Wednesday, August 13, 2008

NT election: Waking from a Bad Dream

Idle reflections on the Northern Territory Election

The Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Paul Henderson, has finally declared victory. Haven't had a debriefing with any Territory mates yet but here goes.

Now that the clichés have settled, a few thoughts on the NT election. The unexpectedly high swing against the Labor government and loss of seats has caused great speculation. As a resident of 8 years up till 2006 and a sometime president of the Katherine ALP branch, I was less surprised by the 2001 upset victory than this latest result. Last week my post read Topend Poll Setback for Rudd? It should have said "shock"!

Some possible lessons

Machiavelli didn’t live in a democracy

Paul Henderson was far too clever. No one seemed to believe his rationale for going 11 months early. If private polling said it was time to go, then they should get a new pollster.
Protest votes have their own momentum
When the pundits predict an easy victory, protest votes can topple a government. Ask former Country Liberal Party Chief Minister Denis Burke.

Lots of grudges built up over a 7 year period. Speed limits, development versus environment decisions, fishing interests versus indigenous sea rights, the Federal intervention.
Don’t alienate your base or allies.
The teachers' Enterprise Bargaining Agreement should have been concluded before calling an election. Stopwork action during the last week was hardly a vote winner for the government.

The Greens’ preferences flowed 2 to 1 to the ALP, which is lower than might have been expected. Gas plants in Darwin harbour don’t please everyone!

The turnout was low but according to Antony Green apparently in line with the usual low territory vote. Labor need to improve on this as it is their supporters who don't vote.
The media might be free but not numerous
The local media, namely the NT News, were critical of the Government over a long period. The ABC are the only other player.

It’s a similar scene in WA with the West Australian being the only daily newspaper and almost all the regionals in their stable as well. It’s also more anti-Labor to an obsessive degree.
Clean up your own patch
It’s the Peter Beatty rule. Unlike Alan Carpenter in Western Australia, the NT ALP had not cleaned out its bad apples. In fact it had promoted them. Reward for bad boy Len 'a mistake' says chief

Len Kiely and Matt Bonson hardly warranted pre-selection, much less postions as Ministers.
A party divided
The leadership change had left a bitter taste. For all Clare Martin’s inability to get on top of indigenous issues, she is much admired and rightly so.

The ructions between Marion Scrymgour, Alison Anderson and Barbara McCarthy have not helped present a coherent vision about indigenous issues.
Close as Saturday's result was, it's hard to believe that there was a desire for a change of government. It's also hard to imagine that the CLP Opposition Leader, Terry Mills, will survive the next 4 years. The biggest lesson for Labor and for Kevin Rudd's government is take nothing for granted, especially the individual voters.

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Anonymous said...

Kevin I don't think you need a "debriefing". As a former resident "Gove 20 years" I think you summed it up pretty well.

Unknown said...

You can't beat the horse's mouth. How did the teachers react? Did people want a change of govt.?

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