Periodical tables

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.

. 2006-07 2002-06 expiry
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.

2006 STATE 48.5 33.4 16.0 2.2
2004 FEDERAL 49.0 39.4 8.3 3.2 57.4
2001 PERIODICAL 53.8 46.2 53.8
1999 BY-ELECTION 35.6 41.6* 22.8 46.2

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 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.

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.

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.

20 comments on “Periodical tables”

  1. It’s the perfect test to sort out the real psephological obsessive: ask them about their opinion on the Tasmanian upper house elections.

  2. Mr Q, it’s not that strange. Think of the way the Senate has half-elections every three years (a six year cycle) or the US Senate has third-elections every two years (also a six year cycle); the Tasmanian Legislative Council has sixth-elections every year (still a six year cycle). They just do it with single member seats instead of multimember ones.

    The weirdest thing is that they keep up with it in spite of the fact that there’s only a few dozen people to vote down there in Tasmania. Is voting in these elections compulsory?

  3. The Tasmanian Legislative Council elections aren’t any weirder than anywhere else: and they make a lot more sense than the preference deals and trades done in NSW, Victoria and the Senate, where, it seems to me, candidates can get elected vastly disproportionate to their level of support in the electorate.

    At least in the Tas upper house, the most popular individual, based on preference distribution if necessary, wins, so it is a “proper” election.

    In answer to the various issues raised above:
    – Yes, there is Robson rotation on the ballot paper.
    – Drunkenness helps anything to do with electoral politics.
    – Yes, voting is compulsory (although the turnout for Leg Council elections is lower than for state and general elections, largely because of the lower level of publicity they attract.)
    – There are about 21,000 voters in each Leg Council electorate.

    On the last point, poster Alexander is correct, in a sense, to infer that there are fewer electors per politician in Tasmania. It is well known that your average Tasmanian can get very close to their local member, whether state or federal. At state level, proportional representation in the lower house means 25 (and it used to be 35) politicians for 320,000 voters, which is about 13,000 voters each. This, coupled with the need for candidates to, effectively, campaign against members from their own party as well as opposing, provides an impetus for candidates to get to “know” voters personally. In the federal arena, Tasmania is guaranteed five lower house and 12 Senate seats by the constitutions. Which means about 19,000 voters for each federal member, as opposed, for example, to NSW where it is 64,000 voters for each federal member. (So much for one vote one value!)

    Wonks can see for a better summary than I can give.

    I recommend the Kevin Bonham link provided by William. You won’t get a better form guide. I agree with Dr Bonham that all the evidence from past elections *should* mean that Richie holds the seat easily. But, as we draw closer, I do start to wonder if we might see a backlash against the Lennon government. I doubt it (the ALP’s Lin Thorpe in an adjacent seat won easily two years ago against similar “Labor backlash” predictions) but, if it does occur, it would make Tasmanian politics SO much more interesting …

  4. If the devil is in the detail William, you must have a strong connection to the dark side. 🙂 As usual your local knowledge is astounding.

  5. Alexander: yes it is “compulsory”; that said the turnouts have at times been very dismal and the Electoral Office are even mailing out 4-page pamphlets reminding voters of their democratic responsibilities and explaining how the system works.

  6. You know, living here in Tasmania, I’m deeply impressed by our electoral arrangements. Unfortunately, less so with our politicians. But that’s another post from a newbie somewhere along the track.
    I can really only speak somewhat subjectively about this, but a state where you pass the limo of the Chair of the LC in your beat-up 1986 4WD and he waves from the window because he saw you at the theatre the week before, or you have the then-member for Bass (now a state minister) getting dragged away from the pub at 2am because you’ve been talking politics for too long, or one of the state reps now lives in your old studio space, or you’ve done a couple of theatre gigs with an other MLC or whatever…
    You know these people and, regardless of their politics, you like/dislike these people on a very personal level. They are our representatives. They’re subjected to far more political scrutiny than anywhere else in the nation because they’re just that much more visible.
    Our arrangements may be ‘unusual’ and ‘obscure’, but, even with the rubbish of 25 seats as opposed to 35, they’re stacks more representative than anywhere else in the nation. I’m aware that our arrangements are an abberation nationally. However, there are some real plusses: our House of Assembly is like the federal Senate – proportional representation. (Just because our politicians are crap at the moment doesn’t take away from the beauty of the theory) And then our Leg Council is 2/3rds independent. Admittedly, most are conservative, but even myself as a hard left voter can appreciate that the less party politics in a house of review the better.
    Anyway. Hope I haven’t lowered the tone of this excellent blog with my first post. If anyone wants to know which way the wind is blowing in Bass, just give us a yell and I’ll head down to the Mall and do a straw poll. (Jodie Campbell by 2200 votes). Anyway. Cheers.

  7. I actually think the “sixth-election” rotation (rather than “half-elections” or “third-elections”) is one of the things that makes Tassie LC elections so odd. Because the influence of elections for two or three seats at a time on the balance of the place is so minimal, it’s hard for candidates to make it sound like these elections really matter. That, plus the fairly small electorate sizes, means the elections tend to have a personality focus rather than an issue focus. They are rather similar to Tassie council mayoral elections in this way.

    An anti-Labor backlash vote in Pembroke, if it happened, would certainly spice things up a bit, but I’m not expecting there to be much if any of it. I guess it helps to discuss parameters for a backlash vote in advance – on that basis, if Ritchie’s vote is anything below 40% I will suspect a backlash. I would be reluctant to interpret a vote in the low 40s, if it happened, as a backlash given that she is up against five candidates, most of them “independents”, even if they are not a very threatening looking bunch.

  8. As a mainlander I tend to agree with Stuart. Most people hate politicians, and therefore assume the less of them the better. However, I’m not sure it works that way. I think where there are huge seats and people can get elected through expensive campaigns without having more than token contacts with the people they are supposed to represent there is much more risk of the sorts of things people hate about politicians occurring than where they actually have to win votes face to face.

    I’m not a big fan of most of the parliamentarians in the Tassie parliament, and still less in the Northern Territory (the other place where face-to-face campaigning really matters. But I think that cultural factors matter at least as much as the actual system. In Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire the state congress has tiny little districts which force the representatives (who are only paid part time btw) to operate more like local councillors than members in other states, and it seems to have delivered better representation than most US states have.

  9. I would be open to us increasing the number of seats in the House of Representatives. If you compare our number of 150 to other countries, it is much smaller than the numbers in the UK and US. While the US has a lot, lot, lot more voters, The UK had 27 million voters in 2005, compared to 12 million Australian voters in 2004, yet the House of Commons has more than 4 times the number of seats (over 600).

    Scotland has 129 MSPs, New Zealand has 120 MPs, despite being much smaller than Australia. Canada has over double the number of seats in their House of Commons than in our HoR, and without checking the exact figures, I don’t believe Canada would have double the number of voters or citizens as Australia.

    Of course, this would mean an increase in the Senate numbers, but I reckon an increase to 7 per state (possibly 3 for the ACT?) at each election would solve a lot of the problems we have seen where it is very hard for one side or the other to get the upper hand. STV works much better with odd number of seats.

    This would result in 175 seats, roughly, which would be quite an improvement.

  10. The Electoral Commission really are active (or desperate?) in trying to lift the turnout. Today I received a *second* pre-election card from them. This one comes with a popout map of Tasmania with the voter’s name and address on the back, which one can take along to the polling booth to “get your ballot paper quicker”.

    I expect to be posting in the comments section on this site during the count, either on this thread or on a relevant live thread if there is one going. I would do so on TT but the number of defamatory posters there means that all comments have to be moderated so live posting there is not practical.

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