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Senate: Northern Territory

The two territories have each been represented by two Senators since the 1975 election, following Whitlam government legislation which survived High Court challenges in 1975 and 1977. Whereas the state’s Senators serve six year terms which are fixed but for the possibility of a double dissolution, the territory Senators’ terms are tied to the House of Representatives, so that the Senators facing re-election had likewise done so in 2010.

The formula for election is the same as for the states, but it has very different consequences given that two Senators are elected rather than six. The quota in either case is one divided by the number of seats up for election plus one, so a territory election quota is 33.3% rather than 14.3% at a half-Senate state election, or 7.7% at a double dissolution. A party is thus guaranteed of a seat if it wins a third of the primary vote, which the major parties have only failed to manage on a small number of occasions: the Liberals in the Australian Capital Territory in 1983, 1984 and 1998, and the Country Liberal Party in the Northern Territory on the one occasion they faced opposition from the Nationals in 1987. On each occasion, preferences were easily enough to get their candidates over the line.

Consequently, none of the territory Senate elections has produced a result other than one seat each for Labor and the main Coalition party. The most likely scenarios to disturb this would involve one or other major party winning both seats, in effect requiring it to win two-thirds of the two-party preferred vote, or one party failing to reach a quota and the preferences of minor parties and the surplus of the other major party coalescing behind a minor candidate. As Antony Green notes, Labor could potentially face that difficulty in the Northern Territory with all preferences favouring the Australian First Nations Political Party, an Aboriginal rights party which polled rather modestly at last year’s Northern Territory election. It would first need to get ahead of the Greens, whose own chances are negated by the Coalition having them last on preferences.

Nigel Scullion has held the Country Liberal Party’s Northern Territory seat since the 2001 election. He had a brief spell as a junior minister in the Howard government, serving in the community services portfolio from January 2007 until its defeat the following November. Scullion sits in parliament with the Nationals, having joined it for parliamentary purposes in 2006 to prevent the Nationals from losing party status after Victorian Senator Julian McGauran defected to the Liberals. He became the Nationals’ deputy leader and Senate leader after the 2007 election defeat, but lost the latter position to Barnaby Joyce at the time Malcolm Turnbull became Liberal leader in September 2008. In opposition he assumed the agriculture, forestry and fisheries portfolios, moving to human services under Turnbull and indigenous affairs when Tony Abbott became leader in December 2009.

Labor’s candidate for the coming election is Nova Peris, who became nationally famous under her married name Nova Peris Kneebone when she became the first Aboriginal woman to win an Olympic gold medal as part of the women’s hockey team. She then switched to athletics and competed in the 400 metres individual and relay teams at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Peris was contentiously anointed as a “captain’s pick” by Julia Gillard in January 2013, redressing the party’s long-running failure to achieve Aboriginal representation in the federal parliament.

Coming in the wake of Labor’s disastrous showing in remote communities at the Northern Territory election the previous August, Gillard’s move seemed well timed. However, it came at the expense of Trish Crossin, who had held the seat since 1998 and was not of the view that the time had come for her to move on, and was achieved by overriding local preselection processes. It was also very widely noted that Crossin had been a supporter of Kevin Rudd’s February 2012 bid to return to the leadership. Vocal critics of the move included two former Labor Deputy Chief Ministers, Marion Scrymgour and Syd Stirling, along with Left faction powerbrokers Doug Cameron and Kim Carr. Scrymgour and another former Territory minister, Karl Hampton, expressed their displeasure by nominating against Peris for the vote by the party’s national executive, and it was reported that “at least two” of its 24 members voted against the Prime Minister’s wishes. There was speculation that Kevin Rudd might overturn Peris’s preselection upon his return to the leadership in June, but this did not transpire.

Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.

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