The Territory turns against the Country Liberal Party

September 1, 2016
Part of Territory-wide protests in October against unconventional gas mining in the NT.

Northern Territory voters kicked out the ruling Country Liberal Party (CLP) government on August 27 in what has been described as an “election bloodbath”. Voters rejected the CLP for many reasons, which opens up the possibility of a more progressive politics in the NT.

The conservative CLP government came to power in 2012 on the back of four bush seats. This was the first time these seats had been lost by the ALP, in part due to the merger of local councils into super-shires. Four years later, nothing has moved on that front and current results indicate that the CLP has not only lost the four bush seats, but every other seat bar two in the 25-seat parliament.

How did they lose so badly?

The CLP was rife with infighting and disunity. They lost their majority when elected members quit the party and there were two leadership coups in one term — one unsuccessful because the coup plotters did not actually have the numbers.

In terms of functionality this could arguably be the worst Australian government since Bligh ran the colony of New South Wales and made rum the currency of exchange — a commodity he completely controlled. There is an argument that the 1968–87 government of Joh Bjelke-Peterson in Queensland was worse. Sure, Joh ran an empire of corruption and naked greed, but he did manage to keep it going for longer than a single term.

The CLP tried to achieve victory through their record of job creation and their proposal for an $800 million pipeline to move fracked shale gas to Queensland to sell on the world market. As well as being economically unviable, many in the NT feared that the huge expansion would threaten the environment and local fishing, cattle and tourism industries.

Dont Frack The Territory (DFTT) pulled together a campaign of traditional owners, environmental activists, farmers, cattle producers and many others to fight the proposal and put the government on the back foot.

Labor even announced a moratorium of indefinite duration if elected and appear to be holding to their promise, proposing a more thoroughgoing review of fracking and its impacts.

DFTT said on August 28: “Hundreds of concerned Northern Territory residents worked incredibly hard to make fracking the number one Territory election issue, and yesterday, it was just that.

“In all the electorates where the community campaign against fracking was active, there have been huge swings and seats changing hands.

“However, we know that incoming governments need to act quickly on their promises, or they start to waver, especially if they have the gas industry on their backs.”

The CLP also ran on its law and order rhetoric. It is not clear that the harsher penalties led to a drop in crime in the NT. But it is clear that their closures and cuts sent more offenders to jail and subjected them to the conditions revealed to the public in the July 25 Four Corners report.

The release of the footage of young Dylan Voller subjected to years of abuse in Darwin's correctional system damaged the CLP's popularity. This also turned away many Aboriginal people who were targeted by this law and order push.

Labor's big win

Labor is the biggest winner from the election. It now holds 16 of the 25 seats in parliament. This gives Labor a large majority and social movements will need to campaign strongly to hold Labor to its promises.

Most of the Labor candidates were women and 10 of the ALP's 16 seats were won by women.

Most of these candidates have expressed a desire to reform access to abortion drug RU486, which is currently heavily restricted in the NT.

The CLP had a reputation for misogyny. On May 26, then justice minister John Elferink made comments that led to every woman in NT Parliament walking out — including those in his own party — because he expressed a desire to slap his female opponent during a parliamentary debate.

On average, candidates for the Greens did not do well, although Melanie Ross did get 16.5% in the seat of Johnston. The NT Greens stood aside in some cases for progressive independents.


Four independents are on track to be elected, two of whom were former members of Labor and the CLP.

One independent candidate who is doing well is Yingia Guyula, whose candidacy was covered by GLW.

The August 31 Australian quoted Guyula as saying: “There's people living here. There's humans living here. There's a Yolngu government that has been running for thousands of years — for thousands of years, there has been education, justice, leadership, law and order, economy on this country.”

Guyula is the Yolngu son of a crocodile hunter who campaigned on a platform of bilingual education, recognising the traditional forms of Aboriginal governance in the NT and a treaty with Aboriginal people to ensure this. At the time of writing he is 35 votes ahead of deputy ALP leader Lynne Walker in the seat of Nhulunbuy.

There are still postal votes to be counted, but anecdotally it appears Guyula has won most of the Yolngu-majority areas in Nhulunbuy and his success represents a huge upset, regardless of the final result.

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