The Poll Bludger
Margin: Labor 0.9%
Region: Alice Springs/Outback, Northern Territory
In a nutshell: Held for Labor by Warren Snowdon since 2001 and narrowly retained in 2013, Lingiari accounts for the complicated electoral terrain of the Northern Territory beyond Darwin.
Candidates in ballot paper order
YINGIYA MARK GUYULA
Lingiari covers the entirety of the Northern Territory outside of Darwin, making it the second largest electorate geographically after Durack in Western Australia, and by far the highest ranked for indigenous persons, who accounted for 42.7% of the population in the 2011 census compared with 16.3% in second-placed Durack. The support of Aboriginal voters has helped keep the seat in Labor hands since the Northern Territory was first divided into two electorates in 2001, with Warren Snowdon retaining it throughout that time by margins ranging from 0.9% in 2013 to 11.2% in 2007. The population of the Northern Territory is such that it is only slightly within the quota for a second seat, so that the two seats’ enrolments of around 70,000 are the lowest in the country, compared with a national average of 103,000. When the determination before the 2004 election found the territory had fallen 295 residents short of entitlement to a second seat, the parliament proved amenable to arguments it would be left under-represented, and passed legislation to reinstate the second seat.
The Northern Territory first gained a seat in the federal parliament in 1922, but its member did not attain full voting rights until 1968. Perhaps not coincidentally, the seat had recently fallen to Sam Calder of the Country Party after a long period of Labor control. Calder retained the seat until his retirement in 1980, his party status changing from Country Party to Country Liberal Party when the latter was established in 1978 to contest elections in the the newly established Northern Territory parliament. His successor, Grant Tambling, was defeated by Labor’s John Reeves in 1983, then returned as a Senator four years later. The seat thereafter changed hands with some regularity: future Chief Minister Paul Everingham recovered it for the CLP in 1984, Warren Snowdon won it back for Labor in 1987, and Nick Dondas held it for the CLP for one term after the 1996 election. Warren Snowdon recovered his old seat at the 1998 election, then transferred to newly created Lingiari in 2001.
The diversity of Lingiari’s components can make for highly variable local voting patterns, which was particularly notable in the two elections that followed the Howard government’s intervention into Aboriginal communities before the 2007 election. The mobile booths that serve remote communities then swung 8.4% to Labor off an already high base of 78.7% in 2004, before swinging 28.1% the other way in 2010, which was variously put down to the troubled Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program, the actions of newly merged regional councils, and the ongoing suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act by the new Labor government. Remarkably, this pattern was reversed in Alice Springs, where there was a 2.6% swing against Labor in 2007, followed by an 8.4% swing in favour in 2010. The 7.5% swing that brought Warren Snowdon to the brink of defeat in 2013 was not evident in the remote area booths, which swung very slightly to Labor.
Warren Snowdon is a figure in Labor’s Left faction, and held junior ministry positions throughout the period of the Rudd-Gillard government, and parliamentary secretary positions in the latter part of his first stint as a member from 1990 to 1996. He was relegated to the back bench following the 2013 election defeat, reportedly prompting him to complain to the party room of a “stitch-up” by a factional “cabal”. The Country Liberal Party has again preselected its candidate from 2013, Tina MacFarlane, who together with her husband owned a 9,500 hectare cattle station property at Mataranka until December, when it was sold to an Indian forestry company. This followed a long-running controversy over the extent of the water rights allocation that had been granted them by the Northern Territory’s CLP government.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.