Two Legislative Council seats go to the polls in May in contests that are already producing a degree of campaign colour but are unlikely to be cliffhangers.
Western Tiers (formerly Rowallan) now covers much of the central north and also a section of the Central Highlands, including the towns of Deloraine, Sheffield, Longford, Perth, Cressy, Miena and Bothwell. The incumbent and former Meander Valley mayor, Greg Hall, is seeking a third term in office. Hall was elected in 2001 polling 31.9% on primaries in a field of six and defeating high-profile opponent Russell Anderson by over 10% after preferences. In 2006 Hall faced only token opposition from Karen Cassidy (Greens) and polled 82% of the vote.
Hall is generally seen as pretty friendly to both major parties and strongly supportive of the Tasmanian forest industry, so it’s no surprise that his opponent is a critic on forestry issues. But instead of another insufferably dull non-contest between Hall and an endorsed Green, Hall’s opponent this time is independent candidate John Hawkins (candidacy announcement here). Hawkins is a grazier and antiques dealer frequently described as “wealthy” – not that that is too much use in LegCo elections with their very harsh campaign spending limits.
Hawkins is noted for stoushes with various prominent and not-so-prominent Tasmanian figures. He is especially noted for a long-running pursuit of Liberal Senator Eric (or as Hawkins calls him, Erich) Abetz, against whose most recent re-election Hawkins filed a dispute of return, alleging that Abetz had not renounced German citizenship and hence was ineligible to hold office. (The challenge was withdrawn but succeeded in producing evidence that Abetz was bothered enough about the matter to place his eligibility beyond any doubt in 2010.) Hawkins has also interacted previously with Hall as can be seen here.
Indeed, Hawkins has thus far stated that his main reason for standing is to push for investigations of a different MLC, Paul Harriss, over the acceptance of gifts from forestry company Ta Ann. So we can expect that Hawkins will use his candidacy as a platform for doing more of what he usually does – how much of it even attempts to connect directly to the opponent being anyone’s guess.
Given the very recent announcement of Hawkins’ candidacy, I am doubtful that this will be a full-scale effort to unseat Greg Hall (and I am not sure that any such effort from a critic of forestry, or anyone else, in this seat would succeed anyway). Hawkins’ status as an independent and his commercial standing within the electorate provide some reason to believe the margin will be closer than last time, although I am not completely convinced this will be the case. In any event Hall is very likely to retain his seat easily. A result much closer than two to one will be surprising assuming Hall makes even a modest campaign effort, and again a vote in the seventies or higher for Hall would not come as any great surprise.
The vacant seat of Hobart has attracted a field of six. Labor has held this seat for 61 of the past 79 years. The incumbent, Labor MLC Doug Parkinson, is retiring after three full terms. Parkinson was first elected in 1994, when he defeated incumbent Jean Moore on the preferences of previous incumbent Hank Petrusma and then-Green Jeff Briscoe. Parkinson’s main opposition thereafter came from the Greens, who he beat with 60.5% of the two-party vote in 2000 (vs Trish Moran) and 60.7% in 2006 (vs Marette Corby).
A redistribution in 2008 removed some extremely Labor-friendly areas around Lutana and Moonah and added some very Green-leaning areas in the upper parts of South Hobart. The electorate is now basically the Hobart City Council area minus everything south of the Sandy Bay Rivulet. Thus it includes New Town, Lenah Valley, North, South, West and central Hobarts, Glebe, Battery Point, Mount Stuart and Cascades. This redistribution made the seat somewhat marginal in Labor-Green terms (about 56:44) and set up a chance for a very high-profile Greens candidate to potentially make history and win the party its first ever Upper House seat.
Alas for the Greens, the entry of popular Hobart alderman and former Lord Mayor Rob Valentine has altered the contest and most likely ruined their chances. Valentine, an alderman since 1992, first became Lord Mayor of Hobart in 1999, narrowly defeating one-term incumbent John Freeman. He quickly made the position his own, successfully defending it by very large margins five times, and polled three massive aldermanic votes of between 36.5% and 38.8% in fields of between 13 and 20 candidates. The longest serving Lord Mayor of Hobart relinquished the mayoralty 2011, having announced his intention to run for the Legislative Council.
Valentine was initially elected to Hobart Council in 1992 on one of a series of left-leaning Progress Association/local residential issue tickets, and you can probably win things at trivia nights if you know that he also stood for state parliament as a minor candidate the same year (and for whom.) Typically seen as either softly progressive or centrist, he has no known current or remotely recent party connections. Since I started measuring Council voting patterns (the period covering terms from the 2005 election onwards) Valentine has occupied a moderate position on the Council, more or less in between the endorsed Greens and the informal “blues” cluster of pro-development/business lobby aldermen who sometimes have links to the Liberal Party. Valentine, while reasonably often on the defeated side of council motions (especially when siding with the Greens, who are outnumbered by the “blues”) has also tended not to rock the boat over issues not supported by other aldermen, and is sometimes accused by hardliners on either side of fence-sitting.
