Saturday update:

• The Northern Territory News reports bookies have been receiving late money on the Country Liberals. A spokesman for Luxbet said Labor had eased “dramatically” to $2.60, while Sportsbet had moved slightly over the week from $1.40 to $1.37 for the CLP and $2.80 to $2.85 for Labor – which was apparently entirely down to one $20,000 on Monday.

• Labor ads in the Northern Territory News spruiking individual candidates have been keen to note that “a vote for (candidate) will help keep Paul Henderson as Chief Minister”, while other advertising states that “a vote for the CLP is a vote for Tollner as Chief Minister”. I suspect the point in the latter case is not so much that Tollner is particularly unpopular, but that the CLP is divided. Another ad which catches me eye features shots of Campbell Newman, Barry O’Farrell and Ted Baillieu together with Terry Mills, and quotes from each offering pre-election messages of reassurance to public servants. There’s also an effort from Unions NT featuring the Grim Reaper and the message: “CLP admits 3000 jobs to be slashed. Save jobs. Vote Labor.” The CLP advertising, by contrast, doesn’t really cut through.

• Locally well connected Crikey blogger Bob Gosford of the Northern Myth believes Alison Anderson is no certainty in Namatjira, evidently rating highly the two Aboriginal rivals who are directing preferences to each other.

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• The Australian’s editorial advocates a vote for the CLP, making particular effort to praise the party’s Aborginal candidates.

Original post:

Only one more day until voters go the polls in the Northern Territory. Opinion polling has inevitably been thin on the ground during the campaign, the only published figures being those from the Northern Territory News poll of four Darwin seats detailed in this earlier post. Newspoll last entered the fray in the Northern Territory at the 2005 election, when it conducted a poll of Darwin voters which proved to be highly accurate. That wasn’t repeated in 2008, and evidently won’t be again this time.

We do however have this report from the ABC on Labor internal polling conducted by UMR Research, which knocks most other reporting of this kind into a cocked hat by providing supporting quotes from the pollster. The poll covered a small sample of 300 voters in the seats of Fannie Bay (held by Labor on a margin of 0.9%), Johnston (Labor 6.9%), Fong Lim (CLP 4.3%) and Sanderson (CLP 5.2%), and showed a collective result of 52-48 in favour of Labor and a swing to them of 2.4%. A spokesman for the firm suggests Labor’s primary vote was down, but the loss was being absorbed by minor parties and mostly coming back as preferences.

Three of the four seats covered were also dealt with in the Northern Territory News poll, the point of distinction being that UMR Research polled Dave Tollner’s seat of Fong Lim, whereas the News polled Brennan (held for the CLP by Peter Chandler on a margin of 2.7%). The combined result for the three seats common to both polls from the NT News suggested a 3% swing to the Country Liberal Party, so the UMR Research poll appears to be 5% better for Labor – remembering the respective margins of error involved are about 3.5% and 5%.

Before proceeding to my own overview of the situation, here’s a review of today’s action-packed Northern Territory News:

• Gerry Wood, the independent member for Nelson who will emerge as king-maker in the event of a status quo result, says his first preference in the event of a hung parliament would be a grand coalition including ministers from both sides. Failing that, he has declared a “clean slate” in any post-election negotiations.

• The CLP finally submitted its costings for evaluation by Treasury yesterday, and it only took three hours for the head of Treasury to announce that $124 million of commitments were “not achievable”.

• Opposition Leader Terry Mills is said to have “flip-flopped under pressure on public sector jobs at last night’s People’s Forum”, first guaranteeing no public service jobs would go, then clarifying that this only applied to those who were “serving the interests of the public”. This calls to attention the major disservice done to the CLP’s election prospects by Campbell Newman’s economy drive in Queensland. According to 2006 census figures (this particular data not yet being available from 2011), 16.5% of the workforce in the federal electorate of Solomon (covering Darwin) and 13.4% in Lingiari (covering the remainder of the territory) were employed in “state/territory government administration”, compared with 8.4% nationally.

• The paper’s editorial concludes: “Without any great conviction, we believe the Henderson Government deserves to be re-elected.”. However, “the best result for Territorians will see Gerry Wood retain the balance of power”. Wood is said to have shown his worth by opting to maintain Labor in office on the condition that Paul Henderson remain leader, thereby ending putative instability caused by the leadership ambitions of Delia Lawrie.

My complete guide to the territory’s 25 seats can be viewed here, but for those in a hurry, here’s a quick form guide. In 2008, Labor won 13 seats and the CLP won 11, with Gerry Wood handsomely retaining his naturally conservative Darwin fringe seat of Nelson. Since then, a Labor member for the remote seat of Macdonnell (the name of which will change with the election to Namatjira) has defected to the CLP, making it a matter for judgement as to whether the starting point for the election is 13-11-1 or 12-12-1. It is apparently considered likely that Gerry Wood would back Labor to remain in government and that knowledge of this fact will not seriously threaten his re-election prospects, strange as this may seem. The bottom line is that any seat changing hands will have a crucial bearing on the outcome.

Taking it region by region:

Darwin/Palmerston (ALP 6 seats, CLP 6 seats)

Making life harder for the CLP, there are now two sets of polling to suggest Labor will retain its most marginal seat of Fannie Bay, which was held by Clare Martin prior to the 2008 election and then retained narrowly for Labor by Michael Gunnar, who should enjoy a sophomore surge. This suggests the crucial battlegrounds are Labor’s next two most marginal seats in Darwin, Johnston (6.9%) and Nightcliff (10.7%). Both are harder for Labor to defend than their margins suggest owing to the retirement of sitting members, whose personal votes are of crucial importance in electorates containing only about 4000 voters. Labor’s candidate in Johnston, Ken Vowles, has been at the centre of the campaign’s main controversy, relating to a spent conviction for assault over an incident when he was 21 – although the issue has had a lot more to do with Henderson’s handling of the revelation than the offence itself. Safer Labor seats like Karama (10.8%), Casuarina (14.3%) and Paul Henderson’s seat of Wanguri (14.7%) appear to be beyond the CLP’s firing range, but you can never be too sure.

