Seat of the week: Denison

Andrew Wilkie provided the biggest surprise of election night 2010 in nabbing the Hobart seat of Denison with scarcely more than a fifth of the primary vote. The contest looks no less complicated this time around.

Covering the greater part of Hobart, Denison produced one of the most significant results of the 2010 election, sending one of five cross-bench members to the first hung parliament since World War II. Andrew Wilkie achieved his win with just 21.2% of the primary vote, giving him a crucial lead over the Greens who polled 19.0%. The distribution of Greens preferences put Wilkie well clear of the Liberal candidate, who polled 22.6% of the primary vote, and Liberal preferences in turn favoured Wilkie over Labor by a factor of nearly four to one. Wilkie emerged at the final count with a 1.2% lead over Labor, which had lost the personal vote of its long-term sitting member Duncan Kerr.

Like all of the state’s electorates, Denison has been little changed since Tasmania was divided into single-member electorates in 1903, with the state’s representation at all times set at the constitutional minimum of five electorates per state. It encompasses the western shore of Hobart’s Derwent River and hinterland beyond, with the eastern shore suburbs and the southern outskirts township of Kingston accommodated by the seat of Franklin. It is one of the strongest electorates in the country for the Greens, who managed to increase their vote slightly from 18.6% to 19.0% despite the formidable competition offered by Wilkie. Booth results show a clear north-south divide in the electorate, with Greens support concentrated around the town centre and its immediate surrounds in the south and Labor continuing to hold sway in the working class northern suburbs.

Labor’s first win in Denison came with their first parliamentary majority at the 1910 election, but the 1917 split cost them the seat with incumbent William Laird Smith joining Billy Hughes in the Nationalist Party. The seat was fiercely contested over subsequent decades, changing hands in 1922, 1925, 1928, 1931, 1934, 1940 and 1943. It thereafter went with the winning party until 1983, changing hands in 1949, 1972 and 1975. The 1983 election saw Tasmania buck the national trend, the Franklin dam issue helping the Liberals return their full complement of five sitting members with increased majorities. Hodgman’s margin wore away over the next two elections, and he was defeated by Labor’s Duncan Kerr in 1987, later to return for a long stretch in state parliament (he is the father of Will Hodgman, the state’s Liberal Opposition Leader). The drift to Labor evident in 1984 and 1987 was maintained during Kerr’s tenure in the job, giving him consistent double-digit margins after 1993 (substantially assisted by Greens preferences).

Kerr bowed out in 2010 after a career that included a four-week stint as Attorney-General after the 1993 election when it appeared uncertain that incumbent Michael Lavarch had retained his seat, and a rather longer spell as Keating government Justice Minister. The ensuing Labor preselection kept the seat in the Left faction fold with the endorsement of Jonathan Jackson, a chartered accountant and the son of former state attorney-general Judy Jackson. What was presumed to be a safe passage to parliament for Jackson was instead thwarted by Andrew Wilkie, a former Office of National Assessments officer who came to national attention in 2003 when he resigned in protest over the Iraq war. Wilkie ran against John Howard as the Greens candidate for Bennelong in 2004, and as the second candidate on the Greens’ Tasmanian Senate ticket in 2007. He then broke ranks with the party to run as an independent in Denison at the 2010 election, falling narrowly short of winning one of the five seats with 9.0% of the vote.

Placed in the centre of the maelstrom by his surprise win at the 2010 election, Wilkie declared himself open to negotiation with both parties as they sought to piece together a majority. The Liberals took this seriously enough to offer $1 billion for the rebuilding of Royal Hobart Hospital. In becoming the first of the independents to declare his hand for Labor, Wilkie criticised the promise as “almost reckless”, prompting suggestions his approach to the Liberals had been less than sincere. Wilkie’s deal with Labor included $340 million for the hospital and what proved to be a politically troublesome promise to legislate for mandatory pre-commitment for poker machines. This met fierce resistance from the powerful clubs industry, and the government retreated from it after Peter Slipper’s move to the Speaker’s chair appeared to free it from dependence on Wilkie’s vote. Wilkie withdraw his formal support for the government in response, but it has never appeared likely that he would use his vote to bring it down.

