Tasmanian election: Lyons form guide

Known until 1982 as Wilmot, the electorate of Lyons is made up of what’s left over after the north-west coast (Braddon), north-east coast (Bass), western Hobart (Denison) and eastern Hobart (Franklin, which also includes towns to the south to make up the numbers) are grouped together into communities of interest. It thus includes small towns on either side of Tasmania’s pronounced north-south divide, respectively including New Norfolk outside Hobart and Launceston’s southern outskirts, along with tough mining towns on the west coast, fishing towns and tourist centres on the east coast and a lot of farming land in between. Its profile has made it slightly conservative leaning by Tasmanian standards, though it has otherwise moved with the state’s distinct electoral rhythms over the decades.

The recent Liberal decline kicked in early in Lyons when former Premier Robin Gray took his personal vote into retirement at the 1996 election, which saw the Liberal vote drop by 16.3 per cent from its high point of 1992 (compared with a statewide average of 12.1 per cent). This cost them a seat and contributed to the Rundle government’s loss of a majority; another loss in 1998, when the number of seats was reduced from seven per electorate to five, helped cost the Liberals government. But the electorate had still not finished with them, and another dive in support in 2002 (which was actually fairly muted when compared with other electorates) saw the fall of yet another seat, this time to the Greens, who came back into the game after party leader and future Senator Christine Milne lost her seat in 1998. That left Deputy Leader Denise Swan fighting it out for the sole remaining Liberal seat with Rene Hidding, a bitter opponent of both Swan and leader Bob Cheek, who lost his seat in Denison. Hidding began with a slender lead of 3958 primary votes to 3905 but fell behind at one point during the distribution of preferences, recovering late in the count to prevail by just 82 votes.

David Llewellyn was first elected in 1986 and has served as a cabinet minister under Michael Field, Jim Bacon and Paul Lennon. His prestige grew as he handled the notoriously difficult health portfolio without serious incident, and he became Deputy Premier when lung cancer forced Jim Bacon to stand down as Premier in February 2004. This was despite resistance from the Left, which favoured Braddon MP Bryan Green. Weighing up the two contenders at the time, Ellen Whinnett of The Mercury listed Llewellyn’s strengths as being "hard-working, sincere (and) able to get across the detail of the portfolios", and his weaknesses as being "soporific", a "poor public speaker" and "lacking in aggression". Llewellyn has kept a low profile during the election campaign, which the Liberals say is due to his anger at a "shady factional deal" which they claim will cost him the deputy leadership after the election.

Michael Polley has had by far the longest uninterrupted run in the House of Assembly of any current sitting member, having first been elected in 1972 at the age of 22. He held fairly minor portfolio responsibilities until the Labor-Greens accord government of Michael Field came to power in 1989, when he began his first stint in the Speaker’s chair, a position he resumed when the current Labor government came to power in 1998. His sister, Helen Polley, was elected to the Senate at the 2004 federal election. The above table compares his performance on the primary vote with that of Llewellyn since the latter entered parliament in 1986.

Labor’s third successful candidate in 2002 was Ken Bacon (no relation to Jim), who won a seat in 1998 at the expense of sitting Labor member and now Franklin MP Lara Giddings (Christian Kerr of Crikey, then travelling under his Hillary Bray pseudonym, speculated that voters had him confused with Jim) and was returned with 14.3 per cent of the vote. Bacon retired in April 2005, ostensibly due to health problems associated with diabetes, although he had recently resigned as Tourism Minister after stumbling through parliamentary hearings into huge losses incurred by the TT-Line’s ferry service from Sydney. The Mercury later reported that Bacon felt he had been undermined by Michael Polley, suggesting this was the reason he endorsed former Liberal candidate Russell Anderson for his run against Polley’s wife Kim for the mayoralty of Northern Midlands.

With Llewellyn, Polley and Bacon dominating the Labor vote in 2002, not much was left for their remaining candidates, but one of them was needed to fill the void created by Bacon’s retirement. The recount was won by east coast tourism operator Heather Butler, who polled just 3.1 per cent in 2002 and is said by Sue Neales of The Mercury to have "not exactly been a parliamentary star performer". Concerns that a stronger candidate was required to retain three seats for Labor prompted Paul Lennon to poach Wendy Kennedy, a television and Hobart social identity, but she withdrew at the last minute citing family pressures. The newcomer Labor candidates are Sorell councillor and former mayor Kerry Degrassi (said to be backed by the Left faction) and teacher and football coach Malcolm Upston.

Dutch-born Rene Hidding (first name pronounced "reen", although his foes delight in doing otherwise) ascended to the Liberal leadership after the disastrous 2002 election result deprived the party of both leader Bob Cheek and deputy leader Denise Swan, who stood together at the other side of the schism that rent the parliamentary party throughout the previous term. Hidding does not come off well in Cheek’s recently published memoir, Cheeky: Confessions of a Ferret Salesman, in which Cheek complains of persistent acts of betrayal and delights in revealing that Hidding has avoided financial portfolios because he was declared bankrupt while working as a used car salesman in 1981. Hidding had better luck in business after setting up a building industry company with his four brothers, and served on Launceston City Council from 1985 to 1992. He was elected to Lyons from 7.6 per cent of the vote in 1996 and has been an unspectacular electoral performer since, polling 11.2 per cent in 1998 and 7.0 per cent in 2002.

