UPDATE: A very embarrassing “administrative oversight” means that the release of the final boundaries, due in September, has had to be abandoned. Notices for the earlier stages of the redistribution were not gazetted as required by the Electoral Act. The NT Solicitor’s office has advised that the process must begin again. It seems unlikely that this will substantially alter the boundaries drawn under the now abandoned process, but it is embarrassing and means the boundaries to be used for the 2024 election won’t be finalised until the new year.
The timeline for the initial stages of the re-started process is –
- Public suggestions open (30 days) – Monday 11 September 2023
- Public suggestions close – Wednesday 11 October 2023
- Comments on suggestions received open (14 days) – Thursday 12 October 2023
- Comments on suggestions received close – Thursday 26 October 2023
- First proposed redistribution released – Monday 30 October 2023
- Objections to first proposed redistribution open (30 days) – Monday 30 October 2023
- Objections against first proposed redistribution close – Wednesday 29 November 2023
The original commentary on the second draft is inside this post.
Original Second Draft Post
Redistributions under the Northern Territory Electoral Act differ from those in other jurisdictions by allowing electorate enrolment data to be updated during the process. Other jurisdictions use enrolment data from a fixed date at the start of the redistribution.
Drawing electoral boundaries takes several months of public consultation. With the NT’s 25 electorates having an average enrolment of around 6,000 electors, hot spots of enrolment change can have a significant impact on boundary decisions. And outside events are having an impact on NT enrolments.
Ahead of ‘The Voice’ referendum, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has put significant effort into addressing the under-enrolment of indigenous Australians. Automatic roll updating that applies for the rest of Australia does not apply in remote parts of the NT. So the AEC has targeted its enrolment drive to these areas, and the updated enrolment data released at the end of June has altered the base numbers for the NT redistribution.
Between the original enrolment date on 17 April and the adjusted date on 3 July, NT enrolment shot up by 3.1% or 4,646 electors. Most of the enrolment growth has been in remote seats. Gwoja’s enrolment has risen 569, Mulka 558, Barkly 519 and Namatjira 492. Figures for urban enrolment are largely static, though this may change with the AEC turning its attention to under-enrolment in NT urban areas.
The new data has raised the redistribution quota from 5,911 in April to a new quota of 6,097. This shift has been enough to cause changes to the proposed boundaries for several remote electorates. Gwoja no longer requires extra electors to stay close to the quota. Mulka is now 15.0% over quota and the second round of the redistribution has been forced to transfer electors out of the seat.
In this post I will assess the political impact of the proposed boundaries. In short they don’t change much politically. The post then looks forward to where next year’s Northern Territory election will be decided.
Estimated new electoral pendulum based on redistribution. Note that the by-election margin has been used for Labor’s victory in Daly.
Links to my background publications on the 2020 NT Election results
- Summary of 2020 Northern Territory Election (pdf 0.5mb)
- 2020 NT Election – Two-Candidate Preferred Results by Polling Place (pdf 0.5mb)
Some Caveats on the Calculations in this Post
Without roll mark-off data on where people vote, redistribution calculations rely on assuming electors vote locally. Whole or part polling place results are transferred from old to new electorates. Apportioning declaration votes is done proportional to enrolment transfers, weighted for the voting patterns in the polling places moved.
This method has become less reliable in recent years due to the massive shift from voting on election day to voting early. There has been a huge surge in electors voting in-person at early voting centres, and a smaller increase in postal voting during Covid.
This problem is especially significant when using results from the 2020 Northern territory election.
At the 2020 NT election, only 16.8% of electors voted in their home district at an election day polling place. Another 11.3% of electors cast votes in remote areas using mobile polling teams. A massive 53.3% of votes were cast at early voting centres, 10.6% of votes were cast absent, 6.4% were postal votes, and 1.6% of votes were various types of declaration votes.
In some electorates around two-thirds of votes were pre-poll votes, and six urban electorates (Drysdale, Karama, Nightcliff, Port Darwin, Sanderson, Wanguri) had only a single polling place. This means that many of my calculations are simple re-apportionment of overall electorate vote without much additional information from polling place results.
A specific problem with NT redistribution calculations is the small size of electorates. The tiny enrolment in each seat amplifies the personal vote for candidates above vote for parties. The calculations in this post assume votes are cast for party. As I note in relation to several seats, in particular Blain and Drysdale, support based on party vote has to be assessed against whether a party gains or loses the personal vote for an MLA on the new boundaries.
With these caveats in mind, the tables later in this post set out estimated new margins for the second draft redistribution.
