Morgan’s face-to-face polling from last weekend, which has been published a day earlier than usual, shows Labor up slightly off a record low the week before, with their primary vote up a point to 30.5%. The Coalition is also up slightly, by half a point to 46%, with the Greens steady on 12%. A narrowing in the headline respondent-allocated two-party figure, from 60.5-39.5 to 59-41, is mostly down to a slight increase in the preference flow to Labor. With regard to the ongoing disparity between this result and the two-party figure derived from preference flows at the last election, which is steady at 55.5-44.5, Morgan has taken to adding the following footnote: “An increasing proportion of Greens voters are indicating a preference for the L-NP ahead of the ALP. At the 2010 Federal Election only 20% of Greens voters preferenced the L-NP, but recent Morgan Polls have this figure closer to 40%”.
The latest instalment of Seat of the Week, like the last two, is brought to you by the letter B.
Seat of the week: Bass
Still famous for the by-election that provided a catalyst for the Coalition’s decision to block supply in 1975, Bass has been an arm wrestle between Labor and Liberal ever since, changing hands at five out of the six elections between 1993 and 2007. The electorate has been little changed since it was created with the state’s division into five single-member electorates in 1903, at all times covering Launceston and the state’s north-eastern corner. Launceston accounts for slightly less than three-quarters of its voters, and has been trending to Labor over the past two elections: between 2004 and 2010, Labor’s two-party vote in Launceston progressed from 47.6% to 58.3%, compared with 46.4% to 54.0% in the remainder of the electorate.
Labor first won Bass when it secured its first ever parliamentary majority at the 1910 election, and lost it six years later when its member Jens Jensen followed Billy Hughes into the Nationalist Party. Jensen retained the seat as a Nationalist at the 1917 election, and it remained with the party after he lost its 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 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, before being unseated by Labor’s Claude Barnard in 1934.
The next change came when Liberal candidate Bruce Kekwick defeated Barnard when the Menzies government came to power in 1949. The seat returned to the Barnard family fold in 1954 when Kekwick was defeated by Claude’s son Lance, who went on to serve as deputy prime minister in the Whitlam government from 1972 to 1974. The famed 1975 by-election followed Barnard’s mid-term resignation, ostensibly on grounds of ill health, but following a year after he lost the deputy leadership to Jim Cairns. A plunge in the Labor primary vote from 54.0% to 36.5% delivered the seat to Liberal candidate Kevin Newman (the late father of Campbell Newman and husband of Howard government minister Senator Jocelyn Newman), encouraging 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 during the Hawke years in the wake of the Franklin dam controversy. Kevin Newman was succeeded in 1990 by Warwick Smith, whose promising career progress was twice stymied by the vagaries of electoral fortune. In 1993 he lost to Labor’s Sylvia Smith by just 40 votes, part of a statewide swing that gave the first indication that 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, before the 1998 election produced a second GST backlash and another painfully narrow defeat, this time by 78 votes at the hands of Michelle O’Byrne, a 30-year-old official with the Miscellaneous Workers Union.
O’Byrne held the seat until 2004, when Mark Latham’s restrictive policy on old-growth logging provoked the wrath of Tasmanian unions and Labor politicians, and resulted in John Howard receiving a hero’s reception from timber workers in Launceston in the final week of the campaign. Michael Ferguson gained the seat for the Liberals with a 4.5% swing, but he was defeated after a single term by a 3.6% swing in 2007, and has since pursued a career in state politics. The successful Labor candidate, Jodie Campbell, would likewise serve only one term, announcing she would not stand for re-election as reports emerged her preselection was under threat. Campbell was succeeded by Geoff Lyons, a staffer to Right faction Senator Helen Polley and former manager at Launceston General Hospital. Lyons’ endorsement was determined by the intervention of the party’s national executive, an arrangement which had reportedly been smoothed by the Left not contesting the preselection for Denison. He performed strongly at the election, consolidating Labor’s hold on the seat with a 5.7% swing.
The Liberal candidate at the next election will be Brigadier Andrew Nikolic, whose military service has included postings in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has more recently worked with the Defence Department’s international policy division. Nikolic had been rated a favourite for preselection in 2010, but he withdrew citing work and family reasons. He made the news in May 2012 when he threatened to send “formal letters of complaint” to the employers of those responsible for a satirical blog post about him, and of anyone who had “liked” the post on Facebook.