Top End victory looms for Labor

27 August 2016


There seems to have been an increase in Australia over many years, if not the last few decades overall, in voters throwing out governments more out of desperation to be rid of them, rather than because of enthusiasm for the alternatives.  When voters want to throw governments out, sometimes they simply don’t care what the alternatives are – they just see or hear alternatives effectively saying, “We’re not those people.”

An election occurring today in the Northern Territory looks very much like playing out this way.  Voters there look like electing the Labor Party and throwing out the Country Liberal Party, or CLP for short.

The previous election here, in 2012, saw the CLP win office for the first time since 2001, when it lost to Labor.  Although there might’ve been a time factor at play when Labor lost office in 2012, after eleven years there, the result then was unlike in past NT elections, because the CLP had won office largely after a backlash against Labor in non-urban seats.

While you’d normally expect elections anywhere to be decided in the suburbs of capital cities, the 2012 election in the Territory saw no change in its capital of Darwin – the change happened in rural seats and vast outback seats.  The CLP took power after winning the seats of Arafura and Arnhem and Daly in the north, and the massive seat of Stuart in the west.  Another massive outback seat, Namatjira in the south, had an unusual situation with its sitting member, Alison Anderson, having originally represented the area as a Labor MP before moving to the crossbench – she joined the CLP ahead of the 2012 election, when she won her seat as a CLP candidate.

But after winning office, the CLP imploded.  Terry Mills had led the CLP into office with victory in 2012, but less than a year later, he was dumped in a leadership coup.  As a result, the new leader following the coup was Adam Giles, who became the first Aborigine to hold the job of Territory Chief Minister or State Premier anywhere in Australia.  In the years to follow, there were numerous instances of scandals and infighting.  Several MPs left the CLP to sit on the crossbench, and the CLP lost its parliamentary majority, meaning that it could only govern with the help of crossbenchers.

Now the CLP looks like a rabble, and while few pollsters pay attention to this neck of the wood, it looks voters want it out of office, regardless of what the alternative is.

Therefore Labor looks like winning today’s election, purely due to voter dissatisfaction with the CLP.  There doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for Labor, and little seems known about what Labor would do in office, but voters seemingly couldn’t care less.

In terms of the Territory and its future, particularly its economy, not much seems to have attracted attention during the election campaign.  There have been some concerns about economic management, and one suspects that more attention might be paid to that if not for the internal problems afflicting the Giles Government.  Without those problems, the economy might’ve been more concerning to voters.

At the moment, there are twenty-five seats in the Territory Parliament.  The CLP currently holds twelve seats, leaving it one seat short of a majority, and Labor holds seven seats.  Six other seats are in the hands of Independents, four of whom are former CLP MPs, while a fifth Independent is a former Labor MP – only the sixth of these Independents, Gerry Wood, was actually elected as an Independent previously.

With a big swing to Labor predicted in the Territory, I’m tipping a big majority for Labor, which will include the gaining of some Independent-held seats.  Most Labor gains will be in the northern region, nicknamed the Top End, although I also expect Labor to win two outback seats away from the north.

My tip is for Labor to win Arafura, Arnhem, Blain, Daly, Drysdale, Fong Lim, Karama, Namatjira, Port Darwin, Sanderson, and Stuart.  All bar Karama went to the CLP in 2012, with Karama being the seat now held by a former Labor MP on the crossbench.  Added to the existing Labor tally of seven seats, this would take its tally to eighteen.  I tip the CLP to only win four seats – Braitling, Brennan, Katherine, and Spillett.  Three other seats, Araluen and Goyder and Nelson, will remain with Independents.

This election thus has a scenario where a Top End victory looms for Labor.  I call it a Top End victory because Labor’s gains will mostly be in the north, notwithstanding two likely gains away from there.  Labor will win because Territory voters just want the CLP gone.



Narrow election win hurts Turnbull

22 August 2016


The 2016 Federal election has come and gone.  The Liberal-National Coalition Government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ended up winning narrowly.  A close result had been tipped, and some even predicted a hung result, with neither the Coalition nor the Labor Party winning enough seats to govern alone, but the Coalition just made it home.

With the results in for the 150-seat House of Representatives, the Coalition won 76-69 over Labor, while the other seats went to a quintet of crossbenchers.  Therefore the Coalition had exactly the number of seats needed to govern alone.  Before the election, the tally had been 88-57 to the Coalition, reduced by electoral redistributions from 90-55 at the previous election, in 2013.

As for the Senate, where the Coalition hoped to see the end of many crossbenchers who were holding the balance of power, the result was actually a bigger crossbench.  Just as the Coalition was needing support of Senate crossbenchers to pass legislation before the election, it still needs that support now.

This election was tipped to go either way.  Despite a good win in the 2013 election, the Coalition didn’t really win the trust or support of voters, who went for the Coalition largely because they were fed up with Labor after years of internal instability relating to leadership.  And Tony Abbott, who’d led the Coalition to its 2013 win, was never liked as leader.  Labor didn’t do much to show voters that it was capable or deserving of victory, but various unpopular actions by the Coalition left it badly trailing Labor, to the point where Abbott lost the leadership to Turnbull in an unexpected challenge in 2015.  While Turnbull had long been considered more popular among voters than Abbott, he made some poor decisions as well, particularly in relation to economic management and the perception of all but wealthy people losing income in order to help with paying off major budget debts, and Turnbull ended up leading the Coalition to a near-defeat.  Labor was probably never going to win a majority in its own right, but it came close to forcing the Coalition to need crossbench support in the House of Reps in order to govern.  This was a scenario that few would’ve predicted late last year, particularly after Turnbull had replaced Abbott as PM.

