NT Chief Minister Clare Martin has just announced a Territory election for 18 June, a pleasingly brief campaign of just under 3 weeks. Even this jaded political observer should manage to avoid terminal boredom for that period.
Bryan Palmer of Ozpolitics has started posting on the NT election, and the Pollbludger even has a Territory election site. Lucky they’ve got time because I certainly don’t, what with 300 public law essays to mark and then just as many exam papers. Even better, the ABC has a quite flash Territory election website.
My general “gut” feeling is that Labor are pretty warm favourites to win, partly because Martin and her team haven’t made any obvious big mistakes in the last year or so, and partly because the NT economy is now very buoyant after a few years in the doldrums. Even more importantly, the CLP is back under the leadership of recycled failed Chief Minister Denis Burke, who lost the seemingly unloseable election to Labor back in 2001. Burke is back in the driver’s seat after the CLP’s chosen replacement Terry Mills proved to be too nice, ineffectual and inexperienced for a successful career as a political leader. But Burke shows no sign of having learnt anything from his stint in the political wilderness, and has hardly been an inspirational leader since his comeback a few months ago.
Moreover, the CLP has been tearing itself to pieces on the front page of the NT News in recent weeks, after Burke sacked former leadership aspirant (and CDU law graduate) Peter Maley from the front bench and the party, after Maley defied his leader and returned to full-time private legal practice while continuing to pull a politician’s salary of over $100,000 per year. Maley’s hitting the front page of the paper last week over an alleged domestic violence incident didn’t help either. Latest rumour is that Maley is going to run in his former seat of Goyder as an Independent purely to screw Burke and deny the seat to the CLP!
Meanwhile, another CLP candidate in the seat of Millner, Paul Mossman, has found himself in all sorts of trouble over some appallingly sexist statements he made on an Internet political discussion board. Labor’s Matthew Bonson (another CDU law graduate) holds Millner by just 89 votes, so the CLP leadership must be none too pleased by Mossman’s idiot indiscipline. Nevertheless, they also have former local CLP member Phil Mitchell running as an “Independent” in the seat and no doubt swapping preferences with the official CLP candidate, so I’d reckon Millner is one of the more likely seats to go to the CLP.
There are 5 Darwin northern suburbs seats (including Millner) held by Labor with margins of less than 4% (less than 400 votes or thereabouts). Labor holds government with 13 seats, the CLP has 10 and there are 2 Independents. It’s a truism that Territory elections are won and lost in Darwin’s northern suburbs. On the other side of the ledger, there are also a couple of CLP seats (*Drysdale and Daly) which Labor has a rough chance of picking up following the retirement of long-time sitting members, not to mention MacDonnell in Central Australia, a longtime Labor seat that has been held for two terms now by the CLP’s John Elferink on a wafer-thin margin of 2%. MacDonnell is a predominantly Aboriginal seat and Labor is running a high profile Aboriginal candidate in Alison Anderson. Elferink did well to win the seat and then hold onto it in 2001. Personally I hope he holds on again, because Labor has run a very distasteful smear campaign about Elferink’s sexuality, following his revelation that he was molested by a serial pedophile as a child.
All in all, the CLP isn’t travelling well, though, and it seems unlikely voters will embrace a party that is so publicly divided and squabbling. Even former longtime Chief Minister Marshall Perron was recently heard to lament that his party was a pathetic shadow of the invincible political machine it once was.
Unlike most state elections, however, you can never be sure with a Territory election, because it’s too small for any of the major media players to be bothered spending money on public opinion polling. The parties themselves undertake extensive polling, though, and their respective demeanours suggest that Labor isn’t too worried (although Clare Martin is doing a reasonable job of avoiding a Goss/Kennett effect by not appearing arrogant or overconfident). Centrebet is the best indication we’ve got at the moment, and it has Labor at 3:1 on.
ABC Radio in Darwin have asked this armadillo to prognosticate about the NT election at 5.10 this evening on the Drive program. God knows why. What would I know? But feel free to tune in if you live in the Top End.
PS – Here’s an audio of the radio interview in Windows Media format for anyone interested. It includes an interview with a senior CLP spin doctor named Peter Murphy as well as me.
* Actually, I think Steve Dunham is standing again, although he certainly mused about quitting not so long ago. And I’m a bit surprised that Poll Bludger William Bowe is apparently so sanguine about Labor retaining Millner. Maybe he doesn’t quite realise that the CLP has a long and quite successful history of running dummy independents in close marginal seats to maximise the party’s vote. The “independent” is invariably a close CLP associate and proceeds to swap preferences tightly with the official candidate. Phil Mitchell is very much in that tradition, and with a margin of around 90 votes I expect him to have a significant influence. I reckon Millner is a lineball proposition; I wouldn’t want to call it either way.
As for the Pollbludger’s prediction that Labor will win the seat of Araluen in Alice Springs from the CLP, I don’t think so sunshine. Do you want to put money on it? Alice Springs is injun country for Labor, and I don’t see anything in the tea-leaves likely to change that scenario. I’d give Labor’s Fran Kilgariff (current Alice Springs mayor and daughter of a legendary former CLP federal member) a very rough chance of unseating the CLP’s Richard Lim in Greatorex despite a margin of some 9%, but I certainly wouldn’t have her as favourite. Generally I’d be surprised to see any seats change hands in Alice Springs.