Northern Territory Redistribution Finalised (and a Chief Minister Resigns)

Update 20 December – the new Chief Minister will be Eva Lawler. Minor changes have been made to post reflecting the change.

The resignation today of NT Chief Minister Natasha Fyles is bad news for the NT Labor government. It already faces a difficult re-election campaign in August 2024, and starting election year with a third Chief Minister this term is bad news for NT Labor, and good news for the Country Liberal opposition.

Thinking back through the last 50 years, I can think of three cases of government’s with three Premiers in a term. Queensland had three between 1986 and 1989, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Mike Ahern and Russell Cooper. NSW had three between 2007 and 2011, Morris Iemma, Nathan Rees and Kristina Keneally. Both governments were thrashed at the next election. The NSW Coalition had three Premier between 1973 and 1976, Bob Askin, Tom Lewis and Eric Willis. It lost narrowly at the 1976 election.

The circumstances of the transfers from Michael Gunner to Natasha Fyles to Eva Lawler are different to the Queensland and NSW cases above. The first two examples involved the dumping of two Premiers in sensational circumstances caused by party splits. The 1973-76 example had one retirement and one sudden replacement of a Premier.

The Northern Territory’s current situation concerns a Chief Minister retiring and another resigning over failure to disclose a pecuniary interest. Not quite as sensational.

But it is a bad start to an election year for a government that after two terms in office was starting to look old and ragged. And losing a Chief Minister, whatever the gravity of the transgression, is a negative for Labor, and a huge boost for Lia Finocchiaro and the Country Liberal Party.

Redistribution Finalised

This post was in progress before today’s political events unfolded. Last week the redistribution of the Northern Territory’s electoral boundaries was finalised ahead of the August 2024 election.

A very embarrassing “administrative oversight” had delayed the process of boundary drawing. Notices for the earlier stages of the redistribution were not gazetted as required by the Electoral Act. The NT Solicitor’s office advised that the process had to begin again. Despite the extended process, there have been very few changes since the first draft of boundaries were released early in 2023.

The redistribution has been undertaken to bring enrolments in divisions back within the permitted 20% variation from quota.

As of 29 November there were a total of 152,675 voters enrolled to vote with the average enrolment per division at 6,107. As is normal at NT redistributions, the enrolment numbers were updated at each stage of the redistribution process. There was significant enrolment growth through the last twelve months, driven by the AEC’s enrolment drive ahead of ‘The Voice’ referendum.

On current enrolments, only Splillett at 19.1% over quota was close to the permitted variation. Mulka was at +15.7%, Fong Lim -11.2%.

Five divisions were more than 5% under quota, Fannie Bay, Fong Lim, Nightcliff, Port Darwin and Sanderson. Another three were 5-10% over quota, Daly, Drysdale and Wanguri.

The table below shows the enrolment and variation from quota for all divisions on both the old and new boundaries. Divisions have been listed in geographic position running outwards from Inner Darwin to the Outback. Electorates listed with (n.c) have seen no enrolment change.

2023 NT Redistribution – Old District Variation from Quota
Old Boundaries New Boundaries
Area District Enrolment % Variation Enrolment % Variation
Inner Darwin Fannie Bay 5,502 -9.9 6,100 -0.1
Inner Darwin Fong Lim 5,423 -11.2 5,674 -7.1
Inner Darwin Port Darwin (n.c.) 5,741 -6.0 5,741 -6.0
Northern Darwin Casuarina 5,813 -4.8 5,832 -4.5
Northern Darwin Johnston 5,809 -4.9 5,771 -5.5
Northern Darwin Karama 5,940 -2.7 5,919 -3.1
Northern Darwin Nightcliff 5,759 -5.7 5,968 -2.3
Northern Darwin Sanderson 5,610 -8.1 5,928 -2.9
Northern Darwin Wanguri 6,506 +6.5 5,718 -6.4
Palmerston Blain 6,039 -1.1 6,329 +3.6
Palmerston Brennan 5,918 -3.1 6,203 +1.6
Palmerston Drysdale 6,431 +5.3 6,278 +2.8
Palmerston Spillett 7,273 +19.1 6,086 -0.3
Darwin Rural Goyder (n.c.) 6,230 +2.0 6,230 +2.0
Darwin Rural Nelson 6,230 +2.0 6,447 +5.6
Top End Arafura (n.c.) 6,137 +0.5 6,137 +0.5
Top End Arnhem 6,323 +3.5 6,666 +9.2
Top End Daly 6,441 +5.5 6,174 +1.1
Top End Katherine (n.c.) 6,122 +0.2 6,122 +0.2
Top End Mulka 7,063 +15.7 6,720 +10
Outback Araluen (n.c.) 5,936 -2.8 5,936 -2.8
Outback Barkly (n.c.) 6,108 .. 6,108 ..
Outback Braitling (n.c.) 6,001 -1.7 6,001 -1.7
Outback Gwoja 5,927 -2.9 6,194 +1.4
Outback Namatjira (n.c.) 6,393 +4.7 6,393 +4.7

