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Seat of the day: Lyons

With most assessments rating Bass and Braddon as likely Labor losses, the central Tasmanian seat of Lyons is thought to the state’s next most likely Liberal gain.

As part of my ongoing endeavour to bring the seat-by-seat election guide up to speed on potentially interesting seats that had previously fallen through the net, today I review the last seat which had remained unattended to in the potential Labor disaster zone of Tasmania.

Known until 1982 as Wilmot, Lyons covers what remains of Tasmania after the north-west coast (Braddon), north-east coast (Bass), central Hobart (Denison) and Hobart’s outskirts (Franklin) are naturally ordered along community of interest lines. It thus includes small towns on either side of Tasmania’s pronounced north-south divide, including New Norfolk outside Hobart and the southern outskirts of Launceston, along with fishing towns and tourist centres on the east coast and rural territory in between. The seat has moved with the state’s distinct electoral rhythms over the decades, being held by the Liberals from 1975 to 1993 and Labor ever since.

As Wilmot the seat was won for Labor in 1929 by the man whose name it now bears, Joseph Lyons, who had been Tasmanian Premier up until his minority government’s defeated in 1928. After assuming the position of Postmaster-General in Jim Scullin’s newly elected Labor government, Lyons and his followers split from the party in a dispute over economic policy in response to the Depression. Joining with the opposition to become the leader of the new conservative United Australia Party, Lyons emerged Prime Minister after a landslide win at the December 1931, and remained so until his death in 1939.

Labor briefly resumed its hold on the seat by winning the by-election held after Lyons’s death, but it was for the United Australian Party by Allan Guy at the next general election the following year. It next changed hands against the trend of a swing away from Labor at the 1946 election, when Guy was unseated by Labor’s Gil Duthie, who would hold the seat for nearly three decades until all five Tasmanian seats went from Labor to Liberal in 1975. The 9.9% swing that delivered the seat to Liberal candidate Max Burr the seat in 1975 was cemented by an 8.0% swing at the next election in 1977, and the Franklin dam issue ensured the entire state remained on side with the Liberals in 1983 and 1984. The realignment came when Burr retired at the 1993 election, when the loss of his personal vote combined with a sharp statewide backlash against John Hewson’s proposed goods and services tax to deliver a decisive 5.6% swing to Labor.

The member since has been Dick Adams, a former state government minister who had lost his seat in 1982 whose background is with the Left faction Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union, for which he once worked as an organiser. Adams survived a swing in 1996 before piling 9.3% on to his margin in 1998, enough of a buffer to survive a small swing in 2001 and a large one in 2004 when northern Tasmania reacted against Mark Latham’s forest policies, which had been bitterly opposed by Adams. The reaction against Labor in 2004 was reversed in 2007, when Adams picked up a 5.1% swing, and another strong performance by Labor in Tasmania at the 2010 election boosted his margin a further 4.0%. The Liberals’ candidate for the second election running is Eric Hutchison, a wool marketer with Tasmanian agribusiness company Roberts Limited.

A ReachTEL automated phone poll of 549 respondents conducted two-and-a-half weeks out from the election had Eric Hutchison with a commanding lead: 54% to 34% on the primary vote after exclusion of the undecided, and 55.8-44.2 on two-party preferred.

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