Voters in two of Tasmania’s 15 Legislative Council divisions (or at least, those of them who can be bothered) will go to the polls on Saturday, a result of the quaint arrangement for that chamber in which elections are held annually for members who serve terms staggered over a six-year cycle. These elections have more of the feel of local government than state parliamentary elections, and outside Hobart (and to a considerable extent inside Hobart as well) are dominated by independents to the extent that the major parties rarely bother to field candidates.
Labor managed to secure five of the chamber’s 15 seats at the peak of its electoral cycle from 2001 to 2007, but it has been shedding them steadily ever since and is at risk of being reduced to one if things do not go their way in the division of Hobart – and the consensus view is that they won’t, given the retirement after 18 years of Doug Parkinson and the entry into the race of Rob Valentine, the long-serving former lord mayor. The other contest is in the northern and central Tasmania seat of Western Plains, where independent incumbent Greg Hall faces another independent challenger in John Hawkins.
The division of Hobart was known prior to the 2008 redistribution as Wellington, and is bounded to the south by the Sandy Bay Rivulet, a small waterway running south of the city centre. From there it extends north through South Hobart, West Hobart, North Hobart and Hobart proper, and on to New Town and Lenah Valley. This is ground zero for the Greens in Tasmania: their Senate vote in this area’s polling booths was 39.3% at the 2010 federal election, compared with 31.6% for Labor and 24.8% for the Liberals. At the last election for Wellington in 2006, Doug Parkinson received 43.1% against 26.3% for the Greens (then as now, the Liberals did not field a candidate).
The Greens’ position has evidently strengthened since then, and they have further benefited from a redistribution which exchanged the Labor-voting northern end of the electorate at Moonah and Lutana for Greens heartland in South Hobart. It would thus appear to offer the Greens an excellent chance of winning their first ever seat in the chamber, to supplement the five they hold in the 25-member lower house. However, the consensus is that the entry of Valentine will thwart them.
The candidates in ballot paper order:
Penelope Ann (Greens). A teacher and Eastern Shore bed and breakfast operator.
John Michael Forster (Independent). A “business analyst” who polled weakly in earlier runs for Rumney in last year’s Legislative Council election and for Franklin at the 2010 federal election. He tells the Mercury he has “spent the past 20 years working in accounting and IT for businesses small and large, Australian and multinational”, and is concerned with fiscal responsibility.
Paul Hiscutt (Independent). A Hobart nurse and former death penalty advocate who polled 8.2% when he ran in 2006. He is also described by the Mercury as a “former pop star”, though I suspect this may be laying it on a bit thick.
James Sugden (Independent). An industrial engineering consultant, who if nothing else has won the favour of Greg Barns.
Rob Valentine (Independent). Valentine first became an alderman in 1992 and began his epic stint as lord mayor in 1999, which continued until he declined to seek a fourth term at the elections held last year. Tasmanian gentleman psephologist Kevin Bonham relates at the Tasmanian Times that Valentine has “occupied a moderate position on the Council, more or less in between the endorsed Greens and the informal ‘blues’ cluster of pro-development/business lobby aldermen who sometimes have links to the Liberal Party”.
Dean Winter (Labor). A media adviser to the federal member for Franklin, Julie Collins. No doubt with the 61-year-old Valentine in mind, 26-year-old Winter has criticised the Legislative Council as a “retirement village for former town mayors or conservatives”, and received support from Bill Shorten, who went to so far as to describe the chamber as “nothing but a nursing home”. Winter’s entry into the “wildcard division” of Cleo’s Bachelor of the Award informs us that he looks for a woman with “intelligence, passion and nice eyes” (Kristina Keneally reportedly fits the bill), and that his best body part as his chest. Labor had originally planned to use the election to trial a preselection primary, but this fell through due to lack of interest at both ends: few locals registered interest in participating, and Winter was the only eligible candidate to nominate. Another hopeful, Denison state election candidate Madeleine Ogilvie, was ruled out on the grounds she was a non-financial member of the party.
A quieter contest is unfolding in Western Tiers, known before the redistribution as Rowallan, which mostly consists of territory inland of the northern population centres of Launceston and Devonport (plus a small stretch of coast east of Devonport), from where it extends deep into central Tasmania. Greg Hall is seeking a third term, having won 31.9% in a six-way contest in 2001 and 82.0% in 2006 when he was opposed only by the Greens. Kevin Bonham relates that Hall is “strongly supportive of the Tasmanian forest industry, so it’s no surprise that his opponent is a critic on forestry issues”. That opponent is John Hawkins, a Chudleigh businessman and farmer of apparently considerable means. Hawkins’ chief claim to fame to election watchers at large is that he launched but shortly withdrew a legal action against Eric Abetz’s Senate election in 2010, claiming that he was ineligible by virtue of having failed to renounce his German citizenship. He has resolved if elected to serve only one term.