The hint of a swing to Labor in the UMR Research poll refocuses attention on the prospect of Labor nabbing a Darwin area seat from the CLP, as they will very likely need to do if they are to win a clear majority. However, the NT News poll presented pretty solid evidence that Sanderson (5.2%) and the Palmerston seat of Brennan (2.7%) are beyond Labor’s reach. The other CLP seats with precarious margins are Port Darwin (2.9%) and Fong Lim (4.3%), which look difficult for Labor owing to the seniority of CLP incumbents John Elferink and Dave Tollner, and the fact that both can expect sophomore surges (also a factor in Brennan and Sanderson).

Remote areas (ALP 6, CLP 0)

Labor traditionally has a lock on Aboriginal majority electorates, but this time there’s wild cards aplenty. Labor had already lost one such seat before the opening bouncedown with Alison Anderson’s defection to the CLP. Given that Anderson gained her seat of Macdonnell in 2005 by ending a rare period of CLP control with a gigantic 20.3% swing, it would appear more than likely that her personal vote will keep the seat firmly in the CLP fold. There have also been suggestions that the retirement of Marion Scrymgour and the appeal of CLP candidate Francis Xavier will make a close contest out of Arafura – particularly from SportingBet, which is offering $2 on the CLP and $1.80 on Labor. However, given that Labor has never lost this seat before, and its candidate Dean Rioli is an AFL star from an eminent local family, this perception surprises me a little.

The seat of Stuart (15.0%) has generated a lot of copy outside the territory owing to the candidacy for the CLP of Bess Price, a very high profile Aboriginal advocate of the intervention. That issue has made remote areas highly volatile electorally over the past two federal elections, with a big swing to Labor recorded after its introduction by the Howard government in 2007, followed by a much larger swing in the opposite direction in 2010, resulting in Labor’s Warren Snowdon being run close in his seat of Lingiari. Gerry McCarthy’s 15.6% margin in Barkly looks solid enough, but this electorate includes Tennant Creek (and thus has a substantial white minority), which showed a capacity to surprise at the 2010 federal election when a proposed nuclear waste dump saw voters move in droves from Labor to the Greens. The other remote seats are Nhulunbuy (24.2%) and Arnhem (uncontested in 2008, as was Macdonnell/Namatjira), where Labor’s incumbents will surely go untroubled.

Another possible complication in remote areas is the emergence of the anti-intervention First Nations Party, which is running candidates in Barkly, Namatjira and Stuart. It is also well worth noting the following from Antony Green:

There has also been a major change to polling in remote electorates. In the past most voting was conducted by mobile polling teams, moving from community to community over a two week period. Each of these mobile teams would also take votes on election day in one of the larger centres, but cease taking votes early in the afternoon to return to the nearest electoral office for counting.

For the first time there will be full election day voting in major regional indigenous centres. There are 16 of these, Gunbalanya, Maningrida, Nguiu (in Arafura), Alyangula, Ngkurr, Ramingining (Arnhem), Ali Curung, Borroloola, Elliott (Barkly), Adelaide River, Wadeye (Daly), Hermannsburg, Papunya (Namatjira), Galiwinku, Yirrkala (Nhulunbuy) and Lajamanu, Yuenduamu (Stuart) …

The conducting of a formal polling place may alter the way voting takes places and increase the local turnout. Mobile polling teams will still be used but they will take many fewer votes than in the past.

Pastoral areas (ALP 1, CLP 2, IND 1)

This is a term I’ve used to collect the seats outside Darwin and Alice Springs where the majority of the population is white. The one seat held by Labor, Rob Knight’s Darwin fringe seat of Daly (5.8%), joins those mentioned in Darwin as one of the main seats to which. Unlike the Darwin seats however, no intelligence has emerged to suggest how the parties are travelling here. The CLP will presumably go untroubled in their two seats of Goyder (8.4%) and Katherine (8.4%). The remaining seat is the aforementioned independent Gerry Wood’s seat of Nelson, which given his margin of 28.7% is universally considered a lay-down misere, though I’ll be keeping a lazy eye on it myself.

Alice Springs (ALP 0, CLP 3)

The seats here are the CLP’s safest, and with no major independent challenges emerging, the results here are likely to be of interest only to local observers.

Finally, some observations from Antony Green concerning factors which suppressed Labor’s vote in 2008 that won’t apply this time:

The election was called only days after the completion of an electoral redistribution. The Electoral Commission had no time to write to voters informing them of their new electorates. Sitting Labor MPs in marginal seats altered by the redistribution had little chance to connect with their new constituents. The snap poll was also responsible for an unusually low turnout, as fly-in fly-out workers and travelling voters found themselves with little opportunity to arrange postal votes.

For all that though, the 2008 result still came second only to the 2005 landslide as Labor’s best ever result in the territory, suggesting there is still plenty of Labor slack waiting to be taken up by CLP. The seat-by-seat implications of this have been given a very thorough going over by George Hasanakos of Poliquant.

I subscribe to Crikey because I believe in a free, open and independent media where news and opinions can be published that I can both agree with and be challenged by.

As a Crikey subscriber I always feel more informed and able to think more critically about issues and current affairs – even when they don’t always reflect my own political viewpoint or lived experience.

Jess
Singapore

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