Launceston-based Bass kicks off a five-part review of Tasmania’s electorates ahead of the March 15 state election.
Welcome to part one of a five-part B-to-L guide to the Tasmanian election, which I’ll eventually get around to gussying up with charts and photos and publishing as a Poll Bludger election guide in the usual fashion. We shall proceed alphabetically, so first up …
Bass covers the eastern part of Tasmania’s northern coast along with Flinders Island, and derives 70% of its voters from Launceston. Other centres include George Town, a Labor-voting coastal town at the mouth of the Tamar River, and the more conservative Scottsdale, a hub of surrounding timber and farming communities. Bass has long been an arm wrestle between the major parties at federal level, changing hands in 1975, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2007 and 2013. This has been reflected at state level both in terms of vote share and seat totals. Relatively mild shifts were recorded amid the statewide realignments to Liberal in the early 1980s and Labor in the early 2000s, and the division was the only one in the state which delivered equal numbers of seats to Labor and Liberal in 2002 and 2006.
This trend was disturbed by the 2010 election result, at which Bass joined Franklin as one of two electorates to record well above-par swings against Labor, in this case a 15.1% drop to 34.5%. The yield was divided roughly evenly between the Liberals, who were up 8.8% to 42.6%, and the Greens, who were up 7.4% to 21.0%. However, the seat result was again unchanged, with Labor and Liberal winning two seats each and the Greens winning one, as had been the case in 2002 and 2006. This reflected the extreme narrowness with which Labor failed to win third seats on the two previous occasions, and in particular the 138-vote margin of Greens member Kim Booth’s win over a third Labor candidate in 2006.
Labor’s aggregated vote share of 2.07 quotas in 2010 illustrates the difficulty they will have in sustaining the status quo in the face of a further swing. With both opinion polling and the 2013 federal election result pointing to a surge for the Liberals in northern Tasmania, a Liberal gain here looms as an indispensable element of any scenario in which they achieve a parliamentary majority. The Greens also cannot take a seat in Bass for granted, as illustrated by their failure to win a seat at the last election under the seven-member regime in 1998.
The senior of Labor’s two incumbents in Bass is Health Minister Michelle O’Byrne, who entered politics as the federal member for Bass from 1998 until her defeat in 2004. On contesting the state election in 2006, O’Byrne emerged as Labor’s strongest performing candidate in Bass, outpolling 17-year Labor veteran Jim Cox. She was promoted to Community Development Minister seven months after her election, and then to Environment Minister in February 2008 and Health Minister after the 2010 election. Reflecting the decline in support for Labor, O’Byrne’s share of the vote fell from 23.3% in 2006 to 17.8% in 2010. Her brother, David O’Byrne, was elected in the division of Denison at the 2010 election, and immediately elevated to cabinet. Both have backgrounds in the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union, and are accordingly aligned with the Left.
The second Labor candidate elected in 2010 was Brian Wightman, a former principal of Winnaleah District High School. Wightman won promotion to cabinet in the reshuffle caused by Treasurer Michael Aird’s retirement in November 2010, taking on the Attorney-General and environment portfolios. Wightman’s 5.9% share of the vote in 2010 placed him ahead of seemingly higher-profile candidates in Scott McLean, the forests division secretary of the CFMEU (4.8%), and Brant Webb, who won brief national fame as one of the two survivors of the Beaconsfield mine disaster in 2006 (4.2%)
Rounding out the Labor ticket are Andrew Connor, a Meander Valley councillor who works in information technology; Adam Gore, who has worked as a musician in the army and as a teacher; and Senka Mujkic, who works at the Migrant Resource Centre in Launceston and was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The highest-polling Liberal candidate in 2010 was Michael Ferguson, making his state electoral debut after serving as federal member for Bass from 2004, when he unseated Michelle O’Byrne, until 2007, when he was defeated by Labor’s Jodie Campbell. Ferguson polled an exceptionaly strong 25.0% to take a second Liberal seat vacated by former party leader Sue Napier, who bowed out a month before the 2010 election owing to a recurrence of the breast cancer to which she succumbed the following August. Ferguson was noted as a social conservative and a member of the state party’s ascendant Right, having been director of the Tasmanian Family Institute. He has accordingly been identified with causes including opposition to gay adoption laws, abortion and stem cell research.
In the wake of Napier’s departure, the only Liberal incumbent at the election was Peter Gutwein, who first won election in 2002 with 9.1% of the vote. His win came at the expense of fellow Liberal David Fry, who had filled a vacancy mid-term. Gutwein went against party policy in his debut term by calling for an end to old-growth logging, and was briefly dumped from the front bench after voting in favour of a Greens motion calling for a commission of inquiry into child sex abuse. He was restored after the 2006 election in education and further gained police later in the year, before recovering Treasury when Will Hodgman relinquished it in August 2008. Currently he holds Treasury together with forestry and industry.
The Liberals have a further three candidates vying for a hoped-for third seat for the party: Sarah Courtney, owner of a Tamar Valley vineyard; Barry Jarvis, the mayor of Dorset; and Leonie McNair, co-principal of the Launceston Preparatory School.
Kim Booth returned the Greens to Bass at the 2002 election after they emerged empty-handed at the last election held under the seven-member regime in 1996, and the first one for five members in 1998. Curiously, Booth’s background was as the owner and operator of a building and saw-milling company, and also as deputy mayor of Meander Valley. After running unsuccessfully in 1998, Booth was comfortably elected in 2002 as the party scored fractionally short of a full quota in their own right, easily making up the rest on Labor preferences. He had a much tougher time in 2006, when the Greens vote fell from 16.5% to 13.6%, and was initially thought by most observers to be headed for defeat. However, he eventually prevailed by 138 votes after benefiting from a high rate of exhausted Labor votes, and from Labor voters who crossed to the Greens after casting a personal vote for Michelle O’Byrne. There were no such problems in 2010, when the Greens vote rose to a new high of 21.0%. After the election, Booth revealed he had been the only dissenter in the five-person Greens party room against the Labor-Greens alliance which saw his collegues Nick McKim and Cassy O’Connor assume positions in cabinet. His running mate on the Greens ticket is Amy Tyler.
Others: The lead candidate of the Palmer United Party would appear to be Chris Dobson, a bus operator and former RAAF airframe fitter. Also on the ticket are Mark Hines, a former electrical engineer with the army; Tim Parish, a George Town councillor; and Brian Gunst, a teacher. There are two further candidates: Ray Kroeze of the Australian Christians, and independent Brett Lucas.