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Northern Territory Election 2001



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D e p a r t m e n t o f t h e P a r l i a m e n t a r y L i b r a r y

RESEARCH NOTENumber 3, 2001-02ISSN 1328-8016 Northern Territory Election 2001 Introduction The 2001 Northern Territory election delivered a result that few predicted and even stunned Australian Labor Party (ALP) leader, Clare Martin. 1 Until this election the ALP had never won a seat from an incumbent Country Liberal Party (CLP) candidate.

At the national level the election result contributed to the ongoing debates about the increasing significance of independents and minor parties and the influence of the Pauline Hanson's One Nation party (PHON) in Australian politics.

Background On 30 July 2001 the Chief Minister, Denis Burke, called an election for 18 August. Campaigns have traditionally been short in the Territory. A short campaign increases the advantages of incumbents as they enjoy an established public profile in electoral districts that average only 4220 voters. The advantage of an established public profile is further increased by the Northern Territory being the only State or Territory where candidates are identified by

photographs rather than by their party affiliation on ballot papers.

Despite holding 17 of the 25 seats, Burke expressed concern at the outset of the campaign about the possibility of independents with 'strong personalities' (one of whom had been a Minister in the CLP Government2) upsetting the expected election result.3

Preferences Both major parties acknowledged the importance of the preferences from the 20 independent and 16 minor party candidates—who contributed to the record number of 88 candidates standing (up from 66 candidates in the 1997 election).

Although Burke acknowledged the threat posed by non-major party candidates, the CLP declared that it would place PHON candidates above the ALP in the five seats in which they were running. Commonwealth parliamentarians from both sides of politics later suggested that this tactic might have damaged the CLP's standing in the multicultural seats of Darwin, which constituted part of its traditional stronghold.4 Burke later accepted

this possibility when he apologised to any Territorian who had been offended by the CLP's distribution of preferences.5

The Campaign The CLP ran a campaign based on the traditional Territory issues of development, lifestyle and law and order. The announcement of the beginning of the Alice Springs-to-Darwin rail line and the anticipation of the East Timor pipeline appeared to give the CLP strong development credentials. The breakdown of negotiations between the United Nations official representing East Timor and Phillips Petroleum allowed Burke to argue that the time was not ripe to try an inexperienced government.6

Burke kept his commitment of not concentrating on racially divisive issues such as native title. However, law and order policies have significant consequences for race.

The CLP opened its campaign arguing that it might be the only bulwark against a Federal Labor Government that was committed to overturning the Territory's mandatory sentencing laws. The

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Northern Territory Legislative Assembly Election 2001

Party Candidates

Seats Won Change First Preferences Votes Swing

No. % (First Prefs) %

Country Liberal Party 27 10 -7 36 926 45.4 -9.3

Australian Labor Party 25 13 6 33 042 40.6 +2.1

One Nation Party 5 - - 1 074 1.3 +1.3

Australian Democrats 3 - - 692 0.9 +0.3

Territory Alliance Party 5 - - 622 0.8 +0.8

Socialist Alliance 3 - - 432 0.5 +0.5

Others 20 2 1 8 583 10.5 +4.3

Formal Votes 81 371

Informal Votes 3 509 3.7 -1.3

Total Votes 84 880

Source: Northern Territory Electoral Office.

impact of these laws falls most heavily upon the Indigenous population.

The significance of race, when mixed with peculiarities of the Territory electoral system, such as identification by photograph rather than party affiliation, was evident in the CLP's re-visiting of a seldom used tactic of running two candidates in the one seat.7 The CLP ran an Indigenous and a white candidate for the rural central Australian seat of MacDonnell. The CLP won the seat from the ALP in 1997 but it became notionally Labor after the 2000 redistribution. The CLP retained the seat, increasing its first preference vote by 22.4 per cent.

The ALP ran a campaign based on an 'It's Time' theme and promised the development of employment, health and education. Martin pledged to overturn mandatory sentencing, but maintained a strong law and order profile with policies such as introducing an unofficial curfew for Darwin youth.8

The Result The ALP victory thwarted the CLP's attempt to win its ninth successive majority and seventh term of government in the Legislative Assembly.9

The ALP has perennially been painted as a party of Indigenous interests because of its support for native title and opposition to

mandatory sentencing. It had not been able to establish regular incumbency in the 13 Darwin seats or the regional centres of Alice Springs (three seats) and Katherine (one seat). Going into the 2001 election it held only two of these 16 seats.

In 2001 the ALP won eight Darwin seats, and independents Loraine Braham and Gerry Wood retained the Alice Springs seat of Braitling and won the Darwin seat of Nelson respectively.

The ALP won a majority of Assembly seats while securing only 40.6 per cent of the primary vote compared with the CLP's 45.4 per cent. The small number of electors in each division can explain the discrepancy between the seats won and percentage of first preferences gained. Some of the results delivered massive wins to one or other of the party candidates.

Seven women (four ALP, two CLP and one independent) were elected to the Assembly—an increase of three. Four successful ALP candidates were Indigenous, which doubles the number of Indigenous Members from 1997.

Federal Implications Because of the small size of its electorates, and other peculiar characteristics such as racial demography, Territory elections may be viewed as having few Federal implications. However, the

election confirmed the trend in rising numbers of independent and minor party candidates and for voters to be less 'rusted on' than ever before. Volatility in the Territory has made even more uncertain the notionally Coalition seat of Solomon.10

PHON achieved an average of 6.9 per cent of the vote in the five electorates in which they ran candidates. PHON preferences had little direct impact on results, however, the CLP's decision to place the ALP below PHON re-invigorated debate concerning distribution of preferences within the Coalition parties.

1. AM, Radio National, 20 August 2001.

2. Loraine Braham who retained the seat of Braitling was disendorsed by the CLP 25 November 2000.

3. P. Toohey, 'Independents a Risk Burke Warns Voters', Australian, 1 August 2001.

4. Senator Grant Tambling (NP) on AM, Radio National, 20 August 2001 and Warren Snowden (ALP) on Radio National Breakfast, 20 August 2001.

5. ABC evening news bulletin, 20 August 2001.

6. 'Timor Gas an Issue in NT Election', The Canberra Times, 1 August 2001.

7. Although the ALP and the CLP both used this tactic in the 1977 Northern Territory election for the seat of Tiwi.

8. C. Smith, 'Labor Plans Unofficial "Child Patrol"', Northern Territory News, 10 August 2001.

9. The Legislative Assembly was fully elected from 1974 and the Territory gained responsible government from 1978. The first election after self-government was held in 1980.

10. A. Green, 'Vote in Deep North Means Deep Worries for the Coalition', The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 August 2001.

Glenn Worthington Politics and Public Administration Group Information and Research Services

28 August 2001

Views expressed in this Research Note are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Information and Research Services and are not to be attributed to the Department of the Parliamentary Library. Research Notes provide concise analytical briefings on issues of interest to Senators and Members. As such they may not canvass all of the key issues. Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.

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