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UPDATE: Essential Research has the Coalition two-party lead up from 55-45 to 56-44, although nothing has changed on the primary vote: 33% for Labor, 49% for the Coalition and 10% for the Greens. Further questions relate to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which party has the better policies for various groups of disadvantaged people (Labor comfortably ahead in each case), and the Olympic Games (among other things, 58% think $39 million of government spending per gold medal too much).

To commemorate the occasion of Mark Riley’s report on alleged Labor internal polling, we visit the scene of what would, assuming the poll to be authentic, be its biggest surprise: Tasmania, where Labor is said to be looking at a devastating swing and the loss of all four of its seats.

The hook for Riley’s report on Channel Seven was that Tasmania was among four states and territories where Labor was set to be wiped out, the others being Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The first did not come as a surprise, as the picture of a 9% swing taking all in its path is entirely familiar from state-level breakdowns from Newspoll and Nielsen and Queensland-specific polling from Galaxy. However, the implied swing in Western Australia of 6%, as would be required to knock over Stephen Smith in Perth and Melissa Parke in Fremantle, is at odds with Newspoll, which has showed Labor holding its ground: 57-43 in October-December, 54-46 in January-March and 55-45 in April-June, compared with 56.4-43.6 at the election. Riley’s numbers do accord with Nielsen, whose last three monthly results for WA average to 62-38. However, even after combining three polls their sample is a very modest 390 (with a margin of error of about 5%), compared with about 900 (margin of error about 3.4%) for Newspoll.

In the case of Tasmania, together with the Northern Territory (where Labor is in danger of losing Warren Snowdon’s seat of Lingiari), no such basis for comparison is available. The state is excluded from Newspoll and Nielsen’s breakdowns for inadequate sample sizes, and the state’s one public pollster, EMRS, usually contents itself with state politics. In relating that Labor faced a two-party deficit of 56-44, the Riley report thus presumed to tell us something we didn’t already know – and quite a remarkable thing at that, given that the last election gave the Liberals their worst result in Tasmania since the modern party was founded in 1944 (33.6% on the primary vote and 39.4% on two-party preferred).

It hadn’t always been thus. At the consecutive elections of 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983 and 1984, it was not Labor but the Liberals who enjoyed clean sweeps of the state’s five seats. Certainly the state has form in turning on Labor over environmental controversies, the Franklin Dam issue of the early 1980s and Mark Latham’s forestry policy at the 2004 election being the cases in point. It could be that the another environmental issue, the carbon tax, has alienated Labor from the blue-collar base that sustains it outside of Hobart. While it seems hard to believe that this alienation could be so fierce as to power a swing of 17%, it should be remembered that the 2010 result forms an artificially high base, owing to a half-hearted campaign waged by a Liberal Party that had its strategic eye elsewhere.

The most marginal of the five seats, Bass, was dealt with in an earlier post, so today naturally enough we move on to the second, its western neighbour Braddon. Confusingly known before 1955 as Darwin, Braddon covers the north-western coastal areas of Tasmania, plus King Island in the Bass Strait. The redistribution before the 2010 election extended the electorate along the full length of the thinly populated west coast, which benefited Labor by adding the mining towns around Queenstown. The dominant population centres are Devonport and Burnie, which respectively supply about 25% and 18% of the voters.

Demographically, Braddon is distinguished by the lowest proportion of residents who completed high school of any electorate in Australia (and, relatedly, the eleventh lowest median family income), and it ranks second only to neighbouring Lyons as the electorate with the smallest proportion of non-English speakers. The timber and mining industries that have traditionally provided a solid base for Labor are balanced by beef and dairy farming, which contribute to a more conservative lean in the western parts around Smithton. Labor’s strongest area is Burnie, although Devonport also traditionally leans its way.

Braddon/Darwin was held by Labor legend King O’Malley from its creation in 1903 until 1917, and then by conservatives of various stripes until Ron Davies gained it for Labor in 1958. Davies held the seat until 1975, when future Premier Ray Groom’s victory contributed to the first of the Liberals’ clean sweeps. Groom was in turn succeeded upon his move to state politics in 1984 by Chris Miles. The Liberals’ electoral position meanwhile continued to strengthen due to the decline of the area’s key industries and the political upheaval caused by the Franklin Dam controversy.

Braddon’s fortunes changed very suddenly in 1998, when a 10.0% swing made Peter “Sid” Sidebottom the seat’s first Labor member in 23 years. Labor has since been defeated only in 2004, when John Howard’s late-campaign trumping of Mark Latham over forestry jobs fuelled a 7.0% swing that delivered the seat to Liberal candidate Mark Baker. Sidebottom had declined to distance himself from Latham’s policy, unlike Dick Adams in neighbouring Lyons. Endorsed again in 2007, Sidebottom was able to recover the seat with a modest 2.6% swing, before adding a further 5.1% to his margin in 2010. On the former occasion the swing was most strongly concentrated around Smithton, reversing a heavy swing to the Liberals from 2004, while the swing in 2010 was greatest in Devonport and Latrobe.

Sid Sidebottom had been a Central Coast councillor and electorate officer to Senator Nick Sherry before entering parliament, and he returned to the employ of Sherry during the interruption of his parliamentary career from 2004 to 2007. Sidebottom is presently factionally unaligned, but like Sherry was formerly a member of the Centre/Independents faction, known in its Hawke government heyday as the Centre Left. He was promoted to parliamentary secretary after the 2001 election, serving in various permutations of agriculture, resources and fisheries over the ensuing term. It took until November 2011 for him to recover his old status, that month’s reshuffle slotting him into the familiar agriculture, fisheries and forestry portfolio.

The Liberal candidate at the next election will be Michael Burr, described by the Burnie Advocate as a “high-profile Devonport real estate business owner”. Burr won preselection from a field that also included Glynn Williams, a North Motton farmer and lawyer described in the local press as an “ultra conservative”, and lower-profile local Jacqui Lambie. Burr’s backers reportedly included Senators Richard Colbeck and Stephen Parry, and local state MP Adam Brooks. It was thought that another contender might be Brett Whiteley, who lost his state seat in Braddon at the 2010 election, but he announced in the week before the preselection that he would instead focus on returning to state politics.

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