Seat of the week: Bass

The latest episode in the increasingly mis-named Seat of the Week series begins with good news (for me) and bad news (for you). The good news is that an online media entity is paying me actual money to provide them with my world-famous electorate results maps (seen in earlier posts on Stirling and Bonner). The bad news is that this inevitably involves an exclusivity arrangement, so that I will no longer be able to include the feature in this and future instalments.

Today we turn our attention to the apple isle and its famously marginal seat of Bass, one of two Tasmanian seats that switched from Labor to Liberal at the 2004 election. Bass has had a relatively straightforward history, having been frozen into the state’s north-eastern corner by the constitutional requirement that Tasmania have no fewer than five seats regardless of its population. Launceston provides it with about 70 per cent of its 70,000 enrolled voters; other centres include George Town, a Labor-voting coastal town at the mouth of the Tamar River, and the more conservative Scottsdale, a hub of surrounding timber and farming communities noted as the focal point of the Exclusive Brethren movement. The past two elections show little distinction in voting behaviour between Launceston and the remainder, with respective two-party support for the Liberals at 52.4 per cent and 53.6 per cent in 2004, and swings of 4.6 per cent and 4.7 per cent. Within Launceston, the North Esk River that runs through the city from west to east serves as a boundary between strong Labor territory in the north, where its two-party vote remained in the high-fifties in 2004, and the more conservative suburbs in the south and west.

Bass came into existence at the second federal election in 1903, after Tasmania voted as a single electorate in 1901. Labor first won the seat when the 1910 election delivered it its first-ever parliamentary majority, and lost it six years later when member Jens Jensen followed Billy Hughes into the Nationalist Party during the 1916 Labor split. Jensen retained the seat as a Nationalist at the 1917 election, and it remained with the party after he lost endorsement in 1919. Labor’s next win came with the election of Jim Scullin’s government in 1929, but it was again lost to a party split when member Allan Guy followed Joseph Lyons into the United Australia Party in 1931. Guy was re-elected as the UAP candidate at that year’s election, but was defeated by Labor’s Claude Barnard in 1934. The next change came with the election of the Menzies government in 1949, when Barnard lost to Liberal candidate Bruce Kekwick. It returned to the Barnard family fold when Claude’s son Lance defeated Kekwick in 1954, going on to serve as deputy prime minister in the Whitlam government from 1972 to 1974. The seat is still best remembered for the 1975 by-election that followed Barnard’s mid-term resignation – ostensibly on grounds of ill health, but following a year after he lost the deputy position to Jim Cairns. Kevin Newman won the seat for the Liberals as the Labor vote plunged from 54.0 per cent to 36.5 per cent, emboldening the Coalition to pursue an early election at all costs.

Bass remained in the Liberal fold for 18 years, with Tasmania bucking the national trend to Labor in 1983 due to the Franklin dam controversy. Kevin Newman retired in 1984; his wife Jocelyn became a Senator in 1986 and served for four years as a minister in the Howard government, and their son Campbell is now the lord mayor of Brisbane. Kevin Newman was succeeded by Warwick Smith, whose promising career progress was twice stymied by the vagaries of electoral fortune. In 1993 he lost the seat to Labor’s Sylvia Smith by just 40 votes, part of a statewide swing to Labor that gave the first indication on election night that things were not going according to script. Warwick Smith recovered the seat in 1996 and served as Family Services Minister in the first term of the Howard government, while Sylvia Smith returned to politics a year later as an independent member in the state upper house. The 1998 election produced a second GST backlash and another painfully narrow defeat for Warwick Smith, this time by 78 votes at the hands of 30-year-old Miscellaneous Workers Union official Michelle O’Byrne.

