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Federal Election 2016

Jul 12, 2014

Seat of the week: Lyons

The central Tasmanian electorate of Lyons covers some of the poorest and least ethnically diverse territory in the country, and it recorded the nation's biggest anti-Labor swing at the 2013 election.

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Known prior to 1983 as Wilmot, Lyons covers what’s left over of Tasmania after the north-west coast (Braddon), north-east coast (Bass), central Hobart (Denison) and Hobart’s outskirts (Franklin) are ordered into natural communities of interest. It thus includes small towns on either side of Tasmania’s pronounced north-south divide, including New Norfolk outside Hobart and the southern outskirts of Launceston, along with fishing towns and tourist centres on the east coast and rural territory in between, together with a short stretch of the northern coast between Braddon and Bass at Port Sorell. According to the 2011 census, Lyons has the lowest proportion of non-English speakers of any electorate in the country, along with the second lowest proportion of people who finished high school and the sixth lowest median family income. The Liberals gained the seat in 2013 on the back of the election’s biggest swing, which converted an existing Labor margin of 11.9% into a Liberal margin of 1.2%.

Blue and red numbers respectively indicate size of two-party majorities for Liberal and Labor. Click for larger image. Map boundaries courtesy of Ben Raue at The Tally Room.

Wilmot was in conservative hands from 1901 to 1929, when it was won for Labor by the man whose name it now bears. Joseph Lyons had been Tasmania’s Premier until the defeat of his minority government in 1928, and upon entering federal parliament he assumed the position of Postmaster-General in the newly elected government of Jim Scullin. However, Lyons and his followers split from Labor in 1931 after a dispute over economic policy in response to the Depression. Joining with the opposition to become the leader of the new conservative United Australia Party, Lyons became Prime Minister after a landslide win at the election held the following December, retaining the position through two further election victories until his death in 1939.

Labor briefly resumed its hold on Wilmot after the by-election that followed Lyons’ death, but Allan Guy recovered it for the United Australia Party at the general election of 1940. It next changed hands at the 1946 election when Labor’s Gil Duthie unseated Guy against the trend of a national swing to the newly formed Liberal Party. Duthie went on to hold the seat for nearly three decades, until all five Tasmanian seats went from Labor to Liberal in 1975. The 9.9% swing that delivered the seat to Max Burr in 1975 was cemented by an 8.0% swing at the next election in 1977, and the Franklin dam issue ensured the entire state remained on side with the Liberals in 1983 and 1984. The realignment when Burr retired at the 1993 election, when the loss of Burr’s personal vote combined with the statewide backlash against John Hewson’s proposed goods and services tax delivered a decisive 5.6% swing to Labor.

Labor’s member for the next two decades was Dick Adams, a former state government minister who had lost his seat in 1982. Adams survived a swing in 1996 before piling 9.3% on to his margin in 1998, enough of a buffer to survive a small swing in 2001 and a large one in 2004, as northern Tasmania reacted against Labor forestry policies which Adams had bitterly opposed. Strong successive performances in 2007 and 2010 left Adams with what appeared to be a secure buffer, but this proved illusory in the face of a swing in 2013 that reached double figures in all but a handful of the electorate’s booths, and in several cases topped 20%. The victorious Liberal candidate was Eric Hutchinson, a wool marketer with Tasmanian agribusiness company Roberts Limited, who had also run in 2010.

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