predicting a Country Liberal Party (CLP) defeat—the only
question appeared to be by how much.
Polls suggested that leadership and cabinet instability could wipe out the CLP
at the 2016 election.
An electoral redistribution is conducted prior to each
election by a process overseen by two independent committees.
In September 2015 the Augmented Redistribution Committees recommended the
electorate of Greatorex be abolished, contracted the electorate of Fong Lim
into inner Darwin, and created a new seat called Spillett that runs from Darwin
Airport into northern Palmerston.
These new boundaries were in place for the 2016 election.
In February 2016 the Assembly passed electoral reform
The reforms were criticised by the Labor Opposition for being rushed through
the Parliament six months before the election with little consultation on the
Two of the reforms that had significant political consequences for the 2016 NT
- a switch from full to optional preferential voting, and
- a ban on posters, how-to-votes, handbills and all forms of
campaigning within 100 metres of a polling place.
In addition the Government made it easier to cast a prepoll vote
by removing the need to satisfy particular criteria and simply providing that
any person entitled to a vote may apply for a postal vote.
The CLP, led by Terry Mills (Blain), won the 2012 election
ending 11 years of Labor governments. Robyn Lambley (Araluen) was the Deputy Chief
Minister. There was a 5.1 per cent two-party preferred swing to the CLP, which
won 55.8 per cent of the overall two-party preferred vote. The party won 16 of
the 25 seats in the Assembly, largely bolstered by gaining all the critical
‘bush’ seats (Arafura, Arnhem, Daly and Stuart).
Table 1: results of the 2012 election for the Legislative
|Country Liberal Party
|Australian Labor Party
Source: B Holmes, Northern Territory election 2012, Background note, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, October
2012, accessed 1 September 2016.
and party changes
The period since the 2012 election has been turbulent, with
a number of party switches and leadership challenges. By December 2015 the CLP was
reduced to a minority government. From the beginning of the 12th Legislative
Assembly to August 2016 there were numerous ministerial reshuffles including
six changes in deputy chief minister.
On 25 January 2013 the leader of the ALP, Paul Henderson, resigned
from the Legislative Assembly, triggering a by-election for the seat of Wanguri.
Labor candidate Nicole Manison won the seat at the 16 February by-election.
On 13 March 2013, whilst NT Chief Minister Terry
Mills was travelling on official business in Japan, the CLP met and elected
Adam Giles (Braitling) as its new leader by a vote of 11 to five. Mr Giles
became the first Indigenous leader of a government in Australia. David Tollner (Fong
Lim) was elected Deputy Leader. Giles was sworn in as Chief Minister on 14 March
On 12 April 2014 a by-election was held for the seat of
Blain following the resignation of former Chief Minister, Terry Mills. Nathan
Barrett retained the seat for the CLP.
On 4 April 2014 three Indigenous members, Alison Anderson
(Namatjira), Larisa Lee (Arnhem) and Francis Xavier Kurrupuwu (Arafura),
resigned from the CLP and, on 27 April, joined the Palmer United Party (PUP).
The number of CLP members was reduced to 13. 0n 8 September 2014 Mr Kurrupuwu
rejoined the CLP. On 27 November Ms Anderson and Ms Lee resigned from PUP,
joining the crossbench as independents.
The CLP then had 14 Members in the Assembly.
In August 2014 Tollner, who was Treasurer as well as Deputy
Chief Minister, was forced to resign his ministerial position and deputy
positon after making homophobic comments.
Peter Chandler (Brennan) became Deputy Chief Minister on 1 September 2014.
On 18 October 2014 a by-election was held for the seat of
Casuarina following the resignation of ALP Member Kon Vatskalis. Lauren Moss
retained the seat for Labor.
On 2 February 2015 Willem Rudolf Westra van Holthe (Katherine)
was elected Leader of the CLP, defeating Chief Minister Adam Giles, reportedly
by a vote of nine to five.
John Elferink (Port Darwin) was elected Deputy Chief Minister. However, on 3
February Giles refused to resign and facilitate the swearing-in of van Holthe
by the Territory Administrator. It was argued that it had not been established
that van Holthe had a majority in the Legislative Assembly. Later in the day,
it was announced that Giles would remain leader and van Holthe would become his
On 20 April 2015 Delia Lawrie (Karama) resigned as the Leader
of the Labor Opposition following controversy over granting a rent-free lease
of Stella Maris to Unions NT, and Michael Gunner (Fannie Bay) was elected
In October 2015 Ms Lawrie was not preselected for her seat and on 8 October resigned
from the ALP to sit as an Independent.
