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Tasmanian upper house elections: Huon and Rosevears

Seven weeks after their landslide election win, Tasmania’s Liberals are hoping to remain on the front foot at tomorrow’s elections for two of the state’s 15 upper house seats.

Tomorrow being the first Saturday of May, it’s time for the annual periodical elections for Tasmania’s Legislative Council, in which either two or three of the fifteen electoral divisions go to the polls according to a staggered cycle that plays out over six years. These are very often somnolent affairs, the chamber being uniquely dominated by independents who mostly come to their roles via local government. Members once elected are hard to dislodge, and the contests are usually only competitive when one retires. However, things are rather a lot more interesting on this occasion, with the Liberals making an aggressive move on a chamber where they have traditionally had little or no formal representation. This comes seven weeks after a 16-year stretch in opposition ended with a landslide election victory, and parallels Labor’s efforts to make its presence felt in the chamber when the electoral wind was in its sails during the early years of Jim Bacon’s government. The high-water mark for Labor came when it made it to five seats in 2001, all located in and around Hobart, to which could be added the notionally independent Silvia Smith, who had been Labor’s federal member for Bass from 1993 to 1996. All that remains to Labor now is the northern Hobart outskirts seat of Derwent, where Craig Farrell succeeded former Treasurer Michael Aird upon his retirement in 2011.

The Liberals had long been unrepresented in the chamber until 2009 when Vanessa Goodwin won a by-election held after Labor’s Allison Ritchie resigned in the eastern Hobart seat of Pembroke, which Labor ignominiously declined to contest. Goodwin was joined last year by Leonie Hiscutt, who won the Burnie-based seat of Montgomery upon the retirement of independent Sue Smith. The chamber has traditionally included a number of members with links to the Liberal Party despite their notional independence, a conspicuous recent example being Paul Harriss, who vacated his seat of Huon to make a successful run as a Liberal candidate for Franklin in the lower house. The Liberals now hope to formally move the seat into the fold by running a high-profile candidate, and are also gunning hard for independent incumbent Kerry Finch in the other seat up for election tomorrow, Rosevears. Reviewing the two electorates in turn:

Huon

Candidates in ballot paper order: Robert Armstrong; Jimmy Bell; Rodney Dillon; Peter Hodgman (Liberal); Helen Lane; Pavel Ruzicka; Liz Smith.

Huon covers the southernmost parts of Tasmania including Blackmans Bay and Margate on Hobart’s southern outskirts, small towns to the south including Huonville and Cygnet, and the unpopulated southern part of the World Heritage area in the state’s south-west. Recently elected as a Liberal member for Franklin in the lower house, Paul Harriss came to the seat in 1996 having run unsuccessfully in Franklin at the state election three months previously and, as Antony Green puts it, “retained enough name recognition to win Huon as an independent”.

The big news in Huon is that the Liberals now hope to secure the seat on the strength of the biggest brand name in Tasmanian politics. Peter Hodgman is the 67-year-old uncle of the current Premier and the younger brother of his father, the late Michael Hodgman. While his other relations are somewhat better known, Peter Hodgman boasts a considerable CV in politics in his own right, including a previous stint as the notionally independent member for Huon from 1974 to 1986, which began when he succeeded brother Michael after he quit to run for the federal seat of Denison (unsuccessfully at first, but he prevailed on the second attempt in 1975). This was followed by 15 years as a state member for Franklin in the lower house, during which time he served as a minister in the Groom-Rundle government of 1992 to 1998. In 2001 he quit to run against Labor’s Harry Quick in the federal seat of Franklin, a long shot that failed to come off.

Joining Hodgman on the ballot paper are six other candidates, all independents. The most obvious competitor to Hodgman would look to be Robert Armstrong, who has been the mayor of Huon Valley since 2001, winning election on five successive occasions. Also in the field is Liz Smith, who has been on the Huon Valley council since 2002 and was until recently aligned with the Greens. Other candidates are Jimmy Bell, the manager of Huon Valley PCYC; Rodney Dillon, who works for Amnesty International; Pavel Ruzicka, a “sawmiller and specialist timber provider”, and Helen Lane, who runs a computer consultancy business.

Rosevears

Candidates in ballot paper order: Kerry Finch; Don Morris (Liberal).

