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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