Summarising the Major Political Changes
Two sets of draft boundaries have so far failed to create a significant advantage for either side of politics. The final boundaries when announced look likely to produce incremental rather than major change. The four Palmerston seats undergo most change, but without the sort of inside knowledge parties have on micro-level voting patterns, the changes don’t appear to change Palmerton’s political balance.
The CLP hold two seats, Spillett held very securely by CLP Leader Lia Finocchiaro, and Brennan by first term MLA Marie-Clare Boothby. Government Minister Eva Lawler holds the existing seat of Drysdale with an 8.0% margin having a achieved a 2.7% swing in her favour 2020. This suggest Lawler has some level of personal vote.
The fourth Palmerston seat, Blain, was won narrowly by new Labor candidate Mark Turner in 2020, defeating sitting MP, Territory Alliance Leader and former CLP Chief Minister Terry Mills. But Turner has since been excluded from the Labor Party which means Labor will not have a sitting member defending this marginal seat in 2024.
While the redistribution means that Finocchiaro in Spillett and Lawler in Drysdale have reduced margins, the shift in both seats is down to the inclusion of areas not previously in their seats. If Marie-Clare Boothby works hard in Brennan, she should also build a personal vote which boosts her narrow CLP margin in Brennan.
The problem for Labor is Blain. While on paper the redistribution lifts the Labor margin from 0.2% to 1.4%, the boost is illusory and built on the transfer from Drysdale of personal Labor vote for Eva Lawler. The loss of Turner means that Labor has no benefit from a personal vote in Blain to boost its margin and will need to start anew to retain this marginal seat.
Nothing significant changes in northern Darwin, the area that was the CLP’s bedrock from 1974 to 2001. Since then the CLP has won only a single seat north of the Airport. On the new boundaries Labor continues to hold all northern Darwin seats with margins above 8%. (Based on the by-election, Fannie Bay’s margin is only 2.6%, but big swings against retiring government members are common at NT by-elections.)
The failure to win northern Darwin seats in 2012 left the Mills/Giles CLP government with a disjointed caucus elected largely from Palmerston, Katherine, Alice Springs and remote indigenous areas. While some at the time described the 2012 victory as the CLP finally bridging the gap between different parts of the Territory, the next four years in government revealed the lack of political cohesion in the victory’s electoral base. And that was before clash of personalities divided the party further.
In summary, the redistribution does not significantly change the picture of where the next NT election will be decided.
Since the 2020 election, Labor has been boosted by taking Daly from the CLP at a 2021 by-election. Labor did lose support at the Fannie Bay by-election when Michael Gunner retired, but had a big swing in its favour in early 2023 at the Arafura by-election.
Labor’s most marginal seat is Blain (ALP 1.4%), but as outlined above, the expulsion of Mark Turner means Labor will not have personal vote in its favour in 2024 and will struggle to win the seat without a general lift in Labor support. Labor will need a well connected ‘star’ candidate to hold Blain.
Labor now has a sitting member in Daly (CLP 1.2% in 2020, ALP 6.1% on by-election) and Dheran Young will no doubt be working hard to build a prifle as MLA. Labor’s Paul Kirby is the incumbent in Port Darwin (ALP 1.9%), but it is a seat that Labor only tends to win at high-tide elections.
The defection of Jeff Collins to the Territory alliance meant that Labor did not have a sitting member in Fong Lime. Mark Monaghan is now Labor MLA for Fong Lim (ALP 2.2%) which means he has the chance to build a personal vote for the 2024 election. Eva Lawler in Palmerston-based Drysdale (ALP 5.4%) has a sitting member benefit slightly diluted by the redistribution.
A seat where the redistribution may disadvantage the government is Arnhem (ALP 1.4% v Independent). In a seat which is very safe Labor on a two-party preferred basis, Selena Uibo had to fight a serious challenge from Independent Ian Gumbula in 2020. The addition of 475 voters from Independ-held Mulka will boost the chances of a well connected Independent in Arnhem.
Conservative Independents continue to hold Goyder (Kezia Purick 6.8% v CLP) and Araluen (Robyn Lambley 0.5% v CLP). Both should be re-elected, though Lambley will face a different CLP challenge in a very marginalo seat at the 2024 election. Both seats would be won by the CLP if they retire. If re-elected their role in a hung parliament would be crucial to who forms government.
Law and order issues in Alice Springs should ensure the currently marginal seats of Braitling (CLP 1.3%) and Namatjia (CLP 0.3%) are easily retained by the CLP. The same comment applies to Katherine (CLP 2.5%).
Barkly is worth watching. Steve Edgington won by just five votes in 2020. The AEC’s enrolment drive has boosted enrolment in remote areas of Barkly (CLP 0.1%) which should favour Labor. But Edgington will have the advantage of incumbency in 2024 and also benefits from law and order problems in urban areas.
