A Territory election is a good one for election-watching beginners.
As I said at the time of the last Northern Territory poll, that’s because everything happens in miniature: smaller seats than anywhere else (four to five thousand voters in each), fewer of them (25), fewer candidates (only two or three in most seats), and less than three weeks of campaigning.
We don’t yet know how many candidates there’ll be, but the rest all still holds: the Territory will go to the polls on 9 August, almost a year early and only 19 days after yesterday’s announcement by chief minister Paul Henderson. Full credit to Antony Green for tipping the early poll, although even he was thinking in terms of “late-August or some time in September.”
Henderson’s official reason for going early is the need for a mandate to proceed with a $12 billion liquefied natural gas plant in Darwin harbor, which opposition leader Terry Mills had initially opposed. But Green suggests, very plausibly, that his reasoning had more to do with the large number of members planning to retire and the desire to avoid inconvenient by-elections.
The 2005 election was a landslide of massive, or at least massive-in-miniature, proportions: Labor’s primary vote (51.6%) was more than 10% higher than its previous record, and it all but annihilated the Country Liberal opposition, winning 19 seats to the CLP’s four, with two independents.
It’s likely, in line with second-term Labor government experience in the eastern states, that the opposition will pick up some ground, but the chance of them overturning that sort of majority is practically zero.
Assessing the chances in particular seats has been made more difficult by a recent redistribution; although the changes weren’t drastic (the seat of Millner has been renamed Fong Lim, and it and several others have shifted around a bit), because there are so few polling booths it’s very difficult to allocate old votes to new boundaries.
Antony Green, however, has had a go at it, and his new pendulum shows the CLP picking up two seats from boundary change, and another two Labor seats hanging on very slender margins. The CLP should also win the seat of Braitling, whose independent member is retiring.
That would give the opposition a possible nine seats, but my guess is they’ll fall short of that. Although a nominally safe Labor seat might fall somewhere (remember, even a 10% swing is only a few hundred votes), that’s likely to be outweighed by some of the new Labor members in marginal seats having fortified themselves enough to defy any overall swing.
In the Coalition’s search for the road back out of the wilderness, the Northern Territory is probably not the place to start.