The endorsed Labor candidate is 26-year old Dean Winter, an advisor to federal MP Julie Collins and former part-time Treasury and Finance researcher. The apparently unknowing Cleo Bachelor of the Year candidate is also the roguishly ruffled face behind a massive carpark campaign poster, which got many thousand views during the Mona Foma festival. The preselection of this young candidate to create a point of difference from which to launch attacks based on the idea of the LegCo as a local government retirement home, might seem like a stroke of deliberate genius by Labor strategists struggling to retain the seat, but it was actually a stroke of farce. The party originally leafleted the electorate with calls for expressions of interest in a primary-style campaign to pick the replacement candidate for Parkinson, only to find that hardly anyone wanted to register and they only had one candidate anyway.
I am not aware of Winter having any previous electoral form. Based on his public statements so far he seems energetic, cheeky, clearly capable of original thought (though not always of quality control or even correct punctuation), and also at least as “pro-development” as the most hardline HCC “blues”. I have been very critical of some of the hacks and flakes preselected by the party in this area in recent years, and it is encouraging to see they have actually found a candidate with something upstairs who might have some kind of political future.
Winter’s biggest problem, apart from the profile and popularity of his main opponent, is that he is the candidate for an incumbent government in seemingly terminal decline. If Winter’s campaign theme is that “Hobart Needs Action”, and if a Labor Legislative Councillor is the answer to “stagnation” in the city, then where has all this action been in eighteen years of his party owning the seat? It seems more like he should be running for City Council, but then again, making noises about council issues irrespective of their relevance to the LegCo seems to be a now well-established method of running for LegCo positions. Little wonder then that so many ex-mayors get elected.
The Greens’ candidate is Penelope Ann, who describes herself as a “tourism accommodation manager” and lives at Risdon Cove, well outside the electorate. Ann has already run for the Greens in various elections four times since 2010. She ran as a minor state candidate for Denison, polling 811 votes (similar to the other two support candidates), the #3 Greens candidate for the Senate (polling 615 votes), the party’s candidate for Rumney and one of two Green aldermanic candidates for Clarence City Council. In Rumney, the Green vote of 13.4% was way below the state lower house vote for the seat of around 25%, but Ann was not from the electorate, the Green campaign was relatively minor and many Greens voters voted for the independent Paul Mason. But Ann’s 2011 Clarence City Council vote of only 4.2% (the total Green aldermanic vote was a pitiable 7%, with many Green voters preferring ex-Green incumbent Sharyn von Bertouch) shows that she is no world-beater even in her own municipality. Her preselection for this one seems a sign that the Greens are determined to contest the seat (as well they should, given that it is historically their strongest) but just can’t interest any more dangerous candidate in the concept of taking on Valentine.
Another frequent flier between electoral contests is Dynnyrne “business analyst” and independent John Forster. Forster ran for Franklin federally in 2010, polling 2.8%, and for Rumney last year polling 3.8%. His campaigns so far have been very low profile and he’ll be doing well to match the latter vote in this field.
Hobart nurse Paul Hiscutt (candidancy announcement) contested the seat in 2006 polling an unremarkable 8.2%. I’ve seen a sign for him this time around, but not much else, though candidates will find all sorts of ways of getting their names in the paper! His previous campaign, without success, appealed for Hobart voters to shy away from supporting political parties. Little is known at this stage of his likely policies this time around.
The final independent is a relatively young new face, engineering consultant James Sugden (see youtube ad, twitter feed) whose campaign signs describe him as “independent, ethical, analytical” (wowee!) A participant in the 2011 Tasmanian Leaders Program, Sugden is certainly making quite an effort. It is difficult to gain much of an idea of his broad political orientation (if any) from his website, in which a few clear key policies, such as a statewide development plan, making education to year 12 compulsory and cutting back non-core services to protect core services, can be teased out from a fairly large amount of waffle. Despite the effort level I expect Sugden to struggle to some degree, firstly because candidates who run campaigns that are so heavily ideas-focused generally don’t do very well, and secondly because the niche for an independent who comes across as thoughtful, inoffensive and non-partisan is already occupied by Valentine. I also think that a candidate who really had a “clear vision” for Tasmania wouldn’t need to be so strongly pursuing vision statements, development plans and other meta-policies.
In trying to model this election, the first question I’ve considered is the size of the Greens vote. In the 2006 state election at booths within the electorate, excluding very minor parties, the Greens polled 38%, Labor 38% and the Liberals 24%. In the LegCo election the same year the Greens (Corby) polled just 26%, Labor (Parkinson) 43% and the four independents the rest – but that was before the redistribution. Had the LegCo poll been conducted on the current boundaries the Greens would have polled about 29% and Labor about 38%.
