The Darwin seat of Solomon has been on a knife edge since its creation in 2001, but only with Kevin Rudd’s election win in 2007 was Labor able to get over the line.
Consisting of Darwin and its satellite town of Palmerston, the electorate of Solomon was created when the Northern Territory was divided into two electorates at the 2001 election. This appeared set to be reversed at the 2004 election, when the Northern Territory was found to be 295 residents short of the requisite number. Since both major parties felt they could win both seats (a more sound judgment in Labor’s case, at least at the time), the second seat was essentially legislated back into existence. This has left the two Northern Territory electorates with by far the lowest enrolments in the country: at the time of the 2010 election, Solomon had 59,879 enrolled voters and Lingiari 61,126, compared with a national average of around 94,000.
The Northern Territory gained its first member of federal parliament in 1922, but the member did not get full voting rights until 1968. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Northern Territory electorate had recently fallen to Sam Calder of the Country Party after a long period in Labor hands. With Calder’s retirement in 1980, the seat transferred to the Country Liberal Party, which had been established as a local alliance of Liberals and Nationals to contest elections in the newly established Northern Territory parliament. Labor gained the seat with the election of the Hawke government in 1983, defeating CLP member Grant Tambling (who returned as a Senator four years later). It subsequently changed hands with great frequency: future Chief Minister Paul Everingham recovered the seat for the CLP in 1984, Warren Snowdon won it back for Labor in 1987, Nick Dondas held it for the CLP for one term from 1996, and Snowdon recovered it in 1998.
Going into the 2001 election, the new seat of Solomon had a notional CLP margin of 2.3% while Lingiari had a notional Labor margin of 3.7%. Warren Snowdon naturally opted for the safer option of Lingiari, and Solomon emerged as an extremely tight contest between Labor’s Laurene Hull and David Tollner of the CLP. Tollner suffered a 2.2% swing against the national trend, but was able to hang on by 88 votes. The Northern Territory recorded only a modest swing to Labor at the 2007 election, but it proved just sufficient to deliver them their first victory in Solomon, with former football coach Damien Hale prevailing by 196 votes. The defeated Tollner returned to politics after winning the seat of Fong Lim in the Northern Territory parliament at the 2008 election, and has been health, housing and alcohol rehabilitation minister since the CLP’s election win in August 2012. Hale meanwhile enjoyed a short tenure as member, suffering a 1.9% swing in 2010 and what by the electorate’s historical standards was a relatvely large 1.8% defeat. The seat has since been held for the CLP by Natasha Griggs, who had previously been the deputy mayor of Palmerston.
Solomon’s distinguishing demographic characteristics are a high proportion of indigenous persons (10.3% in the 2006 census compared to a national figure of 2.3%) and a low number of persons aged over 65 (5.3% against 13.3%). Darwin is divided between newer Labor-leaning suburbs in the north, including Nightcliff, Casuarina, Jingili and Sanderson, and the town centre and its surrounds south of the airport, an area marked by higher incomes, fewer families and greater support for the CLP. Stronger still for the CLP is Palmerston, a satellite town established 20 kilometres south-east of Darwin in the 1980s that accounts for just over a quarter of the electorate’s voters: it is less multicultural than Darwin and has a high proportion of mortgage-paying young families.
Labor’s preselected candidate for the coming election is Luke Gosling, a staffer to Senator Trish Crossin and volunteer operations manager of a charity he co-founded which works in East Timor. Griggs meanwhile faces a preselection challenge from Peter Bourke, a doctor at Royal Darwin Hospital.