Labor’s candidate for the coming election is Jane Austin, a policy officer with Tasmania’s Mental Health Services, who emerged as the preferred candidate of the still dominant Left. The Greens candidate is Anne Reynolds, an adviser to Christine Milne. The Liberals are yet to choose a candidate, prompting Labor to claim the party proposes to play dead in order to boost Wilkie. A ReachTEL poll of 644 respondents in mid-2012 had Wilkie well placed with 40% of the primary vote to 28% for the Liberals, 17% for Labor and 14% for the Greens.

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.

816 comments on “Seat of the week: Denison”

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  1. Other slogans considered before they settled on ‘Stop These Things!’:

    – Stop Tilting At Windmills.
    – Stop Hitting Yourself.
    – Stop LOOKING At Me.
    – Stop Touching Me.
    – Stop Breathing Like That.
    – Stop Repeating Everything I Say. Stop Repeating Everything I Say.
    – Stop. Hammer Time.

  2. Chink-In-The-Armour Dept:
    Barrie spruiking heresy: maybe the early election date wasn’t such a bad idea.

    Gee, different to what he was saying a few months ago.

  3. Gary:

    Just injecting a little dose of reality here….the place badly needs it (last night we had people arguing how good the ALP vote was in the NT by-election yesterday (the ALP vote being less than double digits :)). That is how sad things are here these days….

  4. Mod lib

    Nationals were promoting labor nbn

    that how sad things are for the coalition , they have talk about labor policies

  5. NBN – dont tell the full truth. Focus on the $47billion figure. Dont be totally honest and mention that the Govt is investing $30 billion the the rest of the money ($17billion) is from private enterprise and the sale of NBN product. And for heaven’s sake dont mention that when completed the Govt will sell its share and get a massive return on the sale of anything up to 7%.

    Kep focuses on the slow roll out and the unsubstantiated cost blow out we have ranted about.

    Dont mention that our NBN ignores small business and imposes a massive cost of them as we only take nodes to the end of the street and small business will have to poay the cost of connection to optic fibre.

  6. Joyce breaking ranks with Abbott on the baby bonus.

    Those Nationals.

    How long before the Dries get truly, really, sick of the Nationals ripping off the Liberals?

  7. Savva says Australians always hold their PM’s wives in high regard.

    I don’t recall Hyacinth being held in such high regard.

  8. On sunrise this morning Tim Ferguson was asked what it was like to have MS.

    His answer was that it was like having Barnaby Joyce in your body

  9. [I don’t mind Burke either, what’s wrong with her?]

    She doesn’t chuck Pyne out often enough. He sets out to disrupt parliament and she lets him succeed.

  10. BB:

    Watch out! Confessions will almost certainly condemn you for sexism for that comment.

    Wont you confessions?

  11. Mod lib

    I was wrong of the overall result , but i was right on where i got the vibe from they didnt support the nationals :0

  12. Mod Lib

    A stunning swing to the ALP in Northern Tablelands – 7.5% swing – OK, that was from 3.5% last time!!

    What is rarely noticed – around here at least – is that the rise of the indies has killed off the ALP is some areas. The state seat of Northern Tablelands was Labor held during the Wran years and the ALP were close – but never close enough – to winning the federal seat of New England during the 80s.

    This by election was probably the first time the ALP has polled double figures for well over ten years. Come polling day, this will translate into a loss of senate votes at least – important in a state where the final senate seat has come down to a handful of votes a few times.

  13. Abbott will scrap the SchoolKids Bonus for 1.3 million families while gifting $75,000 to new families earning over $150,000 under his PPL Scheme.

  14. [I was wrong of the overall result , but i was right on where i got the vibe from they didnt support the nationals :0]

    As the Nats got 62.5% of the primary vote, you were spectacularly wrong on the vibe as well – unless you got the vibe from looking in the mirror.

  15. blackburnpseph

    the independents were not that were known in the northern tablelands election
    apart from maher , who is no where near the likes of the beast windsor

  16. [Abbott will scrap the SchoolKids Bonus for 1.3 million families]

    If you support chopping the baby bonus, you should support chopping the school kids bonus as well. Pay low income families through the family tax benefit system and write the rest off to middle class welfare.

  17. ModLib

    [Watch out! Confessions will almost certainly condemn you for sexism for that comment.

