With a state election looming on the horizon, Seat of the Week turns its gaze to Tasmania.
Held since the 2010 election by independent Andrew Wilkie, Denison encompasses Hobart along the western shore of the Derwent River and the hinterland beyond, with the eastern shore Hobart suburbs and southern outskirts township of Kingston accommodated by Franklin. Like all of Tasmania’s electorates, Denison has been little changed since Tasmania was divided into single-member electorates in 1903, with the state’s representation consistently set at the constitutional minimum of five electorates per state.
|Grey and red numbers respectively indicate booths with two-party majorities for Andrew Wilkie and Labor. Click for larger image. Map boundaries courtesy of Ben Raue at The Tally Room.|
Prior to 2010 the seat was presumed to be safe for Labor, notwithstanding the local strength of the Greens. Labor’s first win in Denison came with their first parliamentary majority at the 1910 election, but the seat was lost to the 1917 split when incumbent William Laird Smith joined Billy Hughes in the Nationalist Party. Over subsequent decades it was fiercely contested, changing hands in 1922, 1925, 1928, 1931, 1934, 1940 and 1943. It thereafter went with the winning party until 1983, changing hands in 1949, 1972 and 1975.
Denison was held through the Fraser years by former state MP Michael Hodgman, who joined his four Tasmanian Liberal colleagues in picking up a swing against the trend of the 1983 election due to local anger over the Franklin dam issue. However, Hodgman’s margin wore away over the next two elections, and he was defeated in 1987 by Labor’s Duncan Kerr. Hodgman returned as a state member for Denison in 1992 before eventually bowing out due to poor health in 2010 (he died in June 2013). His son, Will Hodgman, is the state’s current Liberal Opposition Leader.
The drift to Labor evident in 1984 and 1987 was maintained during Kerr’s tenure, giving him consistent double-digit margins starting from 1993. In this he was substantially assisted by preferences from the emerging Greens. The preselection which followed Kerr’s retirement in 2010 kept the endorsement in the Left faction with the nomination of Jonathan Jackson, a chartered accountant and the son of former state Attorney-General Judy Jackson.
What was presumed to be a safe passage to parliament for Jackson was instead thwarted by Andrew Wilkie, who had come to national attention in 2003 when he resigned as an intelligence officer with the Office of National Assessments officer in protest over the Iraq war. Wilkie ran against John Howard as the Greens candidate for Bennelong in 2004, and as the second candidate on the Greens’ Tasmanian Senate ticket in 2007. He then broke ranks with the party to run as an independent candidate for Denison at the state election in 2010, falling narrowly short of winning one of the five seats with 9.0% of the vote.
Wilkie acheived his win in 2010 with just 21.2% of the primary vote, crucially giving him a lead over the Greens candidate who polled 19.0%. The distribution of Greens preferences put Wilkie well clear of the Liberal candidate, who polled 22.6% of the primary vote, and Liberal preferences in turn favoured Wilkie over Labor by a factor of nearly four to one. Wilkie emerged at the final count 1.2% ahead of Labor, which had lost the personal vote of its long-term sitting member Duncan Kerr. This left Wilkie among a cross bench of five members in the first hung parliament since World War II.
Wilkie declared himself open to negotiation with both parties as they sought to piece together a majority, which the Liberals took seriously enough to offer $1 billion for the rebuilding of Royal Hobart Hospital. In becoming the first of the independents to declare his hand for Labor, Wilkie criticised the promise as “almost reckless”, prompting suggestions from the Liberals that his approach was insincere.
The deal Wilkie reached with Labor included $340 million for the hospital and what proved to be a politically troublesome promise to legislate for mandatory pre-commitment for poker machines. When the government’s numbers improved slightly after Peter Slipper took the Speaker’s chair, the government retreated from the commitment. Wilkie responded by withdrawing his formal support for the government, although it never appeared likely that he would use his vote to bring it down.
Wilkie was comfortably re-elected at the 2013 election with 38.1% of the primary vote, despite an aggressive Labor campaign that included putting him behind the Liberals on how-to-vote cards. Both Labor (down from 35.8% to 24.8%) and the Greens (down from 19.0% to 7.9%) recorded double-digit drops, and most of the northern suburbs booths which had stayed with Labor in 2010 were won by Wilkie. His final margin over Labor after preferences was up from 1.2% to 15.5%, while the Labor-versus-Liberal two-party preferred count recorded a 6.9% swing to the Liberals and a Labor margin of 8.9%.