Giles' seat a litmus test in NT poll

Chief Minister Adam Giles has a fight on his hands to hold his own seat of Braitling at this month's Territory election.
Chief Minister Adam Giles has a fight on his hands to hold his own seat of Braitling at this month's Territory election. Contributed

The forecast for August 27 is stormy, with low cloud and a strong chance of disappointment for NT chief minister Adam Giles.

A change of government is predicted by late evening, with many Territorians hoping for a period of calm to follow.

The NT government under Adam Giles has been the worst since self-government, and deserves a drubbing nothing short of poetic.

But defeat is not the foregone conclusion some predict.

One thing is certain: Disappointment in the Giles government is palpable in the electorate, with many CLP stalwarts carefully weighing their vote.

Giles has harmed the brand of the CLP-a party born in Central Australia-since wresting power from elected leader Terry Mills in March 2013.

For the CLP voter, uncertainty foregrounds the independents as an alternative.

In ballot sheet order, the seven candidates contesting Braitling are: Dale Wakefield (ALP), Eli Melky (Ind), Adam Giles (CLP), Dalton Dupuy (Greens), Alfred Gould (Ind), Jane Clark (Ind), Phil Walcott (Ind).

On the left, Walcott has been a popular political hopeful since 2009 and Clark, loosely aligned with the Greens, has previously served on the Alice Springs Town Council.

On the right, outspoken town councillor Eli Melky is dismayed over the government under Giles, but will nonetheless attract disaffected CLP voters and the tough-on-crime crowd.

Even so, ABC's Antony Green and local political commentator for the Northern Institute Prof Rolf Gerritsen both predict a safe win for incumbent Giles.

Based on adjusted figures from the 2012 election, Green estimates a CLP margin in Braitling at 19.6%.

But a lot has changed since 2012, not least the geography of Braitling electorate.

As Chief Minister Adam Giles told Heartbeat: "I think Green has it wrong, with the redistribution I think that will move from about 70 back to about 50-50.

"A lot of interstate people have recently moved into the electorate."

Braitling has long been a blue ribbon CLP seat, excluding 2001 to 2008 when it was held by independent Loraine Braham, previously CLP.

While NT electorates are small and minor changes have big effects, in 2016 I believe Braitling will go to Labor, and for three reasons.

First, the 2015 redraw of electoral boundaries-Braitling now embraces parts of Alice Springs' east-represents an untested political demographic with unmeasured Green bloc.

Second, Wakefield presents as a serious Labor candidate for the first time in a generation; combined with viable and supportive independents, preferences could shore up the ALP's primary to win the seat on a two-party preferred count.

Third is the "Giles factor"-how much has dissatisfaction with its leader infected the CLP vote more broadly-which will be most apparent on his home turf: Braitling.

The combination makes Braitling the seat to watch for strength of the swing against the CLP.

Two more things make it harder to read the tea leaves on this one: the unpredictable nature of preferencing after recent changes, and the Greens' decision to preference Labor well down the ticket, which could act to foil a Labor win.

Green and independent voters made up almost 20% of the vote at the 2012 election and will be more this time around.

Decided by campaign committee on a consensus basis, Greens how-to-vote preferencing was not available before deadline.

But Dupuy says: "The ALP will be down toward the bottom because of [uncertainty] on the moratorium on fracking, and their decision to increase the size of the Territory police force.

"As an ex-Green, Jane Clarke will be higher up."

Both, however, will be above Giles.

Surprisingly, Labor is preferencing Eli Melky second-perhaps a bid to net his likely popularity with CLP voters and rescue preferences-followed by Walcott and Dupuy.

However, Melky won't produce a voting guide, instead asking simply for a one or a two vote.

There are 25 seats in the Northern Territory, with four in the Centre split between bush and town.

Both Labor and the CLP have made unfundable promises on education, but the recent Four Corners program on the juvenile justice issue has sparked anger in the bush.

Going in to the election are six sitting Territory independents in Arnhem, Karama, Nelson, Goyder, Araluen and Namatjira.

Two are former CLP ministers: Robyn Lambley who recontests Araluen as an independent, and Alison Anderson who will resign at the election.

The CLP is unlikely to repeat its 2012 win in the bush, as voters weigh inaction on housing, siphoning of funds for the bush to projects in Darwin and windback of support to remote schools.

Labor will win back some if not all the bush seats lost in 2012.

In the Centre, Labor candidate for Stuart Scott McConnell is well positioned to win against sitting member Bess Price who has proven periodically problematic for government.

Recently anointed by retiring incumbent and bush power broker Alison Anderson, Chansey Paech should poll well against CLP newcomer Heidi Williams.

Both McConnell and Paech have close ties with Anderson, who has spent recent months campaigning on their behalf.

Anderson's legacy could see off the CLP government she held the seat of Namatjira for (formerly MacDonnell) from 2011.

Strong polling by Labor at Alice Springs booths at the recent federal poll should follow through as a swing against the NT government.

I expect former treasurer Robyn Lambley will retain her seat of Araluen as an independent from CLP challenger Stephen Brown.

Undoubtedly though, Giles retains strong support in Braitling.

But the Giles effect will be pronounced, and exacerbated by independents like Walcott, Clarke and Melky as viable voting alternatives.

The attraction of independents is their lack of affiliation to any political party, which has been evident federally and will play a part locally.

Former teacher and a familiar face in Alice Springs since 1993, psychologist Phil Walcott typifies an independent approach and has been knocking at the door of Territory politics since 2009.

For 11 years he ran the town's first gay and lesbian friendly Bed and Breakfast and played a pivotal role in developing "pink" tourism.

"Main parties restrict what you can do," says Walcott. "I'm trying to do it guided by the community."

At a recent fundraiser, Walcott asked 70 guests to write down how Alice Springs could "do it better," citing solar energy, Alice as a research hub and transitioning from gas to renewables as central concerns. He is also an advocate of data warehousing.

"If we were to invite global companies to set up facilities under the same deal that the Australian government leased land to the US Government [for Pine Gap], we could do that with data warehousing."

Walcott advises voters to preference Labor second.

"It makes sense that I give an indication to the incoming government that I can work with them.

"Greens are third, because I want take some of those policies into the parliament."

Clearly, Braitling will be toughly fought, but incumbent Giles is not taking bets.

"I don't put it like that," he says. "You just work hard and see what happens on the 27 August."

Topics:  australian labor party election 2016 independents northern territory

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