    Wont you confessions?]

    Really, this is contemptible.

    By ‘pretending’ that any reference to a woman’s performance is necessarily sexist, you minimise the importance of the issue.

    If you can’t work out what sexism is, then you’re not really a moderate….anything.

    ‘fess – as with other posters here on the same issue – doesn’t pretend for a second that all criticisms of women are sexist. If you believe she does, I suggest you supply the evidence to back that assertion.

    Alternatively, you could just grow up.

  18. Meguire:

    I am not trying to jump on you when you are down, but we have all been reading your “insider knowledge” about how things are in Northern Tablelands and New England.

    “I know what is going on up here and you don’t”.

    If you thought the ALP/Indies were going to win NT and the Nat candidate won 2 out of every 3 votes, and the ALP candidate got 1 in 10, you got it spectacularly wrong. If you had inside knowledge of the seat that knowledge was wrong.

    You keep talking about “factual elections”…..well, we had one last night.

  19. And there is the false claim that people will be better off when Abbott repeals the carbon legislation and power prices go down.

    Given that it is a carbon price and not a tax he cannot in any way “force” the power companies to reduce their prices. His claim is a lie.

    The companies will need to keep the price rises in place to continue paying for their investments in carbon reduction technology and the carbon credits they have purchased.

  20. confessions @ 40

    Probyn belling the cat on Abbott’s promise to reduce electricity and gas prices.

    He is simply saying what is common sense. Does anyone really expect electricity prices to fall?

    A dose of reality here please. In NSW the electricity prices are regulated by IPART. The top price is regulated. If the carbon tax is removed IPART will drop this price accordingly and all contract prices will fall as they come up for renewal.

    BTW in NSW if anyone is paying the top regulated price they should ring around the providers and get a lower price. As most contracts are for 2 years I would wait till the carbon tax is removed, otherwise you may be stuck on a price higher than the regulated price (unless the NSW legislates that the providers must renegotiate contract prices.

  21. MB

    I will remember with great glee your prediction of Labor victory in Northern Tablelands.

    And will remind you of it regularly.

    This result is another nail in the coffin of the indies – the richard torbay shenanigans didn’t help their cause. When a voter votes for the ALP, Libs, Nats or Greens they have a damned good idea of what they will get – the last few years have shown that with the indies they do not.

    The only saving grace for Windsor is that he has been around long enough for the voters to know what they will get. Come September with (hopefully) a majority government, Windsor will sink back into his predestined role of political impotence – and if the coalition do get in – he can expect no favours.

  22. zoomster:

    I didn’t think ML’s silly remark was worth responding to, but if I was going to I’d have hoped it would’ve been as you have.


  23. [Bushfire Bill
    Posted Sunday, May 26, 2013 at 10:03 am | PERMALINK
    Is your dog a basset hound.

    Or is he Nikki Savva?]

    Right. So calling a female reporter a dog is not sexist in your view is it?

    Just like calling Gillard a witch is sexist, but calling Thatcher a witch is a political comment… might have to keep explaining all of this to me, its just so random.

  24. As the dollar has now fallen close to 10% in the last week or so, the cost of living outrage will now move on to petrol prices as they will have to rise – the high dollar cushioning them for quite a while. The upside will be – however – that higher petrol prices will lead to higher GST receipts.

  25. ML

    To be fair to MB he always said the area of NT was conservative compared to other parts of New England. Mentioned in particular about reachtel polling from memory.

    So I suspect you are conflating general predictions made for NE with those made for NT.

  26. [mari
    Posted Sunday, May 26, 2013 at 10:11 am | PERMALINK
    You didn’t answer my comment 33 wonder why?]

    This was a serious question? YIKES, this really is an alternate universe.

    [Ha Ha enjoy yourself over in Europe Mod and after seeing what has happened over there I am sure you will happily pay extra money to Keep the PM here, a vote for ALP in September will suffice as a down payment though]

  27. Gauss:

    In WA electricity prices rose something like 60% in 3 years before the carbon price legislation had even been drafted.

    If you think removing the carbon price will see electricity prices decrease then you’ve clearly drunk the LOTO Kool Aid.

    As BB said, the only way to lower the price of your electricity bills is to use less electricity.

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