A quick review of the main happenings on the Northern Territory campaign trail. Further background is available from my seat-by-seat election guide.
• The Northern Territory News has gone on the attack over Labor’s handling of the revelation that one of its candidates had a spent conviction for assault. The candidate in question is Ken Vowles, who has been charged with the crucial task of defending the marginal northern Darwin seat of Johnston after the retirement of sitting member Chris Burns. On Monday, the News learned that Vowles had received a fine and a community service order for assault causing bodily harm over an incident involving his “then-girlfriend’s lover” when he was 21 (he is now 40). At issue was a law prohibiting publication of spent minor convictions after 10 years without the offender’s consent. Editor Matt Cunningham says Paul Henderson’s deputy chief-of-staff initially threatened that action would be taken under the law if the paper ran the story, but that Vowles’s consent was later forthcoming after he threatened to run a front page empty but for the word “censored”. Henderson says that he had advised Vowles to offer his consent as soon as he became aware of the matter at around 8pm, which Cunningham says was half-an-hour before the threat of legal action was made.
• It also emerged last week that Peter Rudge, an independent candidate for the equally important Darwin seat of Nightcliff, served 18 months in jail for manslaughter in 1996 over an incident which the court found was “close to self-defence”. Paul Henderson said at the time that he would consider legislative change to require candidates to publicly disclose any criminal history.
• Nigel Adlam of the Northern Territory News and Malcolm Mackerras in The Australian have tipped identical outcomes: Labor to retain government by nabbing a thirteenth seat in Sanderson, amid an otherwise status quo result. Mackerras doesn’t elaborate, but Adlam goes all the way with tips for who will and won’t increase their majority. Of Sanderson, Adlam says Labor’s Jodie Green is “dynamic and energetic”, whereas CLP incumbent Peter Styles “hasn’t done himself any favours by badmouthing Mr Mills in the community”. More broadly, Adlam says the oil and gas boom is being well managed, and voters will hesitate to hand power to an opposition that is “a bit of a rabble”. He also takes it for granted that Nelson independent Gerry Wood would support Labor to remain in government, remarkable as that may sound to outsiders attuned to the federal sphere. Late last month, Adlam offered the following in a report which had previously escaped my notice:
The NT News understands that Labor polling shows Ken Vowles will win Johnston, following the retirement of Chris Burns, and Michael Gunner will retain Fannie Bay. This would leave Sanderson as the make-or-break election seat.
Labor said reports that the CLP’s Xavier Francis would defeat the Labor candidate and former AFL star Dean Rioli in Arafura were “nonsense”. “I’ve been on the campaign trail with Dean and seen how he’s treated – like royalty,” an ALP source said. Former policeman Ross Bohlin is expected to do little more than muddy the waters in the Palmerston seat of Drysdale. He is standing as an independent in the rock-solid conservative constituency after being sacked by the CLP’s central management committee. Mr Bohlin is expected to pick up a solid vote but CLP candidate Lia Finocchiaro is still tipped to beat Labor’s James Burke, possibly on preferences.
• Territorians are by all accounts being bombarded with television advertising as the cashed-up parties concentrate their efforts on the post-Olympics final fortnight. Labor’s spots are noteworthy for their failure to mention the party by name, and also for the contrast their positive tone makes with the party’s efforts during the Queensland campaign. More familiar is Arnhem MP Malarndirri McCarthy’s pitch in a regional advertisement that “there is more to be done, but we are heading in the right direction” – an almost word-perfect recitation of Labor’s much derided campaign slogan for the 2007 New South Wales state election.
The CLP’s pitch appears to be a more positively framed variation on Tony Abbott’s suite of three-word slogans from 2010. The opening salvo introduced voters to the party’s “five point plan”, each point of which has since been followed up with its own dedicated ad. However, the unlikely-to-be-surpassed televisual highlight of the campaign so far has been the remarkably fortuitous assault on Shadow Attorney-General John Elferink as television cameras filmed him making a law-and-order announcement, which the CLP wasted little time uploading to YouTube.