The Poll Bludger
Margin: Liberal 2.6%
Region: North-Western, Tasmania
In a nutshell: Northern Tasmania’s frequent electoral convulsions have caused the seat of Braddon to change hands at four of the last six elections, most recently with the Liberals’ win on the back of a double-digit swing in 2013.
Candidates in ballot paper order
The north-western Tasmanian seat of Braddon formed part of a clean sweep by the Liberals in northern Tasmania in 2013, when all three electorates changed hands on double-digit swings, in this case by 10.0%. The electorate encompasses the northern coastal population centres of Davenport, Ulverstone, Burnie, Wynyard and Somerset, and acquired the full length of the thinly populated west coast, including the mining towns around Queenstown, in the redistribution before the 2010 election. Devonport provides about a quarter of the voters, and a further 18% are in Burnie. 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 around Smithton in the west. Burnie is Labor’s greatest source of strength in the electorate, although Devonport also traditionally leans its way. Together with neighbouring Lyons, Braddon shares bottom ranking in the country for educational attainment and ethnic diversity, and ranks eleventh lowest for median income.
Like all of Tasmania’s five electorates, Braddon has had an uninterrupted existence going back to the original division of the state into single-member seats in 1903, although it had the somewhat confusing name of Darwin until 1955. Darwin was held by Labor legend King O’Malley from its creation until 1917, and then by conservatives of various stripes until Ron Davies’ win for Labor in 1958. Davies held the seat until 1975, when future Premier Ray Groom’s victory contributed to the first in a series of Liberal clean sweeps of Tasmania that continued to 1984. The Liberals’ electoral position strengthened during Groom’s tenure due to the decline of the area’s key industries and the political upheaval caused by the Franklin Dam controversy, and he was succeeded upon his entry to state politics in 1984 by fellow Liberal Chris Miles.
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 and 2013, the former resulting from a 7.0% swing after John Howard’s late-campaign trumping of Mark Latham over forestry jobs. Endorsed again in 2007, Sidebottom was able to recover the seat from one-term Liberal member Mark Baker with a modest 2.6% swing, before adding a further 5.1% to his margin in 2010. The swing on the former occasion was concentrated around Smithton, reversing a heavy swing to the Liberals in 2004, while in 2010 the swing to Labor was greatest in Devonport and Latrobe. The Liberal swing in 2013, while consistently very substantial, was somewhat lower in the large population centres than at the western end of the electorate.
The Liberal member since 2013 has been Brett Whiteley, who was a member for Braddon in the state parliament from 2002 until his defeat in 2010. The preselection was initially won by Devonport real estate agent Michael Burr, from a field that included future Senator Jacqui Lambie, but he withdrew in July 2012 on health grounds. Whiteley did not contest the original preselection, saying at the time he was focused on returning to state politics. In September 2015 he assumed the position of government whip after Bass MP Andrew Nikolic was dumped from the role, despite the fact that Whiteley as well as Nikolic had supported Tony Abbott in the leadership challenge. He will be opposed at the coming election by Justine Keay, a former Devonport alderman.
Together with the other four Tasmanian electorates, Braddon was the subject of a ReachTEL poll of around 600 respondents on May 11 for the Sunday Tasmanian newspaper. The result suggested no swing at all on two-party preferred, with Brett Whiteley leading Labor by 46.4% to 34.4% on the primary vote, with the Greens on 6.6%.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.