The Saturday election in the Northern Territory saw a substantial swing against the incumbent Labor party which seems to have returned with a one-seat majority. The party returned to the level of support it had enjoyed in 2001 when it first won government in the Territory. In 2005 it had a landslide victory. The closeness of the result surprised most observers who expected a comfortable Labor victory. Some observations:
1. There were no available opinion polls. Betting market odds overwhelmingly favoured Labor. The result undercuts the argument of those who argue that betting markets have an independent predictive power rather than just being dependent on opinion polls.
2. The Territory is unique among the Australian states in its large indigenous population, around 30%. Despite the fact that indigenous Australians usually strongly support the ALP (although occasionally they can be swayed by personality appeals) the Territory was a Labor graveyard until 2001 the conservative Country Liberal Party (CLP) won eight elections in a row. Territory politics was racialised and as in the US South the non-minority population recorded high levels of conservative support, even although the Territory non-indigenous population is ethnically diverse and is largely dependent on government employment which would have usually inclined them to Labor. Has this racial element declined? Labor’s 2004 landslide might suggest this but what about 2008? Interesting that the smallest swing against Labor was in Nhulunbuy where the CLP candidate was indigenous, and this was an electorate where the retiring Labor MP had held the seat since 1990 and where commentatorspredicted a likely swing against Labor.
3. The theory that the small size of NT electorates creates an incumbency advantage seems to have been refuted by the turnover of seats at the last three elections.
4. In many remote areas of Australia the indigenous population is rapidly increasing. Could this eventually have an impact in remote electorates? Doubtful if the NT example is anything to go by indeed the social crisis in many rural indigenous communities is closely linked to race politics, for a great perspective on this which shows what anthropology has to contribute see Cowlishaw’s Blackfellas.