Labor appears to have survived the first major political test of the COVID-19 pandemic by retaining government at the Northern Territory election.
The counting of votes resumed at 10 a.m. on Aug. 23 after NT leader Michael Gunner told supporters in a late-night speech he would lead a Labor government following Saturday’s election.
“Labor is in front on the votes, Labor is in front on the seats and tonight I can tell you I am very confident Labor will form the next government of the Northern Territory,” he said.
He paid tribute to health workers, police and other frontline staff who had helped the NT get through the pandemic with only 33 cases of COVID-19 and no deaths making it “one of the safest places in the world.”
“It’s not over yet. But for me, for our team, the most important battle of 2020 is not a contest between political parties.
“It is a bigger fight, a fight that affects all of us, that requires all our effort to keep protecting Territorians through this crisis, the fight to keep our communities safe, to keep our small businesses open, to keep our people in work, the fight to save lives and save jobs. ”
On Saturday night, Labor secured 38.9 percent of the primary vote to the Country Liberal Party’s 31.8 percent.
Gunner’s team was on track to take at least 12 seats in the 25-seat assembly, despite a 3.3 percent swing against it.
But Labor scrutineers expected the 13th seat to be secured, delivering a majority. Labor had won 18 seats in the 2016 poll.
Despite strict rules on social distancing being the norm across the country, Gunner hugged and shook hands with supporters in Darwin.
Earlier, Country Liberal Party leader Lia Finocchiaro stepped up to the podium in a positive mood, having lifted her party’s stocks from the two seats it took into the election.
It could pick up as many as nine seats but currently appears on track to clinch seven.
The 35-year-old lawyer, who has not conceded defeat, said she had started a “new generation” for the CLP.
“There are still a lot of votes to count, but if there is one thing I know it is that the CLP is back.”
The Territory Alliance formed by former chief minister Terry Mills was struck a blow with the party leader on track to lose his seat of Blain ending two decades in politics.
However, Mills was not formally conceding on Saturday night and remained positive that the NT needed an alternative to the major parties.
Territory Alliance could win at least one seat.
Gunner has faced both criticism and praise for his tough stance on COVID-19 border closures.
He comfortably retained his inner-Darwin seat.
A formal declaration of the poll is not scheduled until Sept. 7, three days after postal votes close.
In a sign of the impact of COVID-19 fears, only about 20 percent of voters cast their ballots on election day itself.
By Paul Osborne