In terms of my predictions as an election enthusiast, they were mixed, like the election result itself.  The election confirmed my cynicism of uniform swings, whereby all seats on or below a given swing margin fall.  The polls predicted an overall swing of 3-4 per cent against the Coalition, and there was an overall swing of about 3.1 per cent in the end, but the Coalition was able to hold numerous seats on margins of less than that, whilst also losing seats on margins of more than that.  Mind you, I’d tipped this to happen, bearing in mind local factors which mightn’t have been picked up amid major polling, but I got many seat results wrong.

Coalition seats within the uniform swing range falling to Labor were Lyons, Solomon, Hindmarsh, Braddon, Eden-Monaro, and Lindsay.  Seats falling from above that swing were Macarthur, Bass, Macquarie, Cowan, Burt, Herbert, and Longman.  The Coalition also lost Mayo to a candidate affiliated with popular Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, meaning fourteen seats lost in all.  But the Coalition won Chisholm from Labor and Fairfax from an outgoing crossbencher.  These results equated to a net loss of twelve seats.

But the Coalition managed to hold Petrie, Capricornia, Banks, Robertson, and Page in spite of the fact that they were on or below the uniform swing.  Several other seats above the swing also stayed with the Coalition while others fell.  This was an erratic result.

I got Petrie, Capricornia, Robertson, Page, Reid, Bonner, and Brisbane wrong in terms of tipping seats to fall.  And I got Braddon, Bass, Macquarie, Burt, Herbert, Longman, and Mayo in terms of tipping seats to stay with the Coalition.  I also tipped the Coalition to win McEwen and Bruce from Labor, but Labor held both.

This narrow election win has been a setback for the Coalition, and especially for Turnbull, given how popular he seemed before the election.  But how much it hurts Turnbull is perhaps anyone’s guess for the moment.  The question will be how long the Coalition holds office with a narrow majority, capable of disappearing in one moment.


Canberra combatants cross the lake

20 August 2016


The Molonglo River has long appeared to be a dividing line between the northern and southern parts of Canberra, since it became the national capital last century.  This was even before a dam was built on the river to the west of the city centre, creating what became Lake Burley Griffin.  For argument’s sake, if you were to get in a boat on the river near Canberra Airport on the city’s eastern fringe, and then sail west, you’d come upon the lake beyond a large hillside near the river’s northern shoreline.

On the northern side of this watery divide, Canberra has its central shopping district, as well as the Australian National University.  On the southern side are lots of governmental buildings, among which is where Federal Parliament has sat since it moved there in the 1920s – before then it’d sat in Melbourne when established in 1901.

But a few decades ago, a certain change has produced parliaments on either side of Lake Burley Griffin.  The change came in the late 1980s, when the Australian Capital Territory became self-governing.  Lying somewhere near Canberra’s city centre is the ACT Parliament, made up of seventeen members in a single parliamentary chamber.  This is different from the dual-chamber parliaments existing both at the national level and in most Australian states.

With parliaments on either side of the lake, something mildly amusing can be made in relation to two Canberra-based politicians, namely Katy Gallagher from the Labor Party and Zed Seselja from the Liberal Party.  Both were leaders in ACT politics over the years, most significantly when they faced each other at the last ACT election, in October 2012, and now they’re in Federal Parliament.  One could argue that they both crossed the lake, if I could put it as such, to carry on their battle.

Although their switches differed in many ways, I could imagine a droll little scenario in relation to Gallagher and Seselja.  Only with Canberra’s geographic setting could it be possible for two prominent Canberra combatants to leave their local parliamentary chamber, walk along a major road heading south, cross the lake, head up to a hill where another chamber lies, and continue their battle there.  Of course, this fanciful scenario didn’t quite happen that way, but having parliaments on either side of the lake could’ve made it possible!

That 2012 ACT election saw Gallagher narrowly defeat Seselja, albeit only with the support of a crossbencher.  Back then, Gallagher had been Labor leader and Chief Minister of the ACT since 2011, following the departure of the long-serving Jon Stanhope, who’d taken Labor into office with crossbench support in the wake of an election in late 2001.  Seselja led the Liberals to within striking distance of victory in 2012, ultimately falling short by a few seats.  In fact the Labor and Liberal parties won eight seats apiece, out of a possible seventeen, with a Green holding the balance of power.  Support from the Green enabled Labor to hold office.

After this narrow loss, Seselja set his sights on Federal Parliament.  He challenged ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries for his seat in a preselection vote in 2013, and he won, duly entering the Senate later that year.  Humphries had been there since 2003, replacing veteran Liberal Senator Margaret Reid.

Ironically, Humphries had entered the Senate after a stint as ACT Liberal leader and Chief Minister, losing office in the 2001 election to Labor under Stanhope.  Labor has governed continuously in the ACT since that election.

In the meantime, Gallagher left the ACT Parliament a few years after the close election result in 2012, and entered the Senate after veteran Labor Senator Kate Lundy resigned.

Now both Gallagher and Seselja sit on opposite sides of a parliamentary chamber, like they sat before in another parliamentary chamber, albeit in positions not as senior as they were previously.  I suppose that we’re always wishing for politicians to “go and jump in the lake”.  Rarely would there be an example of politicians swapping parliaments on either side of a lake to go on with a battle.