The redistribution looks unlikely to significantly change the political contest in 2024. Labor can still lose even with a lock on northern Darwin and remote indigenous seats, and will lose if seats in these area are lost. As results in Arnhem and Mulka in 2020 revealed, Labor has a new threat in remote seats from Indigenous Independents.
Increased remote enrolment and possible defeat for ‘The Voice’ referendum could throw wild cards into remote districts. A defeat for the referendum defeat is unlikely to help the CLP, but could embolden Independents at Labor’s expense.
Prospects for a change of government will depend on inner and northern Darwin seats. Labor holds all nine seats west and north of the Airport where the party never held more than three at a time prior to 2001.
With the exception of 2012, NT elections have always turned on who holds the seats west and north of Darwin Airport. The odds are these seats will be just as important in 2024.
The Redistribution – Seat by Seat
|Old: LAB 3.6%||MP: Manuel Brown (Labor)
Brown was elected at a March 2023 by-election following the death of former Labor MP Mr Costa.
The electorate is unchanged apart from a minor boundary shift in an area containing no electors. The margin shown at left is based on the 2020 election result. Based on the 2023 by-election, the Labor margin is 19.2%.
|New: LAB 3.6%
|Old: IND 0.5% v CLP||
MP: Robyn Lambley (Independent)
|New: IND 0.5% v CLP|
|Old: LAB 1.4% v Independent||MP: Selena Uibo (Labor)
Boundary changes in the north with neighbouring Mulka increase enrolment by around 470. There was no CLP candidate in Mulka at the 2020 election and the seat was won by Independent Yingiya Mark Guyula in a contest versus Labor. Adding a portion of the Mulka result to Arnhem slightly reduces the Labor margin versus an Independent. Independent Ian Gumbula finished second to Labor at the 2023 election. An alternative two-party preferred count in 2020 produced a Labor margin of 17.6% versus the CLP.
|New: LAB 1.2% v Independent|
|Old: CLP 0.1%||MP: Steve Edgington (Country Liberal)
Boundaries unchanged. Edgington took this seat from Labor by just five votes at the 2020 election.
|New: CLP 0.1%|
|Old: LAB 0.2%||MP: Mark Turner (Independent). Turner was elected as a Labor MLA but now sits as an Independent. He was expelled from the Labor caucus February 2021 over details of an affair with a Labor staffer but was not expelled from the Labor Party until June 2023.
The redistribution has made major changes to the boundaries of Blain. Parts of Rosebery in Blain have been re-united with the rest of the suburb in Brennan. The balance of Moulden in Drysdale has been re-united with the rest of the suburb in Blain while Blain also gains the suburb of Archer from Spillett.
Blain now consists of four Palmerston suburbs, Archer, Bellamack, Moulden and Woodroffe.
Rosebery was the more Labor voting part of Blain, but this has been more than compensated by the transfers from Drysdale. However, Labor’s result in Drysdale in 2020 owed much to sitting MLA Eva Lawler. The transfer of these areas to Blain notionally improves Labor’s vote, but not by enough to overcome defending a seat without the benefit of a sitting MLA.
|New: LAB 1.4%|
|Old: CLP 1.3%||MP: Joshua Burgoyne (Country Liberal)
Unchanged. Burgoyne gained Braitling from Labor’s Dale Wakefield at the 2020 election. Wakefield had surprisingly been elected in 2016 when she defeated CLP Chief Minister Adam Giles.
|New: CLP 1.3%|
|Old: CLP 1.2%||MP: Marie-Clare Boothby (Country Liberal)
Boothby gained Brennan from Labor’s Tony Sievers at the 2020 election.
Another Palmerston based seat to undergo significant boundary changes. Brennan loses the suburb of Gunn to Drysdale, gains the balance of Rosebery from Blain and the suburb of Mitchell from Spillett. It also gains the southern part of Zuccoli from Spillett. Brennan now consists of the Palmerston suburbs of Bakewell, Mitchell, Rosebery and southern parts of Zuccoli.
The transfers from Spillett increase the CLP margin for Brennan.
|New: CLP 2.9%|
|Old: LAB 15.9%||MP: Lauren Moss (Labor)
Loses the balance of Alawa to Johnston in the south while gaining parts of Muirhead from Wanguri in the north. The seat now takes in all of Brinkin, Lyons, Nakara and Tiwi along with parts of Lee Point and Muirhead.
|New: LAB 16.0%|
|Old: CLP 1.2%||MP: Dheran Young (Labor)
Boundaries unchanged on the second draft after enrolment growth saw a proposed boundary change with Gwoja reversed.