Ms Lawrie failed to win her seat at the 2016 NT election.
On 17 June 2015 former Deputy Chief Minister Robyn Lambley
(Araluen) left the CLP to sit as an Independent.
On 20 July 2015 the Speaker, Kezia Purick (Goyder), resigned
from the CLP to sit as an Independent. Her resignation meant the CLP was
reduced to a minority government, holding 12 seats. In November, in what has
been described as a ‘midnight coup’, the Government unsuccessfully attempted to
oust Speaker Purick and replace her with CLP member, Matt Conlon (Greatorex).
It is interesting to note that unlike Speakers in other Australian jurisdictions,
the NT Speaker has a deliberative rather than a casting vote at all times and a
second casting vote in the event of a tie.
Both Ms Lambley and Ms Purick were successful at the 2016 NT
election as independents.
On 1 December 2015 the Leader of the Labor Opposition, Mr
Gunner, took an opportunity to formally move a vote of no confidence in the Government.
The motion was defeated with the crossbenchers voting against the motion, not wanting
to bring on an early election.
In February 2016 Mr van Holthe was forced to resign as Deputy
Chief Minister and from his ministry following a scandal over signing a share offer
with a Vietnamese company that was looking at establishing a dragon fruit farm in
On 15 February 2016 Peter Styles (Sanderson) was appointed Deputy
On 11 June 2016 the Minister for Sport and Recreation, Nathan
Barrett, resigned from the ministry following a sex scandal.
The Government was also rocked by a number of other scandals
In July 2015 the NT News revealed that CLP members
and politicians had ‘direct involvement’ in Foundation 51, an ‘associated
entity’, which raised funds for the party.
The Northern Territory Electoral Commission and the Australian
Electoral Commission both investigated the foundation, following the leak of
emails detailing the closeness of the relationship between it and the Government,
as well as various allegations of impropriety by disaffected former CLP members
and a complaint by Territory Labor that it served as a ‘slush fund’ for the
CLP. The Australian Electoral Commission dropped
its investigation into the alleged ‘slush fund’ in August 2015.
The NT Electoral Commission had referred the matter to the NT Police. The NT
Police investigated and released the findings in October 2015, which indicated
a prima facie case had been established with ‘a reasonable chance of conviction’.
However, Director of Public Prosecutions Jack Karczewski dropped the matter
claiming it was not in the public interest to pursue it.
A number of ministerial travel trips caused controversy such
as Minister Bess Price’s 10-day trip to New York including seven nights at the
In July 2015 corruption charges were brought against
Minister Price’s chief of staff Paul Mossman for his role in Government travel
bookings through Xana Kamitsis’s Latitude Travel.
Ms Kamitsis was arrested in November 2014 and faced charges over allegations
she had rorted more than $100,000 —she was sentenced to nearly four years jail
The government travel scandal also led to the Police Commissioner resigning over
allegations he interfered with the investigation into Kamitsis’ alleged larceny
and the suspension of a Police Commander for his alleged role in the scandal.
Privatisation of government-owned assets with a stated
purpose of funding infrastructure projects drew considerable opposition from
the public. Northern Territorians had voiced concern over the selling off of the
government-owned Territory Insurance Office, but the sale to Allianz was
finalised in November 2014.
In October 2015 the NT Government announced the long term leasing of the Darwin
port to a Chinese firm, sparking consternation not only in Australia but among
In September 2015 Attorney-General John Elferink was forced
to apologise after telling a female Labor member that ‘I am really tempted to
give her a slap right now...’.
This was one of a number of issues relating to the treatment of women by CLP
members and to the treatment of women within the party.
In August 2015 the 1 Territory party was founded by Braedon
Earley, a former President of the CLP. The party received official registration
in November 2015.
Although billed as an independent grassroots party, a number of its members
were disaffected former CLP members. The party contested 13 seats at the
election but was not successful in getting a candidate elected.
Just before the official campaign period commenced the NT
Government and most Australians were shocked by the Four Corners
revelations relating to the treatment of young offenders in detention in the
NT, particularly activities occurring at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.
Chief Minister Giles sacked John Elferink as Corrections Minister on 26 July 2016
following the Four Corners expose. The graphic treatment of the
offenders led the Federal and NT governments to set up a royal commission to
probe the abuses: the Royal Commission into Child Protection and Youth
Detention Systems in the Northern Territory.
