COMMENT by MARK J SMITH (pictured)
2020 will be another year of elections, in Queensland, ACT and the NT which are all governed by Labor.
Expect the 2020 Territory contest to be dominated by law and order, community safety and fixing the economy, and budget position, to support more sustainable employment as the Labor Government led by Michael Gunner seeks a second term.
Since the 2016 wipe-out the CLP has been reduced to a significantly smaller political force, at least as far as a Parliamentary representation, and can only rely on the benefits of incumbency in two seats, Daly and Spillett.
Elections are always about leaders and their appeal, or lack of it.
CLP Leader Gary Higgins (at right) served in the Giles Cabinet from 2015 as Minister for Sport and Recreation, Senior Territorians, the Environment, and junior roles assisting the Minister for Arts and Museums.
After working in the public service, he bought the Daly River Mango Farm, a mango orchard and tourist park.
Born in Alice Springs, Michael Gunner completed an Arts degree at NT University, now Charles Darwin University. While studying he worked working at retail chain Big W and as an electorate officer.
Like many politicians Mr Gunner has served an apprenticeship as a staffer, working as a senior government ministerial and policy adviser for Chief Minister Clare Martin from 2001-08.
There is some encouragement for the CLP, from limited polling, that despite suffering one of the worst defeats of a sitting government, it might be able to return to government after just one term, or at least put up a strong fight against an increasingly unpopular Labor government.
A poll of 645 voters was conducted by MediaReach for Sky News in September 2019.
It showed that the Labor primary vote had fallen to less than three in ten people willing to vote Labor, dropping to 29% from the 2016 election high of 42.2%.
CLP primary vote increased to 39%, a full 10% more than Labor, from the low of 31.8% at the election. 22% of those polled preferred an independent and 10% for other parties.
The poll numbers also look challenging for Michael Gunner (at left) as the leader, with only 23% of people polled satisfied with his performance, while 70% said they were dissatisfied with the NT Labor leader.
It will be interesting to understand what the internal CLP strategy is.
That is, if they are realistically targeting a return to government, or a more conservative two-step strategy to get into a position to return in 2024.
If 2024 is the target then a potential future leader may be among those successful CLP candidates next August.
Frustration with major parties has delivered more power to independents, who now number five, or 20% of the chamber.
This includes Territory Alliance, which holds one seat and trades on the profile of former Chief Minister Terry Mills who returned to Parliament at the last election.
A hung Parliament is possible.
The first challenge is to get people to the ballot box. At the 2016 election about 135,000 voters were on the electoral roll, but only about 100,000 votes were cast. A low turnout of only 74%. This makes polling predictions difficult.
Labor holds 15 of the 25 Legislative Assembly seats in the single house Parliament. The CLP holds two seats and there and five genuine independents plus three floating members expelled from the Labor caucus.
Thirteen seats is the magic number to form government. A seat represents about 5000 electors, compared to 100,000 in a Federal seat, so each percentage swing is only 50 votes, which means big swings are achievable.
Candidate selection will be critical and some sitting members will retire.
Hero of 2016, Sandra Nelson, won’t contest again in Katherine. Going into the election, it was the safest seat in the entire Territory and Nelson needed a 22.3% swing to win it. She managed to defeat Westra van Holthe by just 28 votes.
Long serving independent Gerry Wood is retiring in his seat of Nelson held since 2001. Former solicitor Gerard Maley will again be the CLP candidate.
The Speaker Kezia Purick has held the seat of Goyder since the 2008 election.
Purick, a former CEO of the NT Minerals Council, was originally elected as a CLP member. She became an independent in 2015.
She was retained as Speaker by the Labor Government, which should be helpful if a minority government alliance is required.
Labor holds six seats by a margin of less than 5%. This includes Braitling, Katherine and Karama by less than 1%.
If a swing against Labor is on, then seats held by less than 10% will be vulnerable including Namatjira (8.5%), Barkly (8.0%) and Fong Lim (7.8%) held by Jeff Collins who was dismissed from the Labor party by Mr Gunner in December 2018.
The CLP must win these seats if they want a chance to form a majority government.
If they fall short, then this scenario might play out.
Although swings are never uniform, let’s assume for a moment that the CLP gains a modest swing of 5.5%, which would deliver seven seats. This may mean the CLP holds nine seats, 10 if they can win back Nelson from the retiring Gerry Wood, leaving Labor on 11, if the four independents hold on.
Labor would need to secure the support of at least two of the independents to form a government and three for the CLP.
Alice Springs seats are critical.
Central Australia delivered enormous swings in 2016, including the largest in the Territory.
If there is a hung Parliament then seats like Araluen might become crucial if the CLP can manage to at least draw level with Labor on the total seat count or sneak ahead, an important factor when cases are made for minority government in terms of a mandate from the people.
Former Deputy Chief Minister, now Independent Member for Araluen, Robyn Lambley will be challenged by Alice Springs Mayor Damien Ryan who has been endorsed by the CLP. He will have to overcome an 8.2% buffer.
Braitling, which covers north-west Alice Springs, is the most marginal seat at 0.3% and is held by Dale Wakefield.
Adam Giles did hold Bratling with a 19.6% margin, so a natural adjustment back to the CLP combined with any swing will make it tough for Labor to hold.
The CLP has pre-selected Alice Springs electrician Joshua Burgoyne who was number two on the CLP Senate ticket in 2016 and made a bid to be an Alice Springs councillor in 2017. He is also the son-in-law of Damien Ryan.
Labor will face the same challenge in the huge rural seat of Namatjira, which includes Yulara, Hermannsburg, Kintore and Papunya, and part of southern Alice Springs.
Chansey Paech took the seat for Labor on a swing of over 29% in 2016 and has an 8.5% buffer.
Former NT correctional services officer Bill Yan is the CLP candidate. He has worked as the General Manager of the Alice Springs Correctional Centre.
Popular independent Scott McConnell [at right] is not running again in Stuart despite securing 73% of the primary vote. McConnell is running for Braitling in 2020.
The former park ranger and later CEO of the Ingkerreke and Ngurratjuta / Pmara Ntjarra Aboriginal Corporation won the Stuart for Labor on a huge swing of almost 31%, the largest swing of the 2016 election.
Despite a huge 25.4% margin, Labor will not have the advantage of incumbency in Stuart.
Of the 15 Labor held seats there are only eight that Labor might consider safe, with margins over 10%. This includes the Darwin seat of Johnston, which will host a by-election in February due to the resignation of Ken Vowles.
Mr Vowles was sacked from the NT Labor caucus after publicly criticising Chief Minister Michael Gunner and the NT Government’s economic management.
Johnston covers the suburbs of Jingili, Moil, Wagaman and part of Alawa.
Labor has opted for a high-profile candidate.
The party has preselected former AFL footballer Joel Bowden who played 265 AFL games for Richmond Football Club and was originally from the West Alice Springs Football Club.
Mr Bowden was appointed the general secretary of Unions NT in June 2018, following roles at AFL NT and the Department of Tourism and Trade.
Territory Alliance has announced Steven Klose, a former executive of the NT Electoral Commission, as its candidate.
Despite a comfortable 14.7 % margin the by-election may be close and will test the standing of the Gunner Labor Government.
[Mark J Smith was formerly a political and policy adviser to the Government of South Australia.]
COMMENT by MARK J SMITH (pictured)