Seat of the week: Braddon

UPDATE: Essential Research has the Coalition two-party lead up from 55-45 to 56-44, although nothing has changed on the primary vote: 33% for Labor, 49% for the Coalition and 10% for the Greens. Further questions relate to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which party has the better policies for various groups of disadvantaged people (Labor comfortably ahead in each case), and the Olympic Games (among other things, 58% think $39 million of government spending per gold medal too much).

To commemorate the occasion of Mark Riley’s report on alleged Labor internal polling, we visit the scene of what would, assuming the poll to be authentic, be its biggest surprise: Tasmania, where Labor is said to be looking at a devastating swing and the loss of all four of its seats.

The hook for Riley’s report on Channel Seven was that Tasmania was among four states and territories where Labor was set to be wiped out, the others being Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The first did not come as a surprise, as the picture of a 9% swing taking all in its path is entirely familiar from state-level breakdowns from Newspoll and Nielsen and Queensland-specific polling from Galaxy. However, the implied swing in Western Australia of 6%, as would be required to knock over Stephen Smith in Perth and Melissa Parke in Fremantle, is at odds with Newspoll, which has showed Labor holding its ground: 57-43 in October-December, 54-46 in January-March and 55-45 in April-June, compared with 56.4-43.6 at the election. Riley’s numbers do accord with Nielsen, whose last three monthly results for WA average to 62-38. However, even after combining three polls their sample is a very modest 390 (with a margin of error of about 5%), compared with about 900 (margin of error about 3.4%) for Newspoll.

In the case of Tasmania, together with the Northern Territory (where Labor is in danger of losing Warren Snowdon’s seat of Lingiari), no such basis for comparison is available. The state is excluded from Newspoll and Nielsen’s breakdowns for inadequate sample sizes, and the state’s one public pollster, EMRS, usually contents itself with state politics. In relating that Labor faced a two-party deficit of 56-44, the Riley report thus presumed to tell us something we didn’t already know – and quite a remarkable thing at that, given that the last election gave the Liberals their worst result in Tasmania since the modern party was founded in 1944 (33.6% on the primary vote and 39.4% on two-party preferred).

It hadn’t always been thus. At the consecutive elections of 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983 and 1984, it was not Labor but the Liberals who enjoyed clean sweeps of the state’s five seats. Certainly the state has form in turning on Labor over environmental controversies, the Franklin Dam issue of the early 1980s and Mark Latham’s forestry policy at the 2004 election being the cases in point. It could be that the another environmental issue, the carbon tax, has alienated Labor from the blue-collar base that sustains it outside of Hobart. While it seems hard to believe that this alienation could be so fierce as to power a swing of 17%, it should be remembered that the 2010 result forms an artificially high base, owing to a half-hearted campaign waged by a Liberal Party that had its strategic eye elsewhere.

The most marginal of the five seats, Bass, was dealt with in an earlier post, so today naturally enough we move on to the second, its western neighbour Braddon. Confusingly known before 1955 as Darwin, Braddon covers the north-western coastal areas of Tasmania, plus King Island in the Bass Strait. The redistribution before the 2010 election extended the electorate along the full length of the thinly populated west coast, which benefited Labor by adding the mining towns around Queenstown. The dominant population centres are Devonport and Burnie, which respectively supply about 25% and 18% of the voters.

Demographically, Braddon is distinguished by the lowest proportion of residents who completed high school of any electorate in Australia (and, relatedly, the eleventh lowest median family income), and it ranks second only to neighbouring Lyons as the electorate with the smallest proportion of non-English speakers. The timber and mining industries that have traditionally provided a solid base for Labor are balanced by beef and dairy farming, which contribute to a more conservative lean in the western parts around Smithton. Labor’s strongest area is Burnie, although Devonport also traditionally leans its way.

Braddon/Darwin was held by Labor legend King O’Malley from its creation in 1903 until 1917, and then by conservatives of various stripes until Ron Davies gained it for Labor in 1958. Davies held the seat until 1975, when future Premier Ray Groom’s victory contributed to the first of the Liberals’ clean sweeps. Groom was in turn succeeded upon his move to state politics in 1984 by Chris Miles. The Liberals’ electoral position meanwhile continued to strengthen due to the decline of the area’s key industries and the political upheaval caused by the Franklin Dam controversy.

Braddon’s fortunes changed very suddenly in 1998, when a 10.0% swing made Peter “Sid” Sidebottom the seat’s first Labor member in 23 years. Labor has since been defeated only in 2004, when John Howard’s late-campaign trumping of Mark Latham over forestry jobs fuelled a 7.0% swing that delivered the seat to Liberal candidate Mark Baker. Sidebottom had declined to distance himself from Latham’s policy, unlike Dick Adams in neighbouring Lyons. Endorsed again in 2007, Sidebottom was able to recover the seat with a modest 2.6% swing, before adding a further 5.1% to his margin in 2010. On the former occasion the swing was most strongly concentrated around Smithton, reversing a heavy swing to the Liberals from 2004, while the swing in 2010 was greatest in Devonport and Latrobe.

