Lingiari has the largest proportion of Indigenous Australians in any electorate, at about 42%. It is also the second largest electorate by land mass, with the largest being Durack in WA. There are only 66,000 people in this electorate, with what is called a high "churn" rate, or turnover of voters, meaning it's difficult to predict voting patterns. However, the CLP is a serious challenger this election due to the close result in 2013.
The seat is named after Vincent Lingiari, a Gurindji man who lived from 1908 to 1988 and worked on land rights for the indigenous community. Lingiari is one of only four electorates to be named after Aboriginal Australians, the other three are Bennelong in New South Wales, and Blair and Bonner in Queensland.
Lingiari is marginal in Labor’s favour. It had 65,916 people enrolled to vote at the 2013 election, and 42.7 percent of these voters were indigenous, giving it the highest proportion of First Australian voters in a single-member electorate.
Warren Snowden, the current ALP MP for Lingiari, has held the seat since its inception in 2001. The former teacher held portfolios for both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard when the Labor Party was in power, and will re-contest the seat again. He is currently the shadow parliamentary secretary for external affairs, indigenous affairs and the Northern Territory.
Snowden, now 65, will be up against Tina MacFarlane, who has been confirmed as the Country Liberal Party’s candidate again this year after falling short in 2013.
Snowden claimed 55.3% of the vote on a two-party preferred basis back in 2001. The margin increased in the 2004 election, and peaked at 61.2% in the 2007 election when Labor was elected back into power.
However, the margin fell by 7.46% of the two-party preferred vote in 2010 and declined even further at the 2013 election when Liberal claimed office back. On the two-party preferred basis, the margin between CLP and Labor is now just 1.76%, meaning it will be hotly contested this year.
Lingiari is the second largest electorate in Australia in terms of area, with Durack being the biggest. It is also the third largest single-member electorate in the world, covering approximately 1,347,849 sq kms. It also holds the record for having the lowest population density of any Australian electorate with, on average, only one person per 22 sq kms.
It stretches through the Barkly Tablelands and into the tropics of remote Arnhem Land; from the north coast to Alice Springs and to Christmas Island, the Cocos and Keeling Islands and all boundaries of the Northern Territory.
It encompasses a unique set of challenges, a far cry from those experienced on the eastern seaboard. The harsh extremes of its tropical climate and the challenges of social cohesion in such wide open spaces brings a big reliance on government funding for the provision of proper housing, employment, education and healthcare.
harsh extremes of its tropical climate and the challenges of social cohesion in such wide open spaces brings a big reliance on government funding for the provision of proper housing, employment, education and healthcare.
The main economic drivers in Lingiari are cattle, fishing, and the mining of bauxite, copper, gold and uranium, light industry in Alice Springs, horticulture and tourism, and all will be looking for support from the federal government.
Parties and candidates will most likely also be reaching out to the indigenous population and trying to convince them of the benefits of any resolutions to aboriginal affairs and issues. The provision of affordable remote housing is one such issue that may win voter attention.
Another especially challenging factor is the rate of kidney failure, which is a major concern among indigenous Australians. Dialysis treatment is much needed, as are social services to help address other aspects and causes of type 2 diabetes.
The Country Liberal government in the Northern Territory has made cuts to health services in recent years, so rural health funding may get a stronger push from either party.
Tina MacFarlane was in the media in 2015 defending the sale of her family’s Stylo Station, saying her family didn’t have the funds to develop it. The station was sold to a forestry company that grows sandalwood.
While she has been on the record saying she wasn’t intending to sell the entire property, there were rumours that the property was sold because the water license granted to it had increased its value.
Water access has been a contentious issue in the NT for a long time. Many different groups are lobbying for rights to water, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, pastoralists, irrigators, fisheries, National Parks and wildlife services and industry groups all claim to need it.
There has been very little advocacy support provided for Indigenous people, to support their interests in water and this has been seen as an important equity issue because the granting of rights can dramatically change land values.
Whether the voters will be across this story and put their trust into MacFarlane and her stance on water and Stylo Station remains to be seen.
Voters should expect MacFarlane to push for support of the Northern Territory live cattle industry, because of her history as a station owner. This has federal impact, given the free trade agreements the Liberal government has negotiated with China.
This election promises to be one of the most important battles in the electorate’s short history, given the marginal status of the seat.
A slight swing towards the CLP may be enough for them to take control of the seat for the first time. Despite this, a swing back in the favour of Labor could create a domino effect for renewed confidence in the ALP.
There will be no changes to Lingiari’s boundaries for this election, as they are not due for revision until 2017.