Margin: Labor 11.2%
Location: Regional/Outback, Northern Territory
In a nutshell: The division of the Northern Territory into two seats in 2001 created highly marginal Solomon out of Darwin, and the reasonably safe Labor seat of Lingiari from the remainder. It has been held since then by Warren Snowdon, who had previously held the single Northern Territory seat on and off since 1987.
Electorate analysis: The Northern Territory gained its first member of federal parliament in 1922, but full voting rights were not granted to the member until 1968. Perhaps not coincidentally, the seat had recently fallen to Sam Calder of the Country Party after a long period of Labor control. With Calder’s retirement in 1980, the seat transferred to the Country Liberal Party, established as a local alliance of Liberals and Nationals to contest elections in the newly established Northern Territory parliament. The seat fell to Labor with the election of the Hawke government in 1983, defeated CLP member Grant Tambling returning to the Senate four years later. It subsequently changed hands with regularity: future Chief Minister Paul Everingham recovered the seat for the CLP in 1984, Warren Snowdon won it back for Labor in 1987, Nick Dondas held it for the CLP for one term from 1996, and Snowdon recovered it in 1998.
The division of the territory into two electorates came with the 2001 election, Darwin and Palmerston making up Solomon and Lingiari taking up the vast remainder, giving it easily the nation’s highest proportion of indigenous people. Snowdon took the safer prospect of Lingiari, where overwhelming Labor support in Aboriginal communities outweighs CLP strength in Alice Springs and Katherine. In 2003 the Australian Electoral Commission calculated in 2003 that current population left the Northern Territory with 295 people too few to maintain a second seat, but with Labor and the Coalition both convinced they could win both seats, the parliament ruled they had calculated wrong and passed legislation saying so. The Coalition’s assessment proved somewhat optimistic, Snowdon surviving a 2.7 per cent swing to prevail by 2.8 per cent.
A figure in the Left faction, Snowdon held parliamentary secretary positions in government from 1990 until his defeat in 1996, again reaching the position in opposition after the 2001 election. He was present during Kevin Rudd’s famous visit to Scores Nightclub in New York in 2003, and steadfastly backed Rudd’s side of the story when it emerged as an issue in August 2007. After the election he was substantially promoted to the junior defence science and personnel ministry, which Glenn Milne in The Australian credited to his close association with Julia Gillard. He was demoted to indigenous health, rural and regional services in the June 2009 reshuffle that followed Joel Fitzgibbon’s resignation as Defence Minister. Philip Dorling of the Canberra Times believed the loss of defence personnel reflected incoming Defence Minister John Faulkner’s “longstanding lack of enthusiasm” for Snowdon, “and perhaps more specific concerns about the contribution Mr Snowdon’s office may have made in the past week to Fitzgibbon’s downfall”.
A week out from polling day, the management committee of the Northern Territory Country Liberal Party defied its leader in the Territory parliament, Terry Mills, by refusing to disendorse Leo Abbott for neglecting to inform the party he had pleaded guilty to breaching a domestic violence order.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.