With a Federal election scheduled for sometime in 2010 – and maybe earlier if a double dissolution trigger is cocked and is pulled – the local political parties have started scratching around for candidates.

The local branch of the Liberal Party, the Country Liberals – aka the CLP – is sort-kinda-maybe bullish about its prospects in the Darwin-based seat of Solomon, currently held by Labor’s Damien Hale on a slim margin of 0.4% after distribution of preferences after taking the seat from the two-term incumbent, and now member for the seat on Fong Lim the NT Legislative Assembly, Dave Tollner.

Damien Hale MHR for Solomon

As the Darwin daily the NT News reported on 28 November:

The CLP has yet to choose its candidate. But the Northern Territory News understands that Darwin City Council alderman Garry Lambert, Palmerston Deputy Mayor Natasha Griggs and Tourism Top End head Tony Clementson have put up their hands. A CLP source said: “We’re not very happy with the field so far. “We want an energetic 35-year-old who can serve three or four terms in Parliament. Solomon is a marginal seat and Hale can be beaten.”

Notwithstanding the CLP’s apparent dissatisfaction with the candidates, the ABC reported two days later that the CLP had pre-selected the Natasha Griggs, the Deputy- Mayor of the satellite city of Palmerston:

The party’s president, Rick Setter, says public servant Natasha Griggs outshone four other candidates. “It’s not going to be easy because Kevin Rudd of course is very popular,” he said.

Natasha Griggs - CLP candidate for Solomon
Natasha Griggs - CLP candidate for Solomon

The other House of Representatives seat, Lingiari, has been held – apart from a brief interregnum, by Labor’s Warren Snowdon since 1987 – losing it for a single term in the Howard landslide of 1996 and taking it back in 1998 and retaining the seat when it was re-named as Lingiari in 2001

Warren Snowdon - MHR for Lingiari
Warren Snowdon - MHR for Lingiari

As the ABC’s Anthony Green notes, Snowdon took 3.5% off the CLP candidate Adam Giles – now in the NT Parliament as representative for the electorate of Braitling – in two party-preferred votes in the Federal election of 2007 after adding 2.4% in the 2004 election.

Snowdon nows sits on a very comfortable margin of 22% – taking his two party-preferred vote in 2007 to 61.2% to the CLP’s 38.8%.

As the NT News noted on 28 November in relation to Lingiari:

Veteran Labor MHR Warren Snowdon will defend Lingiari, which became one of the safest ALP seats in the country at the last election. The CLP is expected to announce Tennant Creek businessman Tony Civitarese as its candidate for the seat at a meeting at Katherine today.

The announcement of Civitarese as the CLP’s candidate seems to have been a bit of a cock-up one way or another.

Ten days later the NT News noted:

The NT News previously named Tennant Creek businessman Tony Civitarese as the candidate for Lingiari. He did not deny he had shown interest in standing but said he had never signed nomination forms.

Further in that piece, entitled “Past Labor friend joins CLP in grab for Lingiari”, Nick Calacouras noted, in part, that:

Indigenous domestic violence campaigner Bess Price has put her hand up to run as the CLP candidate in the Federal seat of Lingiari. Ms Price has supported Labor in the past and was appointed to chair the Territory Government’s Indigenous Affairs Advisory Council. She also sits on the Federal Government’s advisory council on violence against women. The Country Liberals are believed to have been talking to Ms Price since the Territory election in August last year. The Northern Territory News understands it was not until independent Territory politician Alison Anderson offered her support that Ms Price agreed to run. Ms Anderson has popular support and influence in her electorate of Macdonnell – which makes up 25 per cent of the landmass of Lingiari. The CLP is also canvassing potential independent candidates who might offer their preferences. The NT News also understands Ms Price was prepared to run in the seat of Stuart against Karl Hampton if Ms Anderson’s defection in July triggered a Territory election.

There is a fair bit more to Bess Price than Nick Calacouras revealed in that short piece and I’m sure that, in the event that she is successful in her bid for pre-selection by the CLP, there will be close media and political scrutiny of Bess Price’s candidacy.

Bess Price, prospective candidate for Lingiari
Bess Price, prospective CLP candidate for Lingiari

Bess Price was on the Morning Show on Alice Springs ABC Radio with Alice Brennan earlier today.

I was just back from the pool so missed the first part of the interview but here is a verbatim transcript of the last few minutes:

Bess Price – …the Country Liberals will…might give me a chance to…um…have a say, and be heard…um…in, in, in…areas that we all believe in…and…I would have to make sure…sure that I have to negotiate with them as to…what I believe in…in what I strongly believe in…and which will need, you know, further talks with them as well.

Alice Brennan – So, have you spoken to the Country Liberals this week to confirm that, yes, you are interested?

BP – No, I haven’t…um…I will endeavour to do that when I’m back in Alice Springs…

AB – I guess it is a bit of a kick in the guts to the Labor Party given that you’ve been quite a supporter of the Labor party over the years…

BP – Well, I’ve always voted Labor…but I believe…but I believe Territorians deserve and demand better leadership…and a better future…

AB – And, of course have you approached Warren Snowdon and told him about your plans?

BP – I think you…well, it was shock for me as well finding out that there had been talks in the Territory about me standing for Lingiari but I guess it would be a shock for Warren as well. But I haven’t had an…um…communication with him right now. Um, but I’m happy to listen to…whoever wants to stand as…stand as well…listen and support whoever wants to stand as well.

AB – Well, we’ll wait and see the results of the pre-selection Bess and see how you go there.

BP – That’s right. We’ll wait and see.

AB – (laughs) Bess Price, thanks for your time this morning.

BP – Thank you.

I’m unsure about how well the admission the Bess had “…always voted Labor” will go down with the CLP pre-selection committee.

As she said, “…we’ll wait and see“.

In the event that Bess Price is successfully pre-selected it will be a big ask for her to overcome Warren Snowdon’s substantial margin – but stranger things have happened in the weird world that is NT politics.

I’ll keep you posted on any updates from the parties or further pearls of wisdom from any of the candidates.

And, in the event that anything of interest or relevance happens in regard to the two Senate seats in the NT – and they have always been split evenly between the CLP and Labor so the only issues of interest only occur in the pre-selection – then I’ll keep you posted.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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