Incumbent Northern Territory Government Likely to Retain Power, Amid Struggling Economy

August 23, 2020 Updated: August 25, 2020

Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s Labor government looks to retain power, as vote counting continues on Aug. 24 in the Northern Territory (NT) election. However, the minister will have to contend with a struggling economy and ballooning public debt in a post-pandemic environment.

The three-way race, which also includes conservative-leaning Country Liberal Party (CLP), and newcomers Territory Alliance, is the first major political contest in Australia since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner told supporters on Aug. 22 that he was very confident Labor would form the next government after Labor secured 38.9 percent of the primary vote, compared to the CLP’s 31.8 percent.

Epoch Times Photo
Northern Territory border into South Australia, on Oct. 19, 2015. (Mark Kolbe/Getty Images for The World Solar Challange)

Gunner’s team is on track to take at least 12 seats in the 25-seat NT Legislative Assembly, with expectations 13 seats will be secured, delivering a majority for the incumbent government.

In 2016, Labor won government in a significant victory taking 18 seats and ousting the CLP.

According to Prof. Rolf Gerritsen from Charles Darwin University, the Labor vote has normalised in the latest election.

“The lower Labor vote (in 2020) was because it was artificially high in the big swing they got in 2016, when they won 18 seats. So, it was a ‘normal correction,'” he told The Epoch Times on Aug. 24.

“For various reasons, they were very unpopular before COVID-19 hit, so their primary vote improved over the election period,” he continued.

In February, the Johnston byelection saw the Labor Party poll just 30 percent of the primary vote, winning the seat on preferences.

The result foreshadowed shifting public sentiment toward the party, with a struggling economy, and concerns over public debt, which has increased from $1.7 billion in 2016, to $8.2 billion in 2020.

Epoch Times Photo
Tourists gather to watch sunset colours on Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock, after a permanent ban on climbing the monolith at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory on October 26, 2019. (Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images)

However, with the advent of COVID-19 lockdowns, the Gunner government has benefitted, according to Gerritsen.

“He presented himself as the harried protector of Territorians’ lives, a stance Labor took into the election,” he wrote in The Conversation.

“The recession receded into the background of public consciousness,” he continued.

The NT election also saw one of the lowest turnouts for Indigenous voters, highlighting the disconnect between indigenous communities and politics.

For example, only 24 percent of the 1,529 enrolled residents at Maningrida voted, a town located in regional Arnhem Land.

According to Gerritsen, Indigenous communities may have decided “it’s a waste of time voting for anybody in the NT’s ‘whitefella’ politics.”

He told The Epoch Times however that: “The low turnout of Indigenous voters won’t have much effect because they are mostly locked up in separate ‘bush’ seats.”

Labor performed best in the NT’s capital city Darwin.

Vote counting is still ongoing for Arnhem, Barkly, Brennan, Braitling, Daly, Katherine and Namatjira.