Labor repeated its 1998 clean sweep of Tasmania in 2001, but came disastrously unstuck in 2004 after Mark Latham’s policy on logging of old-growth forests provoked the wrath of the CFMEU, Premier Paul Lennon and Lyons MP Dick Adams. Vision of the Prime Minister receiving a euphoric reception from timber workers at Launceston’s Albert Hall provided one of the main talking points of the decisive final days of the campaign. Both Bass and its still more logging-dependent neighbour Braddon fell to the Liberals, with respective swings of 4.7 per cent and 7.1 per cent. Eighteen months after her defeat, O’Byrne entered state politics at the March 2006 election; under the Tasmanian system where candidates from all parties compete for five seats in each division, O’Byrne scored by far the highest personal vote of any candidate in Bass (23.4 per cent of the primary vote).

Successful Liberal candidate Michael Ferguson (left) came to parliament with a reputation for social conservatism, having been director of the Tasmanian Family Institute and a vigorous opponent of the Tasmanian government’s gay adoption laws. He had also worked as a staffer to Senator Guy Barnett, a key player in the state party’s ascendant Right faction. The Prime Minister was at first unimpressed that the Right proposed to install a potentially contentious candidate in so sensitive a seat, and reportedly encouraged independent MLC Ivan Dean to nominate against him for preselection. Ferguson has since demonstrated his conservative credentials by accusing abortion advocates who opposed the death penalty of “breathtaking hypocrisy”, and moving restrictive amendments to legislation on stem cell research. He also earned the nickname “Sir Michael” from Labor after his website suggested he had received “the Order of the British Empire Award for Community Service”, in reference to an award he received from monarchist group the Tasmanian Association of the Order of the British Empire.

Labor’s candidate is Launceston alderman Jodie Campbell (right), who first came to prominence as an Australian Services Union official when a Launceston call centre closed upon the collapse of Ansett in 2001. She was elected to council the following year and became deputy mayor in October 2005. Campbell is associated with a breakaway sub-faction of the Left called the Progressive Policy Forum, along with Michelle O’Byrne and her brother David, state secretary of the LHMWU and until last year the state president of the ALP. She had not been the party’s first choice; an initial preselection vote held last August saw her defeated by Steve Reissig, a Scottsdale school principal and former coach of Australian rules football club Glenorchy. Reissig had been head-hunted by the party to stand at the March 2006 state election in an effort to find a high-profile replacement for retiring incumbent Kathryn Hay; it was reported that he had also considered joining the Liberal Party. His election bid failed by just 136 votes, after late counting delivered a decisive surge to Greens incumbent Kim Booth.

Campbell’s nomination for federal preselection had greater support than Reissig’s among local party branches, but this was outweighed by backing for Reissig from the state executive, which determines 50 per cent of the vote. This resulted from a deal in which the Left backed Reissig in exchange for Right faction support for Kevin Harkins, assistant state secretary of the Left faction Electrical Trades Union, in his bid to succeed Harry Quick in Franklin. According to Matthew Denholm of The Australian, Reissig’s backers deemed him a “more mainstream” candidate than Campbell with greater appeal to swinging voters. His opponents sought to have his nomination blocked on the grounds that he had not met party rules requiring regular branch meeting attendance, having only joined the party the previous January. This requirement was waived by the state executive, despite threats from the Progressive Policy Forum that it would upset a deal securing Senate seats for incumbents Carol Brown of the Left and Nick Sherry of the Centre if Campbell did not prevail.

Reissig announced his withdrawal last October saying he had “too much on his plate”, although there was also talk of a smear campaign involving letters sent to Reissig’s wife and the Hobart Mercury newspaper. Campbell quickly emerged as the front-runner for the second round preselection, despite the upset this would cause to the factional arrangement that installed Reissig. This prompted Nick Sherry and Right faction Senator Helen Polley to encourage a challenge from Bill Bothilo, an official of the Right faction National Union of Workers and Reissig’s campaign manager (Bolitho was Labor’s candidate for the Victorian seat of Gippsland at the 2001 federal election, and had earlier been a member of the Nationals). Harry Quick’s take on this was that Bothilo had nominated to be a “pain in the arse”, inspired by animosity over the treatment given to Reissig. The dispute was settled by a deal in which both Right and Left agreed to back Campbell.