Rosevears includes the western suburbs of Launceston, which provide about 60% of its voters, extending north-westwards to the coast through rural territory on the western bank of the Tamar River, encompassing the mining town of Beaconsfield and nearby Beauty Point. It has been held since 2002 by Kerry Finch, who was well-known locally after 24 years as a presenter for ABC Radio in northern Tasmania. Finch’s only competition when he faced re-election in 2008 was a low-profile independent, but this time he has a Liberal opponent in Don Morris, a former chief-of-staff to Will Hodgman who has more recently worked as an adviser to Ted Baillieu and Denis Napthine. The strategy of the Liberal campaign has been to portray Finch as “just like the Greens”, citing his support for same-sex marriage and “the job-destroying forest deal”, and opposition to the contentious Tamar Valley pulp mill proposal – a message it has promoted through television advertising and automated phone calls.

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  • 1
    Arrnea Stormbringer
    Posted Friday, May 2, 2014 at 5:32 am | Permalink

    Okay, so I know basically nothing about how the Tasmanian upper house works. Can someone give me a rundown of why the parties seem to be making so little effort to win seats there when one imagines they’d need a working majority there to pass legislation?

  • 2
    Sir sustainable future
    Posted Friday, May 2, 2014 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    This election should provide some useful psephologic data about the ability of voters (well, tasmanian voters anyway) to make the distinction between state and federal politics. You’d expect a swing against the libs if federal factors play a part.

    In tassie I wonder if there is more of a ‘local’ factor – many people would know candidates – I know from living in a smaller community how the degrees of separation are very small indeed outside of the metropolis – since moving here, for the first time in my life I regularly bump into my local and federal elected representatives and they know my name. The again, in melbourne I used to see Jeff Kennett in my then neighbourhood shops; and after I moved ‘hoods would see Bracks and Naphthine (who actually lives in inner city melbourne and not in his SW Vic electorate) on a semi-regular basis. But I didn’t know them to talk to.

  • 3
    Kevin Bonham
    Posted Friday, May 2, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    My candidate guide and preview:

    http://kevinbonham.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/legislative-council-2014-huon-and.html

    I think it extremely likely Hodgman will win Huon. Armstrong doesn’t even have a website and the rest are a rabble.

    Rosevears: Don’t know and not afraid to say it. Fascinating contest.

    Live analysis on my site from 6 pm tomorrow. I’ll have the live analysis post up sometime late afternoon with preliminary comments once I’ve got my booth-matching models sorted.

  • 4
    Kevin Bonham
    Posted Friday, May 2, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Arrnea Stormbringer@1

    Okay, so I know basically nothing about how the Tasmanian upper house works. Can someone give me a rundown of why the parties seem to be making so little effort to win seats there when one imagines they’d need a working majority there to pass legislation?

    The Upper House tends not to risk outright obstructing too much stuff because it’s well aware that its powers and lack of mandate are contentious and so the independents don’t want to risk having parties run against them all the time. This is especially so when the Libs are in power since a lot of the indies tend to be Lib-leaning anyway, but even the previous Labor-Green government got most of its stuff through albeit sometimes heavily amended. State-based same-sex marriage was one of the few absolute knockbacks on a high profile issue. Abortion reform was passed with relatively minor amendments, the forest peace deal was passed and now its supporters praise the final outcome and defend it (though at the time they whinged that the LegCo was gutting it.)

    The other thing is that the general preference for independents and the slow electoral cycle makes it hard for the parties to take control. Because each election is like a by-election for the government of the day, a government only tends to pick up seats when it is relatively new to power, but it doesn’t stay in honeymoon mode long enough to win the lot. Labor tried this from 1998 onwards but only managed to build up to five seats plus one “Independent Labor” out of sixteen, and then started failing to win seats it ran for, then started to lose the seats it held – a long way down to the present state of only holding one. Likewise even if the Libs win both seats this year they will not find it easy to make further headway from here.

    Re #2 federal issues will play no role. Huon will be more like a local council election – profile, profile, profile. Rosevears will be more like a state election.

    By the way (re main article) there is not a single ballot order for these elections. The ballots are rotated. The ballot paper order is the order of the first rotation.

