The headline on yesterday’s Sunday Territorian said it all: “Massacre“.
Labor all but obliterated the Country Liberal Party in Saturday’s
election with a swing of about 12%, winning between three and six extra
seats and unseating the opposition leader Denis Burke, despite his 18%
margin.

It wasn’t hard to see it coming. A government elected
with a narrow margin after a term in the wilderness, governs
conservatively, showing that things don’t fall apart on its watch,
while the opposition is in disarray. Next time out, it wins a
landslide. This time it was the Northern Territory, but in the last few
years the four eastern states have all done the same. Odds on that SA
will follow next year.

But
each time, the locals keep insisting it’s going to be close. Right up
to last week, those on the ground were talking up the CLP’s chances in
various northern suburban seats. Non-Territorians like Antony Green,
William Bowe (the Poll Bludger) and myself, did much better, despite our lack of local knowledge. On Saturday night, Green found time to post a line to the Inside Politics forum under the heading “One up for the Southerners?”, asking: “OK, when can we gloat.”

The
Poll Bludger takes the honours for successful prediction, although he
and I both ended up saying 16-6-3 (Labor/CLP/independents), he was
right about Macdonnell and I was wrong about Araluen. I thought that
Labor’s tough anti-drunkenness policy could hurt them in strongly
Aboriginal areas, but it didn’t – they gained two outback seats with
swings of 30%. The final count will be something like 18-5-2, although
one of the independents, Loraine Braham in Braitling, is only three
votes ahead of the CLP, and another three seats (Drysdale, Goyder and
Port Darwin) are too close to call.

The best summaries are on the ABC website here, but for latest results check the NT Electoral Commission.

Christian Kerr writes:

Antony
Green’s poll preview on Friday afternoon probably said it all: “We’re
seeing the best economic times for several decades, and if you go back
to the 1950s and 60s there were precious few changes of government back
then. And we’re seeing the same sort of tendency at the moment, with
good economic times, is that governments are not defeated.”

Or,
indeed, that some lucky buggers – like NT Labor’s Clare Martin, get 12%
swings. Labor has gone from a majority of one to holding 16 – and
possibly as many as 19 – of the 25 seats in the Territory’s Legislative
Assembly.

The Country Liberal Party, the unchallenged rulers of
the Territory until their upset loss in 2001, has been largely reduced
to a rump in Central Australia. Opposition leader Denis Burke, the man
who returned to the job earlier this year after presiding over the
previous defeat, seems sure to have lost his seat – the CLP’s safest.

Yesterday,
Burke was ruling out the idea of incorporating the CLP formally into
the Liberal Party. The existence of the standalone “Country Liberals”
is a historical accident – the result of Queensland influence on
Territory politics in the 70s, when self-government was introduced.
Rebadging may be vital to rebuilding.

The Territory ALP may have had good times on their side – but there are three other lessons, too:

  • Punters don’t necessarily go “oh-ah” at the big ticket infrastructure items.
  • A charismatic leader does plenty to lift a pretty patchy bunch.
  • If you have the runs on the board and are prepared to take a stand, voters will reward you.

Parties need candidates that reflect the community back to them. If only Federal Labor could make that conceptual leap…