With Kevin Rudd having officially abandoned the forestry policy his party took into the 2004 election, Bass and its neighbour Braddon would appear ripe for a correction in Labor’s favour. However, the mood may have again been soured in January when a company half-owned by the state government decided it would no longer supply pine logs to sawmills in Scottsdale, threatening 300 local jobs. This occurred against the backdrop of Gunns Limited’s contentious proposal for a pulp mill at Bell Bay just south of George Town, on which local opinion has been divided between hopes of job creation and fears over the effect on the water supply. The likely tone of the Liberal campaign against Campbell was indicated by Senator Eric Abetz’s description of her as an “urban greenie” and “yet another left-wing unionist”. The seat was predictably targeted with a generous serving of government largesse at the recent budget, which included $13 million to upgrade Launceston’s flood levee system, $10 million to protect jobs in Scottsdale, and an upgrade of Royal Flying Doctor Service coverage of islands in the Bass Strait.

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.

67 comments on “Seat of the week: Bass”

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  1. Tasmania does not have five seat regardless of its population.
    It has five seats because it does not have more than 5.5 quotas of voters.
    The constitutional says that no original state shall have no less than 5 members which has allways proped up the number in Tasmania and initially in WA too i believe.

  2. The Tasmanian seats are under quota. All existing states MUST have at least five seats.

    For new states, of course, new terms can be specified for them.

  3. It is amazing she was not the parties first choice, instead seeking a candidate whom was also liberal leaning. This says alot about how Labor is currently choosing candidates.. celebrities who know little about politics, with very few ideas for a better Australia.
    It is thoroughly a undemocratic system which elects five senators from Tasamania with very few votes for the Senate .. the same for Canberra.. a waste of taxpayers money…

  4. They could fix the Tasmanian problem by increasing the number of seats in parliament.. perhaps.. 200 seats.. the minimum is 5 no matter how big the pool of seats.

    The constitution would then force 100 senators.. that’d be even more interesting.

    Sorry, fantasising again.

  5. I totally agree with you Mr Speaker. There hasn’t been an increase in the number of parliamentarians in 23 years, despite a 33% increase in the nation’s population! I think a 33% increase in the size of the parliament (from 150 House seats to 200) would be fitting.

  6. We have enough pollies! No increase! This country is greatly overgoverned as it is. Yes, we all like seeing elections and analysing the results and yes there’d be even more to analyse if there were more seats, but with state and local and federal governments … we have enough!

  7. Great run-down once again William.

    But I do note one factual error:

    There was no “statewide Labor clean sweep” of Tasmania in 1993.

    At that election, Labor gained Bass, Franklin and Lyons for the first time since the Whitlam years. But the Liberals hung onto Braddon.

    That makes 1993 the only general election in the last fifty years where Bass and Braddon have not been won by the same party.

  8. We need to consider all the ramifications of increasing the size of the HOR and for nominating a nice round number, like 200.

    The Senate needs to be half the size of the House, or as near as practical to it. As well, there has to be an even number of Senators from the states to enable an even split for half Senate elections. The next even number is 14, so that would give us a Senate of 88 (84+4) requiring a House of about 180 max. Thus, Tassie wins. Their numbers in the House remain static, but their numbers expand in the Senate.

    A further complication is that by increasing the size of the Senate, we lower the quota for half Senate elections from the present 14.29% to 12.5%, and for DDs from the present 7.69% to 6.67%. So, we can expect a lot more minor party Senators and Independents to cross these lower threshholds, or at least to give it a red hot go. Would the major parties accept this?

  9. Last I recall the ASU voted with centre unity in tas alp (right) if they have broken away with the missos a break away fusion faction is probably a more accurate description.

  10. Darn, I really enjoyed those maps. Will us plebes be able to access them at the other “online media entity”, whatever it may be?

    Forlornly holding out for the democratization of knowledge ….

  11. Yes, William, you need to tell us which “online media entity” so that a) we can subscribe if need be, or b) check it out free (if possible). The possibility might be a link? Or maybe there is a time-expiry factor here too? Anyway, missing the maps!

