The Northern Territory’s Country Liberal government will fight to keep its parliamentary majority intact at Saturday’s by-election to replace former party leader Terry Mills.
UPDATE (Friday 11/4): The Northern Territory News has published a poll from a small sample of 200 voters, which going on past form I presume to have been conducted in-house with help from the Adelaide Advertiser. This suggests a very close result, with the Country Liberal Party leading 51-49 on two-party preferred from primary votes of 40.8% for the CLP, 39.2% for Labor and 12.5% for independent Matthew Cranitch.
The parliamentary majority of Northern Territory’s Country Liberal Party government will be on the line on Saturday when voters in the Palmerston seat of Blain go to the polls to choose a successor to Terry Mills, who led the CLP to victory at the August 2012 election only to be deposed by his party less than seven months later. The CLP won 16 seats out of 25 at the election, after indigenous candidates fielded by the party emerged surprise winners in four remote electorates. However, last week the party lost the services of three of those members – Alison Anderson, Larisa Lee and Francis Xavier – who had been at loggerheads with their colleagues since the Tourism Minister, Matt Conlan, reportedly told Anderson during a party room meeting to “do us all a favour and f**k off you c**t”. They will now sit on the cross-benches, putting the parliamentary numbers at 13 for the CLP and eight for Labor with four independents. Should Blain fall on Saturday, Adam Giles’ government will be reduced to minority status, although it will presumably be able to rely on the support of Gerry Wood, the long-serving independent member for the pastoral electorate of Nelson. While the CLP margin in the seat is 13.2%, swings in the Northern Territory tend to be large due to the small size of the electorates (about 5000 enrolled voters each) and consequent importance of sitting member effects.
Palmerston is a fast-growing satellite city located about 20 kilometres east of central Darwin, and is serviced by three electorates in the Northern Territory parliament. Blain covers its southern end, including the suburbs of Woodroffe, Moulden, western Rosebery and the new development of Bellamack. It has been held by the CLP since its creation in 1997, but the margin fell to 3.3% at a by-election held in 1999 after the mid-term retirement of Barry Coulter. It was thereafter held comfortably by Terry Mills, who had two stints as party leader – from November 2003 to February 2005, when he stood aside admitting he “wasn’t up to the job”, and from January 2008 when he emerged at the head of a party room that had been reduced to four members by the 2005 election debacle. His position was secured by a 9.2% swing to the CLP under his leadership at the 2008 election, which was followed by a 5.1% swing in 2012. However, his hold on the loyalty of the party room remained shaky, and a 12.4% swing to Labor at the Wanguri by-election in February 2013 was enough to precipitate his demise.
The CLP’s candidate for the by-election is Nathan Barrett, a port worker and former high school teacher. Labor is again fielding its candidate from 2012, police officer Geoff Bahnert. Running as an independent is Matthew Cranitch, the president of the territory branch of the Australian Education Union, which is not affiliated with the ALP. Cranitch has dealt Labor a blow by putting Barrett and ahead of Bahnert on his how-to-vote card. Other candidates are Palmerston councillor Sue McKinnon for the Greens and former naval officer Peter Flynn of the Citizens Electoral Council.