On the first Saturday of each May, voters in either two or three of the 15 divisions that make up the Tasmanian Legislative Council elect members to serve six-year terms. Three such elections were scheduled for this year – in Murchison in the state’s north-west, Rumney to the east of Hobart and Paterson in Launceston – but nobody has stepped forward in Paterson to challenge Don Wing, a former Liberal turned independent who entered parliament in 1982 and became Council President in 2002. To the Poll Bludger’s knowledge, this is the first time a state parliamentarian has been elected unopposed since 1993 when Tony Fletcher, now retiring as independent member for Murchison, enjoyed a clear run in the since-abolished seat of Russell. Three independents and one Greens candidate will compete to fill the vacancy in Murchison, while in Rumney Labor’s Lin Thorp faces a field of three challengers in a seat she won narrowly in 1999.
This time last year your correspondent had a fair bit to say on the chamber’s evolution and political make-up, the striking feature of which has always been the dominance of independents. The Liberals have a long-standing tradition of not formally endorsing candidates, while Labor’s representation historically wavered between one seat and two. The reduction of the chamber from 19 members to 15 in 1997 strengthened the hand of the major parties by creating larger divisions that placed greater organisational demands on candidates, but only Labor has been able to capitalise. Their representation has since increased to five, and at one point they harboured fantasies of securing an outright majority. The Liberals reacted by endorsing two candidates at the 2000 elections, but both performed poorly and they have not since repeated the mistake.
The voting rights of the Council President are governed by a complex mix of rules and conventions, the practical upshot of which is that tied votes are usually resolved in the negative. This means that Labor must secure the support of three independents other than Don Wing in order to pass legislation. This brings us to what promises to become a regular annual event at the Poll Bludger, the audit of the independents’ record in siding with or against the government when the house divides.
|Tanya Rattray-Wagner||7/12 (58%)||–||2010|
|Norma Jamieson||3/12 (25%)||2/11 (18%)||2009|
|Ivan Dean||5/12 (42%)||1/11 (9%)||2009|
|Kerry Finch||7/12 (58%)||10/17 (59%)||2008|
|Paul Harriss||2/12 (17%)||2/36 (6%)||2008|
|Sue Smith||5/10 (50%)||11/34 (32%)||2007|
|Jim Wilkinson||6/11 (55%)||14/34 (41%)||2007|
|Greg Hall||5/12 (42%)||16/36 (44%)||2006|
|Tony Fletcher||2/12 (17%)||4/36 (11%)||2005|
|Don Wing||0/0 (-)||2/14 (14%)||2005|
|Colin Rattray||–||19/36 (53%)||2004|
The left column tallies divisions that have occurred since last year’s elections, at which Tanya Rattray-Wagner replaced her retiring father Colin Rattray as the independent member for Apsley and Terry Martin retained Elwick for Labor upon the retirement of David Crean, brother of Simon and a former state Treasurer. The middle column covers the previous two years (all votes recorded for Don Wing were from the period before he assumed the Council Presidency). Based on the latter figures, the Poll Bludger last year characterised Harriss, Fletcher, Dean, Smith and Jamieson as the "Council Opposition" with the remainder holding the balance of power. Ivan Dean has proved more inclined to support the government in the past year, while Sue Smith has become even more of a borderline case. Along with Harriss, Tony Fletcher has consistently been the most troublesome member from Labor’s point of view and they will presumably be pleased to see the back of him. The others have remained true to earlier form, with Rattray-Wagner following more-or-less in her father’s footsteps.
Saturday’s elections will presumably return a member for Murchison with similar conservative credentials to Fletcher’s. The more important question for Labor is whether they can retain their delicate hold on Rumney, which looms as the first substantial electoral challenge faced by Paul Lennon since he assumed the premiership shortly before last year’s elections. A closer examination of these contests will follow in the coming days.