    On another point – will the Gunns business have any impact on voting in tasmania. I know Lennon is trying fast track things with the paper mill, but I understand there’s also a court challenge, and then there’s commentary about Gunns wanting a new mill to service more plantation…Will this mean forestry is not off the Tas agenda, and will it continue to play a roll in Bass and Braddon?

  12. Stewart. All I can say (as a regular non-pseph guy-on-the-street) is that there’s a fair bit of anger in the Tamar Valley about the mill and the Lennon government’s (disgraceful) kowtowing to Gunns. Contrary to what mainstream media would have us believe, a significant proportion of the anti-mill population are not Green supporters, which confuses matters a great deal – it’s not a straight-down-the-line party issue. I don’t think even the major parties have any idea how this will affect the next fed election.

  13. is there a fairly conservative anti pulp mill type who might run as an independent? and who would get votes that may not go the Greens?

  14. Just a minor point, but wasn’t Lance Barnard’s resignation caused by his appointment as ambassador to Sweden?

  15. Oakeshott,
    As ever you are right on matters of detail from Labor’s (not so) glorious past – with the exception of the condition of the economy in 1972 (joke).
    Barnard was given the post in Sweden (although I believe it was ambassador to Scandinavia) as a consolation prize when he lost the deputy leadership to Jim Cairns after the 1974 election.

  16. History seems to suggest that the Tasmanian seats are so used to being showered with pork that they take it for granted and it doesn’t shift votes. I think the two things that will matter in Bass and Braddon (and Franklin, which I think is a serious worry for Labor), are candidate quality and Labor’s forestry policy. From that point of view Sid Sidebottom is a very good candidate, Jodie Campbell seems a bit of a gamble (“Take a gamble with Campbell” ho ho), and Kevin Harkins pure folly. Quite possibly Labor could win Braddon and lose Franklin, while Bass teeters (as usual) on the edge.

    Is Joe Hockey a total moron or what? Has he forgotten that women got the vote in 1902? I said at the time he was a bad appointment, and was I not right? For such a political genius, Howard sure makes some lousy Cabinet picks.

  17. Oakeshott Country, from Whitlam’s eulogy for Lance Barnard: “When he realised that his war-caused hearing impediment was increasingly impairing his Ministerial performance, I accepted without hesitation his request for a diplomatic appointment.” Perhaps “ill health” is a little imprecise.

  18. I’ve heard Franklin is a concern, but on a 7% margin, is it really that much of a concern? Also, what is it about him exactly?

  19. For someone rather dismissive of local candidate factors in suburban seats, it’s surprising that Adam thinks Franklin is one to watch. Isn’t Franklin mostly suburban Hobart?

    As Pseph points out, there’s a fair bit of buffer there for Labor. I doubt Quick’s departure – the manner of his departure notwithstanding – is going to cause Labor serious headaches.

    Franklin is also a state electorate where the Libs hold just one of the five proportionally elected seats. (As opposed to Bass and Braddon’s two.) It seems to me that Franklin is nowadays a fairly generic Labor electorate.

  20. There’s a lot of fuss about labor loosing Franklin. Being a tasmanian abroad I can’t see it happen with the current mood change. Tasmanians are as concerned as any other voters about work choices and are more used to differentiating state based vs federal issues. A popular lib candidate is running but I doubt this will mean more than 2% which is likely to be countered by a national swing to labor. The recent pembroke result (in this electorate) demonstrates that state labor is not as on the nose as some are suggesting. The state libs are also a disorganised rabble still.

  21. On Franklin, yes I have been dismissive of candidate factors in suburban seats, but Tasmania is much more parochial than the other states and candidates certainly count for more there. Only personal popularity can explain a moron like Bruce Goodluck or a loud-mouthed fool like Michael Hodgman being federal MPs for years and years. Franklin has been held by the Libs more often than not since 1946 – it only has a 7% majority because of Quick’s personal vote. Tassie has a history of not following national trends. Harkins is a particularly unreconstructed old-time union official, and was found by a Royal Commission to have engaged in unlawful conduct – you can bet the Libs will be letter-boxing this all over the electorate. Plus the Libs have a presentable female candidate. This all smells like trouble to me, but then I don’t live there so perhaps I am wrong.