Sid Sidebottom had been a Central Coast councillor and electorate officer to Senator Nick Sherry before entering parliament, and he returned to the employ of Sherry during the interruption of his parliamentary career from 2004 to 2007. Sidebottom is presently factionally unaligned, but like Sherry was formerly a member of the Centre/Independents faction, known in its Hawke government heyday as the Centre Left. He was promoted to parliamentary secretary after the 2001 election, serving in various permutations of agriculture, resources and fisheries over the ensuing term. It took until November 2011 for him to recover his old status, that month’s reshuffle slotting him into the familiar agriculture, fisheries and forestry portfolio.

The Liberal candidate at the next election will be Michael Burr, described by the Burnie Advocate as a “high-profile Devonport real estate business owner”. Burr won preselection from a field that also included Glynn Williams, a North Motton farmer and lawyer described in the local press as an “ultra conservative”, and lower-profile local Jacqui Lambie. Burr’s backers reportedly included Senators Richard Colbeck and Stephen Parry, and local state MP Adam Brooks. It was thought that another contender might be Brett Whiteley, who lost his state seat in Braddon at the 2010 election, but he announced in the week before the preselection that he would instead focus on returning to state politics.

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.

2,520 comments on “Seat of the week: Braddon”

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  1. Why does it always turn into The George Brandis Show?

    This bastard interrupts, talks over and gets the approval of Tony Jones every time.

    He never shuts up.

    And no-one shuts him up.

  2. Carey,

    [I don’t really find people here using “faucet” or “sidewalk”. Rubber is 50-50 (I’ve found people nowadays prefer to use “eraser” but, as far as condoms are concerned, the term “rubber” isn’t really embraced.]

    My point, and I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear, was that when one is in America it’s easier to adapt to their usage – especially given the difficulties that many Americans seem to have to adapting their language usage when not in America. So, when I’m doing presentations in America, I modify my language as far as I can comfortably do so.

    Regarding condoms, as far I understand it, the term “rubber” is the common American expression – and let me be clear: I have no direct experience.

  3. My personal bete noir is “buoy” which the Americans insist on calling “boo-ey”. This drives me to distraction. However, if I were in the States I would grit my teeth and say “boo-ey” just as I do with “zee” for “zed”.

    What I really hate is people being pedantic with the Alphabet Song. The way it was written, it goes –

    Q R S T U V
    W X Y and Zee

    It’s supposed to be sung that way, because it rhymes. But people insist on teaching it to kids as:

    Q R S T U V
    W X Y and Zed

    For me, Zee and Zed are interchangable. It doesn’t really matter whether you use on or the other. Except in a song where you bugger up the rhyme by saying Zed. Teach them a different song or leave it the way it is.

    I am rather pedantic in my anti-pedantry. I’m fond of telling people that saying Aitch instead of Haitch is just a Victorian-era glitch. (I do say Aitch though) I believe that the reason it’s pronounced Aitch rather than Haitch is exactly the same as the reason lower-class Londoners dropped the H in words like hospital and house etc. Somewhere along the line it got transferred across, such that the ‘proper’ pronunciation was the one with the H dropped. Don’t know why though.

    And I like to tell people that mall actually rhymes with pal not ball, because it derived its name from Pall Mall.

    Happy to be corrected if I’m wrong on either.

  4. 2512

    If you teach it to children the American way then the language is more likely to shift to the American way over time. It don`t want that.

  5. [confessions

    Last Newspoll was 28% pv for Labor. This one is 33%. Not status quo at all]

    Look at the 2pp! It is on 46% and has been stuck in that range for over a year.

    A 33% primary is RUBBISH!

  6. [Cancerous Gusface @GenGusface 22h allegedly 47/53 but will be shown as 46/54]

    it’S a conspiracy i tells ya!

    they”re all again’ us!

  7. Way back…

    If no-one has standing to challenge gay marriage it would show how entirely symbolic it is (imagine a la creating a’right’ without ant obligation at all on anyone else).

    The Tory States could dress a challenge up as a request for a declaration as to whether the Tasmanian law is constitutional, on the grounds other States want to know if they have to recognize those marriages under any law using the term.

    Ironical – a conservative state arguing against states power? Only if you confuse form and substance.

    (Alas that’s why Tories are ahead in recent times; they fight like junkyard dogs over substantive outcomes whilst progressives worry about form and process.)

  8. Re US_English
    I notice that many in the media now say
    “train station” whereas the usual usage was always “Railway station”

  9. Greens
    I think you are clutching at straws.
    The various polls have always in recent years shown the Greens as between 10-14%(in a recent Vic poll” and much the same e;sewhere…but much greater in Tas

    The notable thing it that the Greens vote seems quite solid in all the polls…no sign of much movement…unlike the catastrophic Labor primary votes both state and federal…now at an unheard of -30 in the worst cases…about 25% of the “progressive: vote has gone from Labor to Green

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