New Electoral Pendulum

Links to my background publications on the 2020 NT Election results

Some Caveats on the Calculations in this Post

Without roll mark-off data on where people voted, redistribution calculations have to rely an assumption that electors vote at their local polling place. Re-calculations then involve transferring whole or part polling places from old to new electorates based on published enrolment transfers as well as the old and new maps. 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.

This problem is particularly significant with the 2023 redistribution based on 2020 Northern Territory election results.

In 2020, only 16.8% of NT voters cast their vote on polling day at a polling place in their home district. 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 another 1.6% of votes were various declaration vote categories.

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 beyond 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

The redistribution as finalised has not created a significant advantage for either side of politics. 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 Palmerston’s political balance.

In 2020 the CLP won two seats, Spillett held very securely (15.0%) by CLP Leader Lia Finocchiaro, and Brennan (1.2%) by first term MLA Marie-Clare Boothby. Spillett was well over quota, and enrolment numbers have been reduced by various boundary adjustments with other Palmerston seats.

New Chief 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 suggests 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. Marie-Clare Boothby in Brennan has been boosted by the addition of voters from Spillet, and she should have built a a personal vote since her victory in 2020.

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 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 governments 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 little political cohesion in the victory’s electoral base. And that was before clash of personalities divided the party further.

After an easy victory in 2016, Labor’s 2020 re-election was built on retaining northern Darwin seats, plus retaining two Palmerston seats as well as Port Darwin, seats that historically are CLP held.

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 profile as MLA. Labor’s Paul Kirby is the incumbent in Port Darwin (ALP 1.9%), but his is a seat that Labor only wins at high-tide elections.

The defection of Jeff Collins to the Territory alliance meant that Labor did not have a sitting member in Fong Lim in 2020. 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 but has her profile boosted as the new Chief Minister.

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 343 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 difficult CLP challenge in a very marginal seat at the 2024 election. Both seats would be won by the CLP if they retire. If re-elected the decision of both members 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 Namatjira (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 could 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. As 2020 results in Arnhem and Mulka revealed, Labor has a new threat in remote seats from Indigenous Independents.

Increased remote enrolment and defeat for ‘The Voice’ referendum could throw wild cards into remote districts by encouraging Independents to contest Labor’s remote seats.

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

ARAFURA (Western Arnhem Land and Tiwi Islands)
Margin Notes
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%
(See notes)

ARALUEN (Alice Springs)
Margin Notes
Old: IND 0.5% v CLP

MP: Robyn Lambley (Independent)
Boundaries unchanged. Lambley was elected as a Territory Alliance candidate in 2020 but the party has disbanded and Lambley returned to her previous status as an Independent. Lambley was a CLP MLA 2010-15, was re-elected as an Independent in 2016 and joined Terry Mills’ Territory Alliance ahead of the 2020 election.