  22. I wonder if the ALP will preselect a high profile candidate for my seat of Berowra? Probably not. Berowra actually is safer for the Liberals than North Sydney and Warringah. Isn’t it time Ruddock quit politics?

  23. If Mal Brough survives this election (Longman could well be line ball) I’ll throw him into the mix of potential leadership contenders post-Costello. Certainly he’s more likely than Slow Joe. His rise was quite rapid, he comes across as competent, he’s the only Howard Indigenous Affairs minister to do even a couple of good things and he’s still quite young (45).

    I have to say I allow myself a quiet smile whenever I contemplate a spiv like Nelson or a shameless marionette like Bishop becoming Liberal leader.

  24. Talking of ALP preselections, who have they picked for Wentworth? I would have thought the ALP would be treating Wentworth as an equal prospect to seats like Robertson, Hughes, Page and Cowper. Any of you ALP insiders or near-insiders care to comment? Also, have the Liberals and Nats sorted out whether there are going to be a three-cornered contests in Page in Leichardt? This could make the difference in these seats

  25. Jackie Kelly will quit parliament at the next election. What effect will this have on the Libs holding her seat? Is this a sign that she doesn’t hink the Libs will win?

  26. It’s pretty clear Jackie Kelly is not that interested in politics any more. The stories of her taking her kids to Canberra sights instead of attending party meetings are evidence enough of that.

    Maybe she was going to retire regardless, but I’m sure the prospect of losing helped push her along a bit.

    I’ll be very surprised if Labor don’t win Lindsay now.

  27. David Bradbury’s Christmases all just came at once – and those of his kids!

    I think Jackie riding off into the sunset confirms the fact that many Liberals think they are done and dusted – in fact, I think I recall that in 1996 a number of good Labor MPs decided they had enough, and toddled off, exposing otherwise safe seats to the ill winds of Howard.

    The swing is on …

  28. Franklin is certainly loseable for Labor given the internal shenanigans over who should be preselected, and the recent history of the seat favouring personalities over parties. However I think the Liberals needed a more dangerous candidate than Vanessa Goodwin, who is becoming better-known but still wasn’t able to win a Lower House seat in the last state election (in the end it was not even all that close). Rumours that Huon MLC Paul Harriss might run came to nothing, although I am not sure now whether Harriss would have been able to carry the working (and unworking) class eastern shore suburbs which have more voters than the Huon Valley section of Franklin.

    It should be noted that the Libs have also had preselection foibles in this seat with Goodwin suffering mysterious anonymous smears concerning her lack of a family life from Eric Abetz-linked backers of her unsuccessful preselection opponent Daniel Muggeridge.

    Re Bass, I agree with Adam that candidate selection is a problem for the ALP in the seat. I also think that while Rudd has apparently reversed Latham’s forest policy blunders, there is still some ambiguity there and there may be a degree of mistrust from the previous election.

    Preference direction in Bass given the pulp mill issue (and the mill being apparently supported by state Labor and the federal Coalition) will be an interesting problem for the Greens. I doubt the mill will have that much impact on voter behaviour though, as those concerned about it will have no clear outlet of concern in the direction of their preferences (and we already saw at the last state election that the mill has no outright tendency to boost the Green vote, although this may have changed a little with increasing disgust about the processes involved).

    I’m currently expecting Ferguson to hold this seat if the national swing to Labor is not of whitewash proportions. It’s also the only Tassie seat which I currently consider the Libs more likely than not to hold. I don’t think they’ll retain Braddon which was an extreme result last time, and Franklin is more a possible than a probable. As for Denison, I just don’t know why they bother running a candidate anymore.

  29. Bill I think if you read back over my contributions here you will find that I have been more critical of Labor than any other contributor here has been of their own party.

    The evolution of the Tasmanian seats is interesting. In the 50s and 60s Labor usually held Bass, Braddon and Wilmot (Lyons), while the Libs held Franklin and Denison. Now the situation is reversed. This reflects the decline of the rural-provincial working class and the rise of the new Labor-voting middle class. Duncan Kerr failed to win Braddon but is a very good fit for Denison.