At the 2010 state election, again excluding very minor parties, the Green vote held steady at 37% with Labor and Liberal both on 26% and Andrew Wilkie on 11%. (This looks like just Labor voters switching to Wilkie but it was actually a swing from Labor to the Greens and Liberals, plus a swing from the Greens and the Liberals to Wilkie.) But the 2010 federal election (Labor 28% Greens 27% Wilkie 25% Liberals 20%) showed again how the combination of independent competition and a one-candidate-per-party, non-Hare-Clark race knocks the Green vote around in this area compared to a state Lower House result.
Although Valentine is likely to still be fairly well regarded among potential Green voters, it is challenging to predict just how much he will compete for the Greens vote. Compared to Andrew Wilkie at the 2010 state and federal elections, he is much less readily connected with the party’s views on many issues, but he is also still seen as a little bit green-tinged and has an even higher profile. In the 2005 and 2009 Hobart City Council elections, Valentine was elected as an alderman with multiple quotas, and the Greens #1 candidate, Helen Burnet, also polled a quota. There were 807 votes (in 2005) and 1033 votes (in 2009) that were 1 Valentine and then went to a minor Greens candidate. (Many of these votes would have had Burnet #2). The number of votes cast in HCC and Hobart LegCo elections being roughly equal, I suspect this gives a fair idea of the number of otherwise 1 Greens voters who may instead vote 1 Valentine 2 Greens. Various arguments could be made either way as to why that sort of figure (several hundred votes or about 5%) might be too high or too low.
Considering that the Greens are competing against Valentine and an endorsed Labor candidate (albeit a little-known one) instead of just an endorsed Labor candidate, considering that they have been polling well below their 2010 state result in state opinion polling, and considering that their candidate is from out of the electorate, most signs point to it being tough for the Greens to get near their 2006 score of 29% (taking the redistribution into account). A result in the low 20s seems most realistic, and is consistent with the comparison between the Green vote at state and LegCo levels in Pembroke last year.
There is also plenty of evidence that the Labor vote is pretty shaky in the Hobart electorate. Accounting for the redistribution, Parkinson roughly matched the state vote last time, and that was against generally weak opposition, plus his personal vote would have been built into that. With the party’s latest state and federal votes in the area being just 26 and 28 points respectively (albeit with an awful candidate choice and pathetic campaign in the latter case) and with the party polling way below even its 2010 state election level lately, it’s easy to see why the seat is so difficult to defend. A vaguely comparable case involves the 2004 and 2010 Elwick elections, in which the party switched from having the best-known candidate in the field to facing the best-known candidate in the field, and the Labor primary vote crashed from 60 points to 38 points. The swing shouldn’t be that big here, as they were coming off a higher base in Elwick and with a much more popular candidate in the previous election (Terry Martin), but the par score for Labor here, all things considered, is probably about 25. If an organised campaign started well in advance counts for anything then Winter could do substantially better, but we saw with Liberal Sam McQuestin’s failed bid for Launceston (also lost to a local government personality) that that aint necessarily so. The parallels between Winter and McQuestin run deeper than that since both these campaigns have resorted to unsubtle attacks on the high-profile local government independent who they saw as their biggest threat. While there is a lot to chew over in the way in which the LegCo, in the apparent absence of any public understanding of its actual intended function, is becoming a Champions League of local government, that doesn’t seem to be a debate that the voters are bothered about.
I’m suspecting that the three minor indies won’t get more than 20% between them, and with Labor and the Greens unlikely to exceed 50% combined, that most likely leaves at least low 30s (possibly much more) for Valentine, sufficient if so as he only needs to be somewhere near the lead on primaries to outperform the party candidates on preferences. It’s conceivable that both Labor and the Greens could poll really badly and that Valentine could poll into the 40s and win very easily, but I am inclined towards some caution at this early stage about the prospects of a massive win for the former Lord Mayor.
As impressive as Valentine’s Council results have been he has really not faced a serious contest for over a decade. Beating off idiosyncratic mayoral shots by Jeff Briscoe and Marti Zucco is not the same thing as taking on big party machines or candidates who have been campaigning hard for six months. We have yet to see much sign of the actual content of the Valentine campaign (the subject of a fairly typical Greg Barns brickbat today, not that that has ever harmed anybody’s chances before) and he will have to campaign actively to ensure that the charge of taking victory for granted does not stick (after all, we saw what happened to the last political force that was perceived as doing that around here). All other things being equal though, this election is most likely to follow the same trajectory as Launceston and Elwick, in which a well-known local government figure who has something to offer to a range of political views, is able to comfortably defeat political-party opposition.
I may provide a brief update closer to the day – failing that, tune in on May the6th from 6 pm for comments.