25 September 2016
Governments have seldom lost elections after a single term in office throughout Australian history. Voters across Australia usually give governments at least two terms in office. But in the past two years alone, three first-term governments across Australia have been voted out. They were in Victoria in 2014, in Queensland last year, and the Northern Territory last month.
It was expected that the Country Liberal Party would lose an election in the Northern Territory last month, after a single term in office. And that was how it panned out.
The CLP had won office comfortably at the previous election, in 2012, with sixteen seats out of twenty-five in the Territory Parliament. But it went through a series of events which appalled voters, including a leadership coup and instances of infighting and various scandals. As a result, the CLP lost its parliamentary majority, and had to govern with crossbench support. But even this situation, in which crossbench MPs could’ve tipped the CLP out of office at any moment if they saw fit, didn’t stop the CLP scandals. So its defeat at the election to come was no surprise.
While everybody tipped the Labor Party to win from the Opposition benches, where it’d been for four years after an eleven-year stint in office ended in 2012, people wondered how big its majority would be. Labor had previously won an election in 2005 by a huge margin, with nineteen seats, while the CLP had won only four seats – I remember someone saying that the CLP then had enough MPs to fit in a taxi! In last month’s election, some pundits tipped a bigger win for Labor and fewer seats for the CLP than before, although others tipped a better results for the CLP than polls were suggesting. Indeed pollsters don’t pay much attention to the political scene in the Northern Territory, but the limited polling taken here suggested a big swing to Labor.
In the end, Labor won eighteen seats, and the CLP won just two, while a quintet of Independents won the rest. The result was humiliating for the CLP. Having won sixteen seats at the previous election, and then shrinking to twelve seats before this election after some MPs went to the crossbench, the CLP was reduced to a measly pair of MPs – enough to sit on a small sofa.
Among the defeated MPs was Chief Minister Adam Giles. As if losing office and leading the CLP to its worst election defeat hadn’t been bad enough, Giles lost his own seat as well. He’d become CLP leader and Chief Minister in a coup in 2013, less than a year after the CLP had won office. This coup might well have set the tone for a fraught term in office for the CLP, and by last month, voters were desperate to be rid of it.
This desperation was to the massive benefit of Labor, led by Michael Gunner. Voters didn’t really warm to Labor or Gunner, and they arguably knew little of what a Labor win would mean for the Territory, but this meant nothing in the end.
If not for the scandals afflicting the CLP, more attention might’ve been paid to what the future holds for the Territory, such as in relation to economic management, about which there have been concerns. Whatever the issues might be as far as the Territory economy is concerned, they meant nothing because voters just wanted to rid themselves of the CLP, even though little would’ve been understood of how Labor would manage the economy or other issues. But having won office with little scrutiny, Labor has to prove itself to voters now that it’s governing, and with a big majority at that.
In terms of my predictions for the election, I got six seats wrong.
I’d tipped Labor to win eighteen seats, which it did. I’d correctly tipped Labor to win Arafura, Arnhem, Drysdale, Fong Lim, Karama, Namatjira, Port Darwin, Sanderson, and Stuart from its rivals. But I didn’t tip Labor to win three particular CLP seats – namely Braitling and Brennan and Katherine. Braitling was the seat held by Giles.
I’d also tipped Labor to win Blain and Daly from the CLP. But Blain went to an Independent, and the CLP held Daly, which was quite a marginal seat. I’d tipped the CLP to win four seats, but it only won two – apart from Daly, the only other seat won by the CLP was Spillett, which I’d tipped it to win.
And amid the Labor triumph, there was one sour note, which I didn’t tip. Labor lost the seat of Nhulunbuy to an Independent, with deputy leader Lynne Walker being the sole Labor casualty of the election.
Apart from Blain and Nhulunbuy, Independents also won the seats of Araluen and Goyder and Nelson – I’d tipped Independents to win only those latter three seats.
Big election wins can make governments prone to arrogance or hubris. This danger looms for Labor, which won office in Northern Territory largely because of voters wanting the CLP gone. Few would’ve known what Labor would do if it won office in the Territory, and the questions won’t be answered in quick time.