This is my piece from Monday 20 August in the email edition of Crikey.
Absent any dramatic events over the next few days, Paul Henderson’s NT Labor is a shoo-in to win the NT election next Saturday.
Not because its policies or political performances are any better than the opposition Country Liberals (they aren’t) or because it has won the battle for the hearts and minds of the NT electorate (what battle?) but because it has sold the party to voters better on screen and in the press.
Henderson (“Hendo to you, mate”) set the tone from the start — this election would be a presidential contest between he and the Country Liberals’ Terry Mills.
Both are “nice blokes.” Hendo in a big, boofy, family man running to an expanded waistline sorta way who presents as a bland — hence “Mr Beige” — and very conservative leader of sorts. Mills is personable and likeable in the flesh but colourless, wooden and unconvincing on the screen and page.
The ads that both parties have produced for television and its bastard daughter You Tube reveal the stark differences between the parties and how they sell themselves to the electorate.
Labor’s ads are full of real people moving around and doing real things — walking and talking, kissing babies, etc — at hospitals, in communities and in town and reflect the real benefits of incumbency and access to resources, Labor has been storing away stock footage for months. Labor’s ads have a catchy (or absolutely irritating depending on your musical tastes) earworm of a jingle — “Keep the Territory moving in the right direction” — that gives its ads a professional hook lacking from the Country Liberal’s ads.
The Country Liberal’s ads have no [well, not much] music and, visually, present an unappealing melange of news footage — Mills and candidates standing around looking at a barge landing or a fence come immediately to mind — and in-studio cookie-cutter shots of candidates waving their hands about, reading (badly) from the auto-cue and standing in front of a chroma-key backdrop that has been inserted into a standard template.
This last point — the sheer gimcrackery of the CLP’s key promotional messages — is apparent from the party website, which has not one but two links to promotional videos for “ChromaPop” and “ChromaFlex” backdrops. Both of which have received more hits than all of the CLP Party ads put together.
Not that either party has been particularly successful at selling itself by using YouTube as a political tool — on my reckoning, Labor’s YouTube videos have attracted a measly 837 hits, while the Country Liberal’s candidates vids have topped that by several orders of magnitude at 3129 hits. The ChromaPop ads on the Country Liberals site trump both parties with a total of more than 9500 hits.
Social media ineptitude aside, for mine there are three factors that mean Hendo’s “team” will romp it in next Saturday.
The first is the old saw that governments lose elections — rather than opposition parties winning them. While there is plenty not to love about Hendo’s Labor team, as ex-Labor MHR Ken Parish pointed out two months ago over at Club Troppo, there is no apparent widespread sentiment to give Labor a touch-up at the polls:
“If voters are waiting for Hendo with baseball bats they’re very small ones and very well hidden.”
And this past Saturday the NT News ran an editorial that noted:
“… rest assured, there is no danger of any big change in the Northern Territory next Saturday, regardless of who wins. Both major parties are conservative — one with a slightly bigger C than the other.”
For mine the real key to why Labor will win lies buried in a small piece in Friday’s Financial Review, where Joanna Heath noted:
“The Northern Territory, another resources boom area, recorded the largest annual growth in average pay at 7.9% to $A73,211.”
None of this points to any mood for change enough to kick out a comfortably incumbent government — no baseball bats, no (substantial) difference between innately conservative parties and boom times led by an army of high-vis workers mean that voters have few reasons to choose nice guy Mills over nicer-guy Hendo.
Today’s NT News reckons there is a big swing to the CLP — but in the wrong places. My predictions? I reckon that Labor will be returned with a (slightly) increased majority.
Labor’s Jodie Green should take the key northern suburb seat of Sanderson from the Country Liberals (though the NT News poll predicts otherwise) and there is a very good chance of Labor taking — notwithstanding Antony Green’s description of it as a “very safe CLP seat” — the central Australian seat of Namatjira (formerly MacDonnell) from Labor rat Alison Anderson, who is up against Labor’s very strong candidate Des Rogers.
The Country Liberals have — predictably — already started their negative ad campaign, including a dog-whistling “Stop The Lies” thread. Reaching a new low, one CLP ad contains the message “Hendo is a jerk-off … ”, sparking media outrage this morning. Whether this will sway the typically somnolent Territory electorate sufficient to get them over the line in the key northern suburbs of Darwin remains to be seen.
Labor will concentrate on Mills’ key weak spots — the widely held understanding that he will be off to Perth, whether he wins or loses — soon after the election and that he’ll be replaced by the … err … eccentric Dave Tollner.
Am I right? Dunno — we’ll see about an hour after the polls close next Saturday night.