May being almost upon us, a hardcore psephologist’s thoughts turn to the curious spectacle of a Tasmanian periodical upper house election. Mainlanders who know of the Tasmanian Legislative Council’s existence usually note it for its historical conservatism and preponderance of independents, but few are aware of its unusual manner of election. Just as Tasmania bucks the national trend with a lower house elected by proportional representation, so it inverts normal practice with an upper house composed of 15 single-member electorates. Elections for these seats are held over a staggered six-year cycle, with two or three up for election on the first Saturday of each May. The Liberals do not contest these elections, having determined they are best served by the traditional dominance of conservative independents (not least because they are usually in opposition). Labor until recently held five seats, all located in and around Hobart. That fell to four in late March when Elwick MLC Terry Martin was expelled from the parliamentary party after crossing the floor to vote against the government’s contentious fast-tracking of the proposed Tamar Valley pulp mill.
Each year the Poll Bludger conducts an audit of the various members’ voting behaviour in parliamentary divisions, of which there have been only eight in the past year.
|Sue Smith (Montgomery)||1/8 (12%)||18/50 (36%)||2013|
|Greg Hall (Rowallan)||5/8 (62%)||22/56 (39%)||2012|
|Don Wing (Paterson)||0/0 (-)||2/14 (14%)||2011|
|Ruth Forrest (Murchison)||3/8 (38%)||5/8 (62%)||2011|
|Tanya Rattray-Wagner (Apsley)||3/8 (38%)||8/19 (42%)||2010|
|Terry Martin (Elwick)||0/1 (0%)||–||2010|
|Norma Jamieson (Mersey)||1/8 (12%)||7/28 (25%)||2009|
|Ivan Dean (Windermere)||3/8 (38%)||10/31 (32%)||2009|
|Kerry Finch (Rosevears)||4/8 (50%)||18/37 (49%)||2008|
|Paul Harriss (Huon)||3/8 (38%)||7/56 (12%)||2008|
|Jim Wilkinson (Nelson)||2/8 (25%)||23/51 (45%)||2007|
|Tony Fletcher (Murchison)||–||6/48 (12%)||2005|
|Colin Rattray (Apsley)||–||19/36 (53%)||2004|
Note that no votes have been recorded for Don Wing since he became President of the Legislative Council in 2002; the only vote recorded for Terry Martin is the one that led to expulsion. This was the only floor-crossing incident in the period in question.
Three seats fall vacant this year, two held by independents (Sue Smith and Jim Wilkinson, respectively members for Montgomery and Nelson) and one by Labor (Pembroke, held by Allison Ritchie). The first two hardly warrant comment in Montgomery (covering eastern Burnie and beyond), Sue Smith (left) will continue her 10-year career after being elected unopposed. In the southern Hobart seat of Nelson, Jim Wilkinson (right), a member since 1995, is not likely to be troubled by his sole opponent, Greens candidate Tom Nilsson. However, Pembroke looms as a potentially intriguing contest, with Ritchie defending a narrow margin as a member of an increasingly unpopular government although Kevin Bonham of the Tasmanian Times does not believe any of her opponents look the goods. Pembroke covers most of the urban area on the Derwent River’s eastern shore, from Risdon Vale south through Lindisfarne and Bellerive to Tranmere. The following table shows the results from the previous two elections in Pembroke along with those for the equivalent booths at the last state and federal elections. The Liberal column has been used to accommodate the previous independent member, Cathy Edwards; no connection between the two is implied.
The candidates are as follows:
Allison Ritchie (Labor). Ritchie scored a significant victory for Labor when she won the seat in 2001 at the age of 26, successfully campaigning against sitting independent Cathy Edwards’ dual role as mayor of Clarence. Until 1999, Pembroke had been the only upper house seat with a formal Liberal member; Peter McKay officially joined the party in 1991 after holding the seat as an independent from 1976 (when he succeeded his deceased father, Ben McKay, member since 1959). Ritchie is now convenor of the Left faction, and was said by Sue Neales of the Hobart Mercury to have been openly excited at the prospect of Bryan Green becoming the faction’s first Premier, prior to his political demise last July. Sue Neales reported in May last year that Paul Lennon was making it plain for all to hear that he wished for Ritchie to enter federal politics, most likely so he could ensure her replacement in the state’s Upper House came from his own Centre Left faction. It was widely thought that Ritchie might succeed the retiring Harry Quick in the federal seat of Franklin, a fiefdom of the Left, but she said she was not interested for family reasons. Ritchie has landed something of a coup by winning endorsement from Doug Chipman, Clarence councillor and former Liberal state president, who has appeared in her campaign material describing her as the best candidate.
Marti Zucco. Perhaps the best known of Ritchie’s challengers, Marti Zucco ran in last year’s periodical election for Wellington on the other side of the water (polling 14.4 per cent), despite living in Pembroke. Shortly before that election, Kevin Bonham had this 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 Laborâ€™s Mel Cooper on around 33% each. (Cooper actually just outpolled Ginn but lost on preferences). However, HCC results over the years suggest that Zuccoâ€™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. Iâ€™ll be surprised if Zuccoâ€™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.
Interestingly, Zucco had a run-in last year with John White, who complained to the Anti-Discrimination Commission on behalf of the Italian community (of which he is a figurehead, his name belying his ethnic origin) when Zucco used the word mafia to characterise opponents of coffee roasting at a Hobart cafe. White, who had earlier been a Denison MP and Health Minister in Michael Field’s minority government, was at the centre of the government dealings that led to Bryan Green’s downfall.
Neil Smith (Greens). Smith is a self-employed electronics engineering consultant and anti-logging campaigner. His previous run for office was as a lower house candidate for Lyons in 1998, when he polled only 138 votes (the Greens vote being dominated by future Senator Christine Milne, who nonetheless lost her seat).
David Jackson. A factory manager, Jackson was a Clarence alderman in 2004 and 2005, being elected on a recount after a sitting alderman retired. Kevin Bonham notes that Jackson’s electoral record has been less than spectacular: Jackson has most recently run for Clarence in 2002 (last of 13 with just 289 votes), 2005 (15th of 19 with 293 votes) and Pembroke in 1999 (a remarkably poor 3.3% in a field of just five).
Richard James. A Clarence alderman and Lindisfarne accountant, Kevin Bonham summarises James’s electoral record thus (bearing in mind that the aldermanic votes are from fields of 13 and 11 candidates):
James has run in so many elections (variously as a Liberal, Democrat or independent) that it would take several pages to attempt to list them all. He ran for this seat in 1989 (polling 30.5% out of four candidates), 1995 (32.6% of 3), and 1999 (13.26% of 5) but not in 2001. In the 2002 Clarence aldermanic election he polled 9.8%, a significant drop from the 12.8% he polled in 1999, when he was second elected. Running for Deputy Mayor of Clarence in 2005 he polled 29.63% (of 4) and was narrowly defeated by ex-Liberal MHA Martin McManus on preferences.
John Peers. Another Clarence alderman, Peers was elected with 6.9 per cent of the vote in 1999 and re-elected with 6.7 per cent in 2002. He ran unsuccessfully for deputy mayor in 2005, polling 22.4 per cent from a field of four candidates.