A Labor fence sitter on fracking

p2444 Sandra NelsonLETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sir – Sandra Nelson (pictured) was narrowly elected to what had once been considered the safest conservative seat in the Legislative Assembly, despite being a Labor candidate.


Sandra stood for election on an anti-fracking platform and received a strong flow of preferences from another candidate with an anti-fracking agenda.
The incumbent MLA at the time strongly supported fracking, a factor that contributed to Labor’s unprecedented victory in the Katherine electorate.

It is generally believed that when the findings of the current hydraulic fracturing inquiry have been handed down, the NT Government will legislate to allow fracking in the Territory, contrary to the wishes of most Territorians.

The Member for Katherine is personally opposed to fracking and played a key role in the introduction of the present moratorium on the contentious process.


She has made it clear however that if legislation is introduced into Parliament to allow the process to be used, she will not cross the floor and vote against her party but would abstain from voting.


While Sandra maintains that she would always support her constituents, it has been pointed out to her that fence sitting would effectively be depriving her constituents of a say on this vital issue.


It has subsequently been revealed that a decision to either ban fracking in the NT or allow the process to be used will not be made by the 25 member Legislative Assembly but by an eight person Labor panel headed by Chief Minister Gunner.


The Member for Katherine, together with nine of her parliamentary colleagues, two CLP MLAs and five Independents will not have a vote on the issue.


It is very likely of course that Gunner will be a goner if his government goes down this undemocratic road.


Sandra was elected to Parliament by the people of Katherine, not by the Labor Party.
She is a loyal person but her loyalty to her constituents will be compromised by the necessity for her to toe the party line in order to stay in good stead with the party. This is failing of our of political system.


Katherine would be best served if we had an independent representative in the Legislative Assembly, someone who is not compelled to put party interests ahead of those of their constituents.


Not since the days when the late Les MacFarlane was our elected representative has Katherine  had such person in Parliament. Les was a CLP member of course but he consistently put Katherine interests ahead of party interests.


Katherine needs another Mac.


Bruce Francais



  1. This is an interesting contribution from Bruce Francais, and his prediction of the fate of the Gunner Government at the next NT elections is supported to some extent by historical precedence.
    On every occasion – with one significant aberration – that a political party has achieved overwhelming dominance in the Legislative Assembly, the governing party suffers a sharp contraction of its numbers in the following election campaign.
    The pattern began with the first NT Legislative Assembly of 1974, when the newly created CLP won 17 out of 19 seats, with the remaining two going to independents.
    In 1977 there was a significant swing against the CLP, losing six of its members including the Majority Leader Goff Letts and his deputy Grant Tambling.
    In 1983, when the number of seats was increased to 25, Chief Minister Paul Everingham led the CLP to a massive victory, winning 19 seats. In March 1987 the CLP retained 16 seats, which at first glance seems not so bad but this result masked enormous swings against the CLP’s candidates towards the NT Nationals – it was at the time the worst polling results the CLP had experienced; further, the CLP’s decline was exacerbated through by-election losses in which there were swings against the government as high as 20%.
    In 1994, under CM Marshall Perron, the CLP won 17 seats and in the subsequent campaign of 1997, under CM Shane Stone, the CLP was returned to office with 18 seats. In terms of overall percentages, this election result was the strongest the CLP ever achieved – it is this period in the 1990s which I describe as an aberration.
    However, the pattern resumed with a vengeance after the 1997 victory, for in 2001 the CLP lost office for the first time in its history.
    In 2005 it was Labor’s turn to taste the forbidden fruit of overwhelming victory, when CM Clare Martin’s government was returned to office with 19 seats.
    This was followed in 2008 when CM Paul Henderson led the Labor Government to a wafer-thin victory and spent most of that term as a minority government.
    So now Labor holds 18 seats in the Legislative Assembly but this is not an unassailable position.
    Regardless of how emphatic a victory is achieved in an election result, history clearly shows the ruling party cannot take its political dominance for granted – this is a dangerous time for the Gunner Government.


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