Labor gained Daly at a September 2021 by-election but the margin shown at left is based on the 2020 election. Dheran Young won the seat for Labor after CLP MLA Ian Sloan resigned causing the by-election . There was a swing to Labor of 7.3% and the Labor margin for Daly based on the by-election result is 6.1%.
|New: CLP 1.2%
|Old: LAB 8.0%||MP: Eva Lawler (Labor)
Loses the balance of Moulden to Brennan but gains the suburb of Gunn in return. Based on party votes the changes weaken Labor’s margin but as sitting member Lawler may overcome this shift in party vote.
|New: LAB 5.4%|
|Old: LAB 9.6%||
MP: Brent Potter (Labor)
|New: LAB 10.9%
|Old: LAB 2.6%||MP: Mark Monaghan (Labor)
Largely unchanged, around 220 electors gained from Spillett in the east, including industrial areas around East Arm and Berrimah.
|New: LAB 2.2%|
|Old: IND 6.8% v CLP||MP: Kezia Purick (Independent)
Unchanged. The alternative two-party preferred CLP margin versus Labor is 14.4%.
|New: IND 6.8% v CLP|
|Old: LAB 15.0%||MP: Chansey Paech (Labor)
Unchanged. The first draft proposals saw a boundary change with neighbouring Daly, but this was reversed in the second draft due to enrolment growth.
|New: LAB 15.0%|
|Old: LAB 16.5%||MP: Joel Bowden (Labor)
Gains the balance of Alawa from Casuarina. Western boundary now truncated at Bagot Road with Coconut Grove to the west divided between Fannie Bay and Nightcliff.
|New: LAB 16.0%|
|Old: LAB 9.8%||MP: Ngaree Ah Kit (Labor)
Loses around 300 electors in the rural areas between the airport, McMillans Road and Vanderlin Drive to Sanderson. Gains around 300 electors in rural Knuckey Lagoon from Nelson. Neither area included a 2020 polling place but the conservative voting history of Nelson suggests the changes cut Labor’s margin in Karama.
|New: LAB 8.2%|
|Old: CLP 2.5%||MP: Jo Hersey (Country Liberal)
|New: CLP 2.5%|
|Old: IND 5.0% v ALP||MP: Yingiya Mark Guyula (Independent)
Recent enrolment growth put Mulka well over quota and has forced the Redistribution Commissioners to transfer 475 voters to Arnhem in the second version of the draft boundaries. Independent Guyula won this seat for a second time in 2020 in a two-candidate race against Labor with no Country Liberal candidate nominated. The area removed from Mulka was covered by Mobile Polling Team 1 at the 2020 election, which overall recorded a 64.9% vote for Guyula. Labor won 69.3% of the vote at the pre-poll in Nhulunbuy, and if you include some of the pre-poll in the transfer, then it slightly increases Guyula’s margin.
|New: IND 5.2% v ALP|
|Old: CLP 0.3%||MP: Bill Yan (Country Liberal)
Unchanged. The 2019 redistribution turned Namatjira into a notional Country Liberal seat at the 2020 election. It was narrowly won by Bill Yan despite a swing to Labor.
|New: CLP 0.3%|
|Old: CLP 22.8%||
MP: Gerard Maley (Country Liberal)
|New: CLP 22.3%
|Old: LAB 24.3%||MP: Natasha Fyles (Labor)
There has been a re-arrangement of Nightcliff’s southern boundary, losing parts of Coconut Grove to Fannie Bay while gaining a different part of Coconut Grove from Johnston.
|New: LAB 24.1%|
|Old: LAB 1.9%||MP: Paul Kirby (Labor)
|New: LAB 1.9%|
|Old: LAB 19.3%||MP: Kate Warden (Labor)
Gains around 300 voters in a semi-rural area east of the airport and south of McMillans Road from Karama. This is estimated to slightly reduce the Labor margin.
|New: LAB 18.8%|
|Old: CLP 15.0%||MP: Lia Finocchiaro (Country Liberal)
Spillett was well over quota on its old boundarues and the seat has shed voters to Fong Lim in the west, rural areas west of Palmerston to Nelson, and undorgone a series of suburb swaps with other Palmerston seats to bring all seats back within 5% of the quota. The changes produce a small decline in the CLP margin. Spillett now includes four whole suburbs in Durack, Farrar, Johnston and Yarrawonga as well as the northern section of Zuccoli.
|New: CLP 13.5%|
|Old: LAB 17.3%||MP: Nicole Manison (Labor)
Loses around 800 voters in part of Muirhead to Casuarina with no significant impact on the Labor margin.
|New: LAB 17.3%|