Chief Minister Giles subsequently questioned the timing of the ABC program,
claiming it was aired in early August to discredit the CLP in the lead up to
of the Assembly: June 2016
The composition of the Parliament had changed considerably
by the last sitting in June 2016 prior to the NT election: CLP holding 12
seats, ALP seven seats and six crossbenchers. A number of members retired or
did not contest the election:
- David Tollner (CLP, Fong Lim; Tollner was not preselected to
stand for the CLP)
- Nathan Barrett (CLP, Blain; Barrett had resigned from the CLP on
27 June 2016)
- John Elferink (CLP, Port Darwin)
- Matt Conlon (CLP, Greatorex, which had been abolished in the NT
- Alison Anderson (Independent).
Former Chief Minister Terry Mills resigned from the CLP to contest
the seat of Blain as an Independent.
The Legislative Assembly sat for the last time on 27 June
2016. The Parliament was prorogued on 8 August 2016 for the election on 27
A March 2015 ReachTel poll indicated that support for the
CLP and Giles’s leadership was crashing. First preference vote was 38.0 per
cent to Labor and 30.2 per cent to the CLP. Two-party
preferred support put Labor ahead at 61.8 per cent to the CLP’s 38.2 per cent, a
huge 17.8 per cent swing to Labor compared with results from the 2012 election
for the polling area (an area covering 18 electorates in the greater Darwin and
Alice Springs regions).
A subsequent ReachTel poll in September 2015 indicated a
worsening situation for the governing party with a two-party-preferred negative
swing of 16 per cent putting it on 39 per cent to 61 per cent to the ALP. On
preferred chief minister, 67 per cent of those surveyed preferred Labor’s
Michael Gunner as chief minister and 37 per cent rated the Giles government’s performance
as ‘very poor’.
On 6 June 2016, the NT News reported on an MediaReach
poll, conducted in the two Alice Springs seats of Braitling and Araluen, which
showed much lower-than-usual primary voting intentions for both the CLP and
Labor (CLP 28 per cent, Labor 24 per cent). Nearly half—46 per cent—of
respondents to the poll said the CLP was a bad government. Only 21 per cent
thought the Government was doing a good job and 33 per cent were undecided or
had no view.
A MediaReach poll, conducted at the end of July 2016,
indicated that Labor had a 64 per cent to 36 per cent lead in the
two-party-preferred vote. Michael Gunner was the preferred Chief Minister 46
per cent to 29 per cent for Giles.
At the 2 July 2016 federal election, NT showed an eight
percent two-party preferred swing to Labor—considerably above the national
swing to Labor of three per cent. This swing resulted in Labor’s Luke Gosling defeating
sitting CLP member, Natasha Griggs, in the seat of Solomon, covering Darwin and
surrounding suburbs. Labor veteran Warren Snowden retained his seat of Lingiari
with an increased two-party preferred swing of eight per cent compared to a
minus 2.8 swing at the 2013 election.
The resulting 7.4 per cent swing against the CLP at the federal
election on 2 July—the largest swing in the country—was a portent of what was
to happen on 27 August.
Other voting patterns in the NT at the federal
election were similar to national patterns. The Greens slightly increased their
vote to nine per cent, near the national average. Other minor parties
increased their primary vote from 11.7 per cent of first preferences in 2013 to
nearly 17 per cent, again reflecting national patterns.
The beginning of the campaign was dominated by the Four
Corners revelation in regard to youth detention and the subsequent decision
to establish a royal commission.
Other key themes included the economy, law and order,
fracking, housing, and education and public schools. Cracking down on
antisocial behaviour and alcohol-fuelled crime were big issues coupled with
promises of more frontline police.
Each major party was fighting for the home owner vote, with
renovation grants and cuts to stamp duty on offer.
The CLP were pushing fracking as a major jobs creator, but
Labor raised environmental concerns, promising an indefinite moratorium on the
controversial mining method before making a policy decision.
Labor promised to go back to the drawing board for water
licences, promising a review on aquifer science and all licences granted under
the CLP Government, possibly resulting in some water licences being revoked.
Transparency and accountability were also raised as important
themes during the campaign. Both major parties made commitments to introduce an
anti-corruption type body and Labor also promised electoral donations reform.
Labor also pledged to find budget savings by cutting the number of government departments
from 31 to 20. Cuts to public service staff would be limited to 11 chief
executive positions and 15 deputy chief executives.
Both parties announced big budgets for long-term plans to
increase Indigenous housing.
The Leaders of the two major parties faced-off in two
pre-election debates: on 3 August and 17 August. Both debates were dominated by
questions on their policies for the economy and small business.
Mr Giles claimed a proven record of sound economic management and a genuine
plan to create 24,000 jobs. Mr Gunner emphasised his stable and united team
working to grow the economy and working with all sectors of the economy in full
partnership to create more jobs.
