Labor handed Adam Giles’ scandal-plagued Country Liberals one of the worst defeats of a sitting government in Australian history in 2016, but the Northern Territory election is expected to be much closer this time.
Campaigning for the NT election will ramp up on Thursday when the writs are issued and the Gunner Labor government goes into caretaker mode.
A uniform swing against Labor of just over three per cent at the August 22 election could deliver a hung parliament.
The Gunner government has been dogged by its handling of the Territory economy – rated this week as the nation’s worst performer by CommSec for the June quarter – and Treasury coffers as budget debt and deficit soared to record levels.
That came into focus on Wednesday when it released an update on the finances, showing the impact of the coronavirus crisis will result in a $1.28 billion jump in the deficit from the previous forecast for this year to more than $2.28 billion.
Net debt will also hit a predicted $8.25 billion, about $1.35 billion more.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner has been lauded for his efforts to stem the spread of coronavirus, bolstering his hopes of Labor retaining office.
The election is set to be a three-horse race with the new Territory Alliance party led by former Country Liberal chief minister Terry Mills regarded as legitimate contenders.
It finished second and received more votes than the CLP at the Johnston by-election in Darwin in February, which Labor’s AFL star candidate Joel Bowden arguably only won because the conservative vote was split.
In 2016, Labor won 18 out of 25 seats in the unicameral NT assembly.
The Country Liberal opposition was left with only two seats, with five members sitting on the crossbench.
Three MLAs including Mr Mills are now Territory Alliance MLAs which arguably entitles them to opposition status and extra funding, but that was blocked in a vote in parliament in March.
CLP Opposition leader Lia Finocchiaro, a 35-year-old lawyer and mother of two who took over in February, has a huge task to take her party to victory.
However, Mr Mills indicated on Mix radio in Darwin on Wednesday that he would consider forming government with them.
Labor’s 2016 majority has reduced to 16 after sacking three Labor caucus members after a public and bitter row.