New: IND 0.5% v CLP

ARNHEM (Central Arnehm Land)
Margin Notes
Old: LAB 1.4% v Independent MP: Selena Uibo (Labor)
Boundary changes in the north with neighbouring Mulka increase enrolment. 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 15.9% versus the CLP.
New: LAB 1.1% v Independent

BARKLY (Outback)
Margin Notes
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%

BLAIN (Palmerston)
Margin Notes
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 1.3%

BRAITLING (Alice Springs)
Margin Notes
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%

BRENNAN (Palmerston)
Margin Notes
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 3.0%

CASUARINA (Darwin Northern Suburbs)
Margin Notes
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%

DALY (Top End)
Margin Notes
Old: CLP 1.2% MP: Dheran Young (Labor)
Loses 270 voters around Timber Creek to Gwoja.
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 1.5%
(See notes)

DRYSDALE (Palmerston)
Margin Notes
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. The equation has been altered by Lawler’s appointment as the new Chief Minister.
New: LAB 5.4%

FANNIE BAY (Inner Darwin)
Margin Notes
Old: LAB 9.6%

MP: Brent Potter (Labor)
Old margin based on 2020 election result. Potter was elected at an August 2022 by-election following the resignation of former Chief Minister Michael Gunner. Potter’s margin for the old boundaries based on the by-election is a much narrower 2.6%.
The redistribution transfers around 600 voters in Coconut Grove from Johnston and Nightcliff slightly increases Labor’s 2020 margin.

New: LAB 10.9%
(See notes)

FONG LIM (Inner Darwin)
Margin Notes
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%

GOYDER (Rural Top End)
Margin Notes
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

GWOJA (Outback)
Margin Notes
Old: LAB 15.0% MP: Chansey Paech (Labor)
Gains 270 voters around Timber Creek from Daly.
New: LAB 14.8%

JOHNSTON (Darwin Northern Suburbs)
Margin Notes
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%

KARAMA (Darwin Northern Suburbs)
Margin Notes
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 8.3%

KATHERINE (Top End)
Margin Notes
Old: CLP 2.5% MP: Jo Hersey (Country Liberal)
Unchanged.
New: CLP 2.5%

MULKA (North East Arnhem Land)
Margin Notes
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 350 voters to Arnhem at the final stage. 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 5.1% v ALP

NAMATJIRA (Alice Springs/Outback)
Margin Notes
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%

NELSON (Rural Top End)
Margin Notes
Old: CLP 22.8%

MP: Gerard Maley (Country Liberal)
Loses around 300 votes around Knuckey Lagoon to Karama and gains around 500 voters in the rural areas west of Palmerston from Spillett. Neither area included a polling place in 2020 which makes it difficult to calculate a margin but the estimate is a slight slippage in what is otherwise a safe Country Liberal seat in two-party terms.
The margins shown at left are based on an alternative two-party preferred count. In 2020 the CLP gained Nelson on the retirement of long-serving Independent Gerry Wood. Local Independent Beverley Ratahi attempted to succeed Wood and outpolled Labor but was unable to win on preferences. The CLP two-candidate preferred margin versus Ratahi was 8.3%. It is not possible to calculate a new 2CP margin given the boundary changes.

New: CLP 22.3%
(See notes)

NIGHTCLIFF (Darwin Northern Suburbs)
Margin Notes
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%

PORT DARWIN (Inner Darwin)
Margin Notes
Old: LAB 1.9% MP: Paul Kirby (Labor)
Unchanged.
New: LAB 1.9%

SANDERSON (Darwin Northern Suburbs)
Margin Notes
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%

SPILLETT (Palmerston)
Margin Notes
Old: CLP 15.0% MP: Lia Finocchiaro (Country Liberal)
Spillett was well over quota on its old boundaries and the seat has shed voters to Fong Lim in the west, rural areas west of Palmerston to Nelson, and undergone 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%

WANGURI (Darwin Northern Suburbs)
Margin Notes
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%

1 thought on “Northern Territory Redistribution Finalised (and a Chief Minister Resigns)”

  1. With Andrew Mackay (CLP) a good chance of gaining Goyder for CLP, the opposition gets to around 11 seats, Labor manages 11 (maybe 12 at best) with the remaining 2-3 seats being independents. If Arnhem, Araluen and Mulka end up as independents, who are the independents likely to side with if the majors end up with 11 a piece? A minority government is on the cards?

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