At a forum of undecided voters on 25 August 2016 both leaders
gave firm promises not to privatise any more public assets.
The number of candidates was 115, up from 86 in 2012, including
40 independent candidates.
Thirty-nine of the 115 candidates were female.
Six parties contested the election as well as independents.
Only the ALP and CLP contested all 25 seats. The new party 1Territory contested
13 seats and independents stood in 20 seats.
The election resulted in a landslide win for Labor with
voters punishing the CLP. Labor won 18 seats, the CLP two seats and independents
five seats in the 25-seat Assembly. There was a swing of 5.7 per cent of the
primary vote to Labor, triggered in part by a collapse in the CLP vote (18.8
per cent swing against the CLP) and swings to former CLP members turned
independents who won their seats (Terry Mills, Kezia Purick and Robyn Lambley).
‘Others’, which includes independents, the Citizen’s Electoral Council (four
candidates) and the Shooters and Fishers Party (two candidates), received a total
primary vote of 19.6 per cent, with a swing of 9.9 per cent.
On 28 August 2016, election commentator Antony Green’s
analysis of the two-party preferred votes in the 18 seats where the contest was
directly between Labor and the CLP indicated that Labor won 58.8 per cent of
the vote and CLP won 41.2 per cent (a swing of 14.6 per cent to Labor).
The ‘bush seats’ (Arafura, Arnhem and Stuart), which were
instrumental in the CLP winning in 2012, swung back to support Labor.
For example, Arnhem showed an 18.8 per cent and Stuart a 31.5 per cent
two-party preferred swing to Labor.
The 1 Territory party did not do as well as expected, but
did receive more votes than the Greens: 3.6 per cent of the primary vote compared
to the Greens 2.9 per cent.
Table 2 sets out the results of the 2016 election.
Overall nine sitting members lost their seats: seven CLP,
one Independent and one Labor.
The incumbent Chief Minister (Adam Giles) and his former
deputy (Willem Westra van Holthe) lost their ‘unlosable CLP seats’, in close
The formerly safe CLP seats of Braitling and Katherine had never been held by
Labor. Adam Giles became the first Chief Minister in the NT to lose his seat
while in government. Mr Giles blamed the scandal surrounding youth
detention in the NT, the electoral redistribution and independents for his
Other former CLP members and party insiders have attributed the loss partly to
the ‘toxic atmosphere’ existing within the Giles Government.
Some of the other notable losses were:
- the CLP Deputy Chief Minister Peter Styles
- former CLP minister Bess Price
- former CLP turned Independent Larissa Lee
- former Labor leader turned Independent Delia Lawrie and
- Labor deputy leader, Lynne Walker who lost to an Independent by eight
votes in Nhulunbuy. On 19 September 2016, NT Labor announced it would not
challenge the outcome in Nhulunbuy, a previously safe Labor seat.
Table 2: results of the 2016 Northern Territory election
|| TCP %*
||Ah Kit, Ngaree Jane
||Guyula, Yingiya Mark
*two candidate preferred vote
Bolding denotes a new member of the Legislative Assembly
Territory Electoral Commission, (NTEC),’2016 Territory election results’, NTEC
website; Australian Broadcasting
Commission (ABC), ‘NT votes 2016’, ABC website.
The 13th Legislative
Of the 25 members of the Assembly 13 are new members. This
includes six new female members (two of whom are also Indigenous) and three
male Indigenous members. Ngaree Ah Kit, the new Labor member for Karama, is the
daughter of former member and minister, Jack Ah Kit (Arnhem 1995–2005). Of
Labor’s 18 seats, nine were won by women. Overall the Parliament has 12 women,
including one CLP member and two Independents. Overall there are six Indigenous
members (five Labor and one Independent), the same number as in the previous
Parliament. Of the six, only one, Ken Vowles, was an incumbent member. The
member for Namatjira Mr Chansey Paech, is the first openly gay Indigenous
Australian to be elected to parliament.
ministry and Opposition leadership
On 31 August 2016 Mr Gunner was officially proclaimed the
11th Chief Minister of the Northern Territory with 38 portfolios, as part of
three-person Government pending the full ministry being sworn in.
Mr Gunner, who was first elected in 2008, is the first Chief Minister to be
born in the NT. Natasha Fyles was sworn in as the Attorney-General and Minister
for Justice and Nicole Manison as Treasurer. On 11 September 2016 Mr Gunner
announced his full ministry of eight, which includes five women (two of which are
new to the Parliament: Eva Lawler and Dale Wakefield).