The new Liberal candidates are Richmond businesswoman Jane Howlett, whom Sue Neales of The Mercury rates a strong chance if the Liberals pick up a second seat; Sorell businessman Andrew Wright, also reckoned to be running a "strong campaign"; Meander Valley transport operator Geoff Page, who as the federal candidate for Lyons in 2001 was the only Liberal candidate in the state to achieve a swing; and Richard Shoobridge, Timber Communities Australia branch president and former Tasman councillor.

Former tourism operator Tim Morris came to parliament via Derwent Valley Council, comfortably topping a ticket of untried Greens candidates in 2002 with 9.1 per cent of the vote. He is considered likely to retain his seat and is unlikely to be threatened by his party running mates: state party convenor Karen Cassidy, Buckland grazier Helen Gee, Dunally businesswoman Frederika Perey and former Kentish councillor Annie Willock.

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.

8 comments on “Tasmanian election: Lyons form guide”

  1. Degrassi has been one side (the left) of a long and often bitter tussle within Sorell Council with the current mayor Carmel Torenius. There have been a number of more progressive candidates elected in this area, one of the major Lyons population centres, over recent years as numbers are swelled by ‘sea changers’ in the beach communities around Dodges Ferry and people wanting to commute to Hobart but live in ‘the bush’. However, Degrassi’s personal vote has been falling and since losing the Mayoralty she has not come close to getting it back. Still quite well-known though. Recent polling suggests that Labour could retain its three in Lyons – a sign of how badly the Libs are doing in a fundamentally conservative electorate – and if that happens she would be a good bet for the last seat. Typical lazy reporting by The Mercury (one gets the impression most of their candidate analysis is lifted from electoral material) assumed that the third will be Heather Butler as she is an MP but, as you note, she is not there because she is electorally popular so the third seat is really open if it goes Labor’s way.

    On another Local Government note, Tim Morris was the Mayor of Derwent Valley Council, the other major population centre in southern Lyons, before being elected to Parliament. He has apparently been working very hard at on-the-ground electorate stuff and this may be why his vote has held up so well. Cassidy and Willock have both also been Federal election candidates scoring swings in their favour.

  2. Polley MHA 34 years? From callow Polley to fallow Pollie? Is he trying to outdo the late, unlamented Senator Strom?

    And I thought Ruddock and Howard had Smithsonian honours for demonstrating the art of the survival of the survivalest.

    Could someone enlighten me as to whether there are any longer-serving parliamentarians (or better exemplars of the worth of term limits) than Mr Polley? I think Jim Fouras (ALP) is Qld’s longest-termer (elected 29 years ago).

  3. Graham Gunn, Liberal member for Stuart in South Australia, springs immediately to mind. He has been a state MP uninterrupted since 1970. My current tip – stated without confidence – is that he will finally lose his seat tomorrow.

  4. The Newspoll results out show that Liberal support is much softer than that of either Labour or the Greens. I think this is the direct result of a politicallt stupid campaign focus for them. They have been pushing the majority Government line heavily, which plays well to conservative voters, but unfortunately as they have no credibility in claiming to win this just drives these voters to Labour. The Libs would have been much better off commiting to support the pulp mill, not block supply and not to move no confidence motions. That way soft supporters who don’t like minority Government (a lot of these for the Libs) would be comfortable voting Liberal. The focus on the Greens in the balance of power is strange given that Liberal support of a Labour Government would be more likely/stable in any case. If there turns out to be a minority, it will be fascinating to see how the Liberals play this. The strong showing for Labour in the last weeks’ polls could be good news for the Libs though, if people feel that they can vote Lib but Labour is still safe in majority.

    The majority Government issue does not directly affect the Greens much. If it’s a big issue for you, then you are unlikely to be a Greens voter anyway. All it does is shift support from Lib to Lab. This is indirectly bad for the Greens – the closer the others are together the more chance of a Green seat. eg 44-42-14 gives the final seat to the Greens, but 51-35-14. does not.

  5. I think their only impact will be to push some liberal (in the true sense of the word) Liberal voters over to the Greens or possibly Labour. If you are sympathetic to the ads, you won’t be voting Green anyway. If you’re not and are a Liberal voter, you may move. Especially in an electorate like Denison (and bits of Franklin) where the Liberal vote is a lot of well educated professionals who are probably socially liberal.

    The Greens were at the forefront of Tasmania’s Gay Law Reforms and regularly propose/support legislation on ‘moral/religious’ type issues like prostitution, drugs and euthanasia so their stance on these matters is no secret. For that reason I don’t see these revelations turning any relevant number of voters from Green to Liberal. Along with the ‘Tasmanians for a better future’ etc things, this adds to a general impression that ‘we must be scared of the Greens’. This will turn a lot of Liberal voters to Labour, especially in Braddon, Bass and Lyons, but I wonder if it will also make some people consider the Greens more if they are being taken so seriously by all these groups.

    That said, I’m out of Tasmania at the moment so can’t be 100% sure of the impact on the ground the above is just an ‘educated guess’.

  6. Thanks William. Does anyone beat Hodgman (QC) for clinging onto the political earth like lantana – ‘in the job’ since ’66, albeit with a gap year before the Dismissal and about 4.5 yrs in the wilderness.

    (I’m asking about current deadwood. Billy Hughes ran up over 50 years, but went through 4 parties so we might call that 4 separate careers).

  7. Simon Baptist…

    Just to note mate – if you’re really Australian… you say ‘Labor’ in reference to the ALP…. otherwise if it’s spelt ‘Labour’ it’s more referring to the UK or NZ… A small pedantic issue I know but it makes a big difference.

Comments are closed.