In the past two years, the Poll Bludger cornered the market in online commentary of the annual Tasmanian Legislative Council periodic elections. This time, I have been beaten to the punch by this excellent summary from Kevin Bonham of the Tasmanian Times, to which there is regrettably little to add. However, a broad overview is in order for those of you who have never given the chamber much thought.
The Tasmanian parliament inverts the usual practice by having multi-member electorates with proportional representation for the lower house and single-member districts for the upper house. There are 15 of the latter, for which elections are held over a six-year cycle with either two or three electorates going to the polls on the first Saturday of each May. Since the elections are detached from the hoopla of a state election campaign, they are dominated by local issues and personalities and resistant to the influence of the major parties. In particular, the Liberal Party has not formally endorsed a candidate for an upper house election since 2000. This is essentially because its practice of staying above the fray is popular and well-established, and it fails to win support whenever it goes against it. Furthermore, the dominance of the chamber by independents is in the party’s long-term interest given Labor’s overwhelming historical dominance in the lower house. Labor has never had such qualms about directly involving itself, and currently holds five of the 15 seats from electorates in and around Hobart. This is a historically strong position for them, as they usually had only one or two members before the chamber was garnished from 19 members to 15 in 1997 (as part of the package of reforms which cut lower house representation from seven members per electorate to five).
The elections to be held on Saturday week will be for the electorates of Rowallan and Wellington, which are respectively held by independent Greg Hall and Labor’s Doug Parkinson. Greg Hall’s almost certain re-election removes some of the interest from the Poll Bludger’s annual audit of independent MLCs’ voting behaviour in parliament, combined with the fact that the division bell hasn’t had much of a workout in the past year. Given the small sample of just eight divisions, the only point of interest is that newcomer Ruth Forrest has lined up with Labor on five of eight occasions, suggesting she will prove more agreeable to Labor over time than Tony Fletcher, her predecessor as the member for Murchison. The following table shows the frequency with which each independent sided with Labor in divisions going back to 2002. Former members are indicated by italics, and no votes are recorded for Don Wing since he became Council President in 2002.
These figures suggest that Greg Hall (left) has been one of the less hostile independents from the government’s perspective, with one-time Liberal Party candidate Paul Harriss remaining as the outstanding anti-Labor member after Tony Fletcher’s retirement. Labor would not be too displeased that Hall’s only rival nominee for Rowallan is Greens state convenor Karen Cassidy (right), who polled 1.5 per cent from a party total of 15.8 per cent in Lyons at the March 18 state election. Perhaps the Greens did not realise that they would be out on a limb when they decided to contest the seat, but surely they would have done better to have sat it out so Hall could be elected unopposed, as was the case with Don Wing in neighbouring Paterson last year. Rowallan is not fertile territory for the Greens, covering small towns west of Launceston and south of Davenport including a short stretch of northern coastline at Port Sorell. This area is covered by the divisions of Lyons and Braddon at lower house and federal level, the latter being the only one of the five that failed to return a Greens member at the past two elections. Their vote in local booths was around 11 per cent at the state election, which was fairly typical for Braddon and below par for Lyons (where their total was 15.8 per cent). As such, the likely sentiment among voters will be irritation at having been dragged to the polls by a candidate with no serious prospect of victory.
Wellington, which covers central Hobart and inner suburbs as far north as Moonah, is a very different matter. By Kevin Bonham’s reckoning, the Greens polled 30.6 per cent in the electorate’s booths at the state election compared with a total of 22.9 per cent across Denison, while Labor’s 42.8 per cent and the Liberals’ 23.7 per cent compared with electorate-wide results of 46.9 per cent and 26.6 per cent. Bonham notes that the Greens vote was exceptionally high in the inner city booths of West Hobart, Lansdowne Crescent and Hobart (53 per cent, 46 per cent and 44 per cent respectively), but this was cancelled out by much stronger Labor results in the more traditionally working class suburbs of Moonah and Lutana in the north. The Greens polled 28.0 per cent at the last upper house election for Wellington, which was in 2000. Doug Parkinson (left) won on that occasion from 46.3 per cent of the primary vote, having previously been member for the abolished division of Hobart from 1994.
The Greens candidate for Wellington is social worker Marrette Corby (left), who according to the Mercury is "almost blind". Corby also ran for Denison at the state election but managed only 0.6 per cent of the primary vote, having been squeezed out by high-profile party colleagues Peg Putt and Cassy O’Connor. Joining her on the ballot paper are Michael Fracalossi of the Christian Democratic Party and independents Marti Zucco, Paul Hiscutt and Stephen Roomes. Zucco (right) has by far the highest profile, being a Hobart City Councillor who is commonly described in the local press as "colourful" and "outspoken". Zucco has recently attracted considerable attention through his involvement in what has become known as the "Battery Point coffee wars", a matter of sufficient interest to have warranted an item in Crikey shortly before the state election. Zucco’s use of the word "mafia" to characterise local opponents of coffee roasting at the Oomph! Tasmanian Gourmet Coffee café prompted an overheated complaint to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission by former Labor MP John White (who despite his name is a figure in the local Italian community) and another local activist, Sandra Champion. Zucco says he has been inspired to run because Parkinson is "the most under-achieved politician I’ve seen in 12 years", and because he was angered by Parkinson’s complaint that the council had neglected Cornelian Bay (located in the north of the electorate) in favour of Sandy Bay (immediately to the south). Bonham has a fair bit to say about Zucco’s electoral record:
Marti Zucco, longstanding Hobart City Council alderman, had a rather strong tilt at the old (upper house) seat of Newdegate in 1993, where he polled 25% to run third out of four behind incumbent Ross Ginn and Labor’s Mel Cooper on around 33% each. (Cooper actually just outpolled Ginn but lost on preferences). However, HCC results over the years suggest that Zucco’s best vote-gathering days are behind him. In 1996 he polled 11% of the HCC aldermanic vote; by 2006 this was down to 7.1%. Also, Zucco (probably because of the way he polarises the electorate) always attracts fewer preferences than his primary vote levels indicate. I’ll be surprised if Zucco’s vote is anything much over 15% this time, but at least he might provide some entertainment for the spectators if his opening attacks on Parkinson are anything to go by.
Of the other candidates, Fracalossi will no doubt gather enough Liberal votes to do considerably better than the 0.7 per cent the CDP scored at the state election, but he cannot be rated a serious chance. If media profile is anything to go by, Paul Hiscutt and Stephen Roomes will have to work the electorate very hard to make any impression at all. All I have been able to ascertain about Hiscutt is that he is a nurse, and that he had a letter published in the Mercury recently defending the worth of the upper house. Roomes is described as a "New Town tourist operator", but beyond that both Google and Factiva have drawn a blank.