This ministry represents the highest proportion of women in any ministry in
Australia at 62.5 per cent, overtaking Queensland Premier Palaszczuk’s ministry
following the 2015 Queensland election (52.9 per cent). Nicole Manison was
sworn in as the Deputy Chief Minister. Three members from the former shadow
ministry are also included in the ministry: Gerry McCarthy, Lauren Moss and Ken
Vowles. Mr McCarthy is the only minister with previous ministerial
experience. The ministry was sworn in on 13 September 2016.
Mr Gunner announced that the Government would support
Independent Kezia Purick to continue in the role of Speaker.
CLP member Gary Higgins is Leader of the Opposition with Lia
Finnocchario as his deputy, each with eight to ten portfolios.
It is worth noting that at the 2005 election a similar situation occurred when the
CLP only won four seats to Labor’s 19 seats; but the CLP was able to return to
power in 2012.
In a review of the 2005 loss former CLP President and former Chief Minister
Shane Stone found the CLP ‘had become disconnected with ordinary voters,
MLAs were lazy and ill-disciplined, and the party had failed to get its
policies across’: a message that also appears to resonate at the 2016 election.
Following the 2016 election the first female President of the CLP, Tory
The 13th Legislative Assembly first sat on 18 October 2016.
Ms Purick was elected Speaker unopposed.
Commencing at the 2016 election, the voting
system was changed to optional preferential voting; previous NT elections used
compulsory preferential voting. However, this change appears to have helped
Labor. It is likely that minor party voters who were hostile to the CLP put the
CLP last, while those who were better disposed to the CLP followed the CLP’s
advice, and just voted ‘1’.
In the end, as the CLP was behind in most electorates, recommending 'Just
vote 1' may not have been a positive tactic.
The introduction of optional preferential voting
substantially cut the rate of informal voting. Across the Territory the rate
reduced from 3.2 per cent in 2012 to 2.0 per cent in 2016. In the six electorates
with majority Indigenous populations the rate of informal voting fell from 4.6
per cent to 1.9 per cent.
Also as a result of the changed electoral arrangements an
increased number of voters voted early.
Turnout was relatively low for the bush seats: Arafura 49.2 per cent, Arnhem
57.6 per cent, Namatjira 58.3 per cent and Stuart 55.4 per cent. The highest
turnout occurred in the urban seats in Darwin and Alice Springs: Wanguri 83.4
per cent, Sanderson 81.3 per cent and Braitling 82.9 per cent.
The overall turnout was 74.0 per cent.
The 2016 NT election result is another example of the
volatility in the electoral fortunes of state governments where one term
governments have been voted out: Victoria in 2014 and Queensland in 2015. It is
also unusual in NT electoral history, which has been relatively stable: the CLP
held government from 1974 to August 2001 and then Labor from August 2001 to
The role of the Indigenous vote is becoming increasingly
evident in deciding who will win government in the NT as demonstrated by the
swinging bush seats at the 2012 and 2016 elections. Labor will need to work at
stabilising that vote through policies aimed at providing services such as
housing, and providing more power to the communities at the local level.
The CLP will need to work at reinvigorating the party
(having lost a number of long term representatives and senior party officials)
and building the trust of the electorate.
The lack of support for the CLP was possibly instrumental in
the loss of Natasha Griggs’s seat at the Federal election in 2016: however the
Prime Minister has been reported as distancing himself from the CLP loss in the
NT, suggesting the result was the result of local issues.
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moving trainwreck? Why the CLP will be swept from office in the Northern
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accessed in September–October 2016 unless otherwise indicated.
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Chief Minister’, Northern Territory News, 3
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in talks on Darwin port’, The Australian
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damage him’, Guardian (Australia), 11 August 2016.
. J Poulsen, ‘Dumping a shock to Tollner’, Sunday Territorian, 29
November 2015, p. 6.
. C Walsh, ‘Bye
Bye, Barrett: Barrett to bow out at election’, Northern Territory News, 13 June 2016, p. 1; see footnote
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back: Mills expected to run against CLP in Blain’, Sunday Territorian, 7 August 2016, p. 1.
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faces home threat: CLP takes hit in poll’, Northern
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hit to CLP: Labor sitting pretty’, Northern Territory News, 1 August
2016, p. 1.
election 2016, ‘State of the
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‘Northern Territory’ in State
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election 2016: Where the parties stand on the big issues’, ABC News
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. ‘Both sides back construction, home buyer schemes’, Northern Territory News, 8 August 2016, p. 4.
plan: Fracking, Territory Labor website.
. A Manicaros,
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Territory News, 29 July 2016, p. 12.
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Gunner reveal their biggest regrets’, Northern
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member of the Legislative Assembly because he held an appointment ...under a
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