  30. Am I correct that the ALP candidate for Lindsay is the Mayor of Penrith, who ran against Jackie Kelly last time and lost?
    I agree, Labor surely must be a good chance now to win this seat back.

  31. No David Bradbury is a councilor although he has been Mayor in the past (last in 2004) and has been beaten by Kelly twice. The Mayor is Pat Sheehy (ALP).
    Who will be the liberal candidate? There are reports that Councillor Mark Davies will get the job. When I lived there, I felt that Councillor “Big Jim” Aitken had a 5 -6% personal vote which explained the large swings that occured in the state seat of Penrith on the two occasions he stood. When Jackie Kelly surprisingly won in 1996, it was rumoured that he was the initial choice of candidate but withdrew after spending $100K of his own money on the 1995 state election and saw Lindsay as a hopeless task.
    He would be an interesting candidate as there have been anti-workchoice demonstrations outside his real eatate agency and steak restaurant in the last few months (He denies that he exploits AWAs but he also ranks highly amongst the 10 stupidest men I have ever met). I also understand he has been ill recently.

  32. I note the similarities between Hindmarsh 2004 and Lindsay 2007.

    The former contest saw Labor’s Steve Georganas squeak across the line at his third successive attempt; after incumbent Liberal Chris Gallus called it quits.

    Good omen for David Bradbury. Mark me down as another who thinks Labor will win Lindsay in 2007.

  33. David lets not forget the swing needed to win Hindmarsh 2004 was less than 1%, and still the ALP only won by 108 votes even with a very popular candidate. A 5.3% swing will be a much tougher ask.

  34. Tia Says:

    May 26th, 2007 at 5:30 am
    David lets not forget the swing needed to win Hindmarsh 2004 was less than 1%, and still the ALP only won by 108 votes even with a very popular candidate. A 5.3% swing will be a much tougher ask.

    The redistribution has knocked the required swing in Lindsay down to 2.9%.

    And the 2007 environment looks much more favourable for federal Labor than 2004.

    I stand by my prediction.

  35. does anybody out there have any intelligence on whether the water stand off between turnbull and bracksie is having any effect on political standings in the irrigation seats – murray, mallee and indi? do the farmers and associated townies back the vics or the feds? – personally I have lost track of the issues. If they are backing the vics, could this lead to big swings in these seats – hell would freeze over before they were lost but big swings could contribute to the Vic alp 2PP OF 62% that I saw bandied around somewhere.

  36. With the Victorian irrigation seats – my sense when I was up that way a couple of months back was that local sympathies were much more with the Victorian Government position than the feds, but I’m not sure how much the Victorian Farmers Federation change of position since then will affect things (probably not much). The situation probably varies considerably depending on where you are – the views in Mildura will be different to those in Shepparton (where the proposed ‘superpipe’ to Bendigo and Ballarat is deeply unpopular).

    As said earlier, there’s no way that Labor will win any of these seats – their usual function in Mallee and Murray is to determine (via their voters preferences, which usually have little to do with what the how-to-votes say) who wins the Liberal v National contest if there is one – but water is a very potent vote-shifter (as proven at the Victorian election). The potential is definitely there for independents to do well there (and in inland NSW) if any emerge with the necessary profile.

  37. Adelaide’s SundayMail publishes the result of a poll of 601 voters in SA last week. It gives Labor a 2PP vote of 59 per cent – compared with 46 per cent at the last election. A 13 per cent swing would give Labor the Liberal seats of Kingston, Wakefield, Makin, Boothby, Sturt and Grey, with
    Mayo becoming very marginal. The big issues are water, education and climate change.

  38. I think the ALP will win Wakefield, Makin and Kingston.
    Because the candidate for Boothby is a bimbo, the Liberals would be favoured to hang on there.
    Sturt – I don’t know. Christopher Pyne is one of the more arrogant members of the government I’d love to see the back of.
    I doubt Downer will lose Mayo, but I expect his 13% margin will get reduced somewhat.

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