  • 5
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Friday, May 2, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Another factor tending to keep the major parties out is quite a low mandated cap on campaign spending (less than $15,000 by each candidate), and political parties per se aren’t allowed to provide any of it.

  • 6
    Oakeshott Country
    Posted Friday, May 2, 2014 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

    Hi Kevin
    3 questions.
    In previous Liberal governments e.g. Bethune who piloted legislation through the council? Presumably someone of similar political ilk must have been appointed to cabinet as Leader of the Government in the Council

    There is Labor folklore that the Council was the only reason, and then by only 2 votes, for Evatt’s attempt to have a significanr referral of powers to the Commonwealth in 1943. I think it was much more complex with other parliament’s also rejecting the legislation. Any comments on this?

    Has the Council ever rejected supply in the last 120 years?

  • 7
    Oakeshott Country
    Posted Friday, May 2, 2014 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    The second question is of course that the council blocked Evatt’s power grab

  • 8
    Kevin Bonham
    Posted Friday, May 2, 2014 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Oakeshott Country@6

    Hi Kevin
    3 questions.
    In previous Liberal governments e.g. Bethune who piloted legislation through the council? Presumably someone of similar political ilk must have been appointed to cabinet as Leader of the Government in the Council

    There is Labor folklore that the Council was the only reason, and then by only 2 votes, for Evatt’s attempt to have a significanr referral of powers to the Commonwealth in 1943. I think it was much more complex with other parliament’s also rejecting the legislation. Any comments on this?

    Has the Council ever rejected supply in the last 120 years?

    The LegCo forced the Cosgrove government to an election in 1948 by effectively rejecting supply (granting it for two months provided an election was held). Cosgrove – who had been accused of corruption but cleared – lost his majority but retained office. That was the only time.

    I don’t know anything at all about the Evatt thing.

    There has to be a Leader for the Government in the LegCo. Since 1940 the LoG with Labor in office has always been an ALP MLC but the LoG for the Liberals has often been an “independent”, including as recently as Tony Fletcher in the 96-98 parliament (I’m unsure why it was Fletcher and not Liberal Peter McKay). Bethune’s Leader of the Government was Geoffrey Foot, an independent, who lost his seat just after the government was defeated.

  • 9
    Kevin Bonham
    Posted Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    My live page is up:

    http://kevinbonham.blogspot.com.au/2014/05/legco-rosevears-and-huon-live-and-post.html

    I weakly lean towards Finch holding Rosevears. I could be way wrong. We will see.

  • 10
    Tom the first and best
    Posted Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    6

    It would not have been the only Legislative Council to frustrate such a plan because all Legislative Councils in Australia at the time had conservative majorities (I believe) and the Legislative Assembly of Victoria and House of Assembly of South Australia also had conservative majorities. Only in Queensland would there have been no conservative ability to block such a move.

  • 11
    Kevin Bonham
    Posted Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    I did some stats on historical retention rates in the LegCo last night. Since 1960, 86% of recontesting incumbents, including 82% of incumbents with at least one opponent, have been returned. The rate has not varied significantly over this time. From 1909-1959 the retention rate was lower: 78% of incumbents including 70% of opposed incumbents were returned during that time.

  • 12
    Tom the first and best
    Posted Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    11

    That is when the property qualifications were abolished isn`t it?

    This would seem to show that poorer Tasmanians are less fussy about/more loyal to their MLCs than their wealthier co-islanders.

  • 13
    Kevin Bonham
    Posted Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Tom the first and best@12

    11

    That is when the property qualifications were abolished isn`t it?

    Yes I think the last property requirements were removed in 1968. Compulsory voting started from the late 1920s. The 20s was the decade in which most incumbents were booted, especially early in the decade. Also quite a high turnover in the 1940s. From the 1960s on no decade has seen more than four recontesting incumbents defeated.

  • 14
    Kevin Bonham
    Posted Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    “By the way (re main article) there is not a single ballot order for these elections. The ballots are rotated. The ballot paper order is the order of the first rotation.”

    Correction: that order is simply alphabetical.

  • 15
    Oakeshott Country
    Posted Saturday, May 3, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    # 6
    It apparently passed NSW and Qld easily. No legco in Q and indirectly elected in NSW. As McKell had only one 1 election at that stage and it usually took 2-3 to get a majority the result is a little surprising.

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