Tasmanian election: Braddon form guide

The electorate of Braddon covers the north-western coastal areas of Tasmania plus King Island in the Bass Strait, and is dominated by Burnie and Devonport. Smaller centres include Currie, Penguin, Savage River, Smithton, Stanley, Ulverstone, Waratah and Wynyard. This is an electorally mixed area in which timber and mining industries that traditionally provided a solid working-class base for Labor were balanced out by conservative small towns and farming districts. The economic decline that buffeted the area’s industries, along with the political upheaval caused by the Franklin Dam controversy, dramatically tilted the balance in the Liberals’ favour in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Recent years have seen a return to the good old days from Labor’s perspective, barring the 2004 federal election when a backlash against Mark Latham’s conservationist forestry policy returned the seat to the Liberals with a 7.0 per cent swing. As this result indicates, this is a relatively weak area for the Greens who have uniquely failed to win seats in the two elections held since the number of members in each electorate was cut from seven to five. It has also raised Liberal hopes that they might gain a seat from Labor, despite the lengths gone to by the state party to quarantine themselves from Latham’s policy.

As Antony Green notes, the electorate’s diversity encourages parties to "balance their tickets with candidates from different areas":

In 2002, Burnie-based MPs Steve Kons and Bryan Green pulled in most of Labor’s vote in Burnie and areas to the west, while Devonport’s Brenton Best and Mike Gaffney from Latrobe helped Labor’s vote in the east of Braddon. Based in Sassafras, Jeremy Rockliff similarly dominated the Liberal vote in the east of the electorate, while Burnie based Brett Whiteley polled well in Burnie and surrounding councils.

Bryan Green is a member of Labor’s Left faction with a background in the Forestry Union, and is reckoned by Greens leader Peg Putt to be a "dyed-in-the-wool" advocate for the industry. He assumed ministerial responsibility in this area when he was promoted from Primary Industries Minister to Infrastructure, Energy and Resources Minister in the reshuffle after Treasurer David Crean’s retirement in February 2004. Green achieved a personal victory at the 2002 election when he outpolled Steven Kons to become the electorate’s strongest performing candidate (after polling 7.3 per cent to Kons’ 17.6 per cent when both were first elected in 1998), and he was mentioned as a potential rival to Paul Lennon when talk of a leadership challenge briefly surfaced after the 2004 federal election debacle. Shortly after Jim Bacon’s retirement, Ellen Whinnett of The Mercury reported that "the generally good-humoured Green has been anointed Labor’s hard man after Paul Lennon became Premier and began to soften his image", prompting the Liberals to label Green as Labor’s "attack puppy". Whinnett listed Green’s strengths as being a "charismatic parliamentary performer, excellent public speaker (and) rising Labor star", while his weaknesses were that he was "easily provoked, prone to intemperate comments (and) perceived as unyielding".

As the mayor of Burnie, Steven Kons brought a high profile to parliament upon his election in 1998 when he achieved a quota in his own right on debut. Kons is a member of the Right faction and is known to have frosty relations with factional opponent Bryan Green – The Mercury reported in June 2004 that "it was common knowledge that before the last election, former premier Jim Bacon and his former chief of staff had spoken to the pair over their bickering". Kons was promoted to the front bench with the primary industries and water portfolio in the reshuffle that followed Treasurer David Crean’s retirement due to ill health in January 2004, which occurred a month before Jim Bacon quit in similar circumstances.

Brenton Best of the Left faction was first elected at the 1996 election with 4.4 per cent of the vote and has been a consistent improver since, lifting to 7.3 per cent in 1998 and 10.6 per cent in 2002. However, Labor’s overall strength on the latter occasion meant he only won narrowly over a party colleague, Latrobe deputy mayor Michael Gaffney. In May 2002 Best became the third Tasmanian MP in one month (after former Labor-turned independent Senator Shayne Murphy and Rumney Labor MLC Lin Thorp) to be charged with drink driving, recording a blood-alcohol reading of 0.13 after side-swiping a parked car. Labor has copped heat at Best’s end of the electorate over the removal of accident and emergency and obstetric services from Mersey Hospital; he was spared having to vote on a Liberal motion calling for their reinstatement because he was acting as Speaker due to David Polley’s absence from the chamber, a circumstance his opponents found more than a little convenient.

The newcomers on Labor’s ticket are Peter Hollister, who served as mayor of Devonport from 2002 to 2005 when he lost the position to Lynn Laycock, and Leonie Batchelor, a staffer to Senator Nick Sherry. Antony Green argues that Hollister presents a particular threat to Brenton Best, who was able to dominate the Devonport vote in 2002.

At the 2002 election, neither of the sitting Liberal members (Carole Cains and former Premier Tony Rundle) sought re-election. With the Greens failing to get a member up, they succeeded in maintaining their two seats despite a 9.2 per cent dive on the primary vote. The star performer was 32-year-old Jeremy Rockliff, whose family have been farmers in the Sassafras area for 150 years. Rockliff was the state Young Liberals president from 1994 and 1995 and now holds the shadow primary industries, water and environment and arts portfolios. He was elected with 13.1 per cent of the primary vote, by far the strongest showing of the five Liberal candidates.

The other successful Liberal candidate was Brett Whiteley, a Burnie councillor and state party vice-president, who polled 7.4 per cent. Whiteley might not have recovered from a charge laid against him for breaching the Electoral Act during the 2002 campaign, after he issued his own Liberal how-to-vote cards that listed and pictured the party candidates in his own order of preference. Defeated Liberal leader Bob Cheek later wrote that he had "never seen four men so angry" as when he discussed the matter with the other Liberal candidates, each of whom considered taking it to the Court of Disputed Returns (which was considered unlikely to succeed). Whiteley pleaded guilty and was placed on a 12 month good-behaviour bond by the court and fined $5000 by the Liberal Party, whose Devonport branch called for his expulsion. However, Ellen Whinnett of The Mercury wrote in June 2003 that his promotion from Shadow Infrastructure Minister to Shadow Police Minister followed strong parliamentary performances, and was "the clearest sign yet that he has been forgiven".

The enormous amount of adverse publicity generated by Whiteley’s bungle has created an opportunity for rivals within the party. The likeliest candidates from this remove appear to be John Oldaker, a farmer, Vietnam veteran and Circular Head councillor who polled a respectable 21.2 per cent as an independent candidate at last year’s election for the upper house seat of Murchison, and Leon Perry, a staffer to Senator Richard Colbeck who Antony Green says is "very well known in Devonport as coach of the East Devonport Swans". Rounding out the ticket is Heather Woodward, a hairdresser from Smithton (which produced the biggest anti-Labor swing of any booth in the country at the 2004 federal election).

Paul O’Halloran, an assistant principal at a Devonport college, is rated as the best chance to end the Greens’ lockout in Braddon. The ABC reports that the remaining candidates are "youth worker Scott Jordan, physiotherapist Andrea Jackson, artist Di Ransley and activist John Coombes".

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.