Law and order themes are always popular in NT election campaigns, even more so than other parts of Australia. It’s hardly surprising given that violent crime rates are more than twice as high as the Australian average. Almost 6% of Territorians experience a violent crime every year. A fair proportion of both perpetrators and victims are Aboriginal, but a lot of violence also emanates from the drug and alcohol-fuelled binge drinking party culture, a significant younger population than the Australian average and lots of young single military personnel aka AJs out on the prowl. Darwin’s CBD after nightfall is no place for the faint-hearted, and parents of teens and 20s worry about their kids’ safety every time they go out on the town.
The Henderson government has done a politically skillful job of seizing the populist “tough on crime” high ground over the last few years, with draconian policies that have kept the punters quiet and filled the prisons((Hence current expenditure of more than $500 million on a new prison on Darwin’s outskirts ~KP)) while doing nothing at all to reduce crime rates. Instead crime has actually been rising in quite a few categories although we can’t be sure how much because the most recent available statistics date from March 2011.
That’s why CLP strategists must have seen it as manna from heaven when deputy leader John Elferink was attacked by a drunken thug on Darwin’s streets yesterday while launching a law and order policy in front of the assembled media.
Not only that, the Elf got to display his ex-cop man of action credentials and effect a citizen’s arrest on the perpetrator (who eventually bolted with the help of a mate but was captured by the cops a short time later). The incident not only dramatised the crime situation on Darwin’s streets but portrayed the CLP as a party willing to take tough measures to deal with it.
It could conceivably be a seminal moment in the campaign, rather like Mark Latham’s aggressive handshake of John Howard that convinced many including me that he was dangerously loopy, or PM Gillard’s “real Julia” gaffe that jet-propelled doubts about her trustworthiness that already existed from the manner of her deposing Kevin Rudd.
Somewhat ironically, the street assault on the Elf took place while he and Opposition Leader Terry Mills were launching a bizarre “one punch homicide law” policy in opportunistic reaction to an event the day before when an 18 year old boy was king-hit in Darwin’s CBD in an incident eerily similar to the recent Kings Cross killing of young Thomas Kelly. The Darwin victim is in hospital in a critical condition while the 28 year old alleged perpetrator is in police custody.
Some have wondered whether the whole thing was staged. Somehow I doubt it because it would be too easy for a such a stunt to come unglued.
The CLP policy in itself looks rather silly, in that it’s already possible for an assailant to be charged with murder or manslaughter for a single punch king hit. It probably would have been ignored as the cynically meaningless electoral pose that it was, had it not been for the extraordinarily fortuitous circumstance of the Elf being attacked by a thug in front of the TV cameras. Some have wondered whether the whole thing was staged. Somehow I doubt it because it would be too easy for a such a stunt to come unglued. Mind you, events surrounding the Ashby/Slipper affair (and before that Godwin Grech) indicate that no stunt however tawdry is beyond imagination in the strange and desperate world of electoral politics.
More prosaically, my hobnobbing with Labor luminaries at Saturday night’s Darwin Cup Ball suggests an increasing level of quiet pessimism on their part, though not yet desperation. I suspect their tracking polling is showing the prospect of salvaging a narrow victory slipping away as voters begin focusing on politics with just 3 weeks until election day. All will depend on the intensive campaign period, which began last night with a Labor election ad TV blitz.
I’ve already suggested that the seats of Johnston, Nightcliff, Fannie Bay and Daly are potentially vulnerable, although only Fannie Bay is officially marginal on the 2008 election figures. I would now add to that list the predominantly Aboriginal seat of Arafura. Centred on the Tiwi Islands and north-west Arnhemland and nominally a very safe ALP seat, Labor has lost the incumbency of sitting MLA Marion Scrymgour. Moreover I’m told she has antagonised many of the “Big Men” Tiwi traditional owners to the extent that quite a few including family patriarch Cyril Rioli are actively backing Country Liberals candidate Francis Xavier Maralampuwi, despite the fact that the Labor candidate is AFL hero and kinsman Dean Rioli. That may make a significant difference to the CLP vote, although the authority of Aboriginal elders isn’t what it once was and Dean Rioli has rock star status among young and ordinary Tiwis. I suspect Labor will manage to hold onto the seat but it’s certainly one to watch.
Styles isn’t the most charismatic of politicians nor the brightest bulb in the CLP chandelier.
On the other side of the ledger, Labor remains hopeful of picking up the CLP Darwin suburban seat of Sanderson. Labor lost the seat to the CLP at the 2008 election after previous MLA Len Kiley disgraced himself and was punished by the voters after making a gross drunken sexual remark to a female security guard at Marrara Stadium. Sanderson is currently held by CLP ex-cop Peter Styles on a margin of 5.2%. Labor has a plausible candidate in local high school principal Jodie Green. Styles isn’t the most charismatic of politicians nor the brightest bulb in the CLP chandelier. Nevertheless it would be surprising if he hasn’t managed to build up some sort of incumbency cushion over the last 4 years, and the Gillard backlash factor will also help him. I’d be surprised if the CLP doesn’t retain this seat but it too is certainly one to watch.
All in all, with at least 5 vulnerable Labor seats and only a single CLP one in that position((I should also mention the Palmerston seat of Drysdale, where sitting MLA Ross Bohlin was disendorsed by the CLP but is standing as an Independent. The notional majority is 9.3% but it is likely to be closer than that. Labor has already spent lots of money in Palmerston and has just promised to spend another $100 million building the rest of the dual carriageway on the main commuter route Tiger Brennan Drive. Labor must think it has some sort of chance there if it’s willing to commit that sort of money. ~KP)), you can see why the bookies have the Country Liberals as firm favourites. In that context the Elf’s telegenic citizen’s arrest yesterday could prove a campaign watershed moment.