Tasmanian election guide part one: Bass

Launceston-based Bass kicks off a five-part review of Tasmania’s electorates ahead of the March 15 state election.

Welcome to part one of a five-part B-to-L guide to the Tasmanian election, which I’ll eventually get around to gussying up with charts and photos and publishing as a Poll Bludger election guide in the usual fashion. We shall proceed alphabetically, so first up …

Bass covers the eastern part of Tasmania’s northern coast along with Flinders Island, and derives 70% of its voters from Launceston. 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. Bass has long been an arm wrestle between the major parties at federal level, changing hands in 1975, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2007 and 2013. This has been reflected at state level both in terms of vote share and seat totals. Relatively mild shifts were recorded amid the statewide realignments to Liberal in the early 1980s and Labor in the early 2000s, and the division was the only one in the state which delivered equal numbers of seats to Labor and Liberal in 2002 and 2006.

This trend was disturbed by the 2010 election result, at which Bass joined Franklin as one of two electorates to record well above-par swings against Labor, in this case a 15.1% drop to 34.5%. The yield was divided roughly evenly between the Liberals, who were up 8.8% to 42.6%, and the Greens, who were up 7.4% to 21.0%. However, the seat result was again unchanged, with Labor and Liberal winning two seats each and the Greens winning one, as had been the case in 2002 and 2006. This reflected the extreme narrowness with which Labor failed to win third seats on the two previous occasions, and in particular the 138-vote margin of Greens member Kim Booth’s win over a third Labor candidate in 2006.

Labor’s aggregated vote share of 2.07 quotas in 2010 illustrates the difficulty they will have in sustaining the status quo in the face of a further swing. With both opinion polling and the 2013 federal election result pointing to a surge for the Liberals in northern Tasmania, a Liberal gain here looms as an indispensable element of any scenario in which they achieve a parliamentary majority. The Greens also cannot take a seat in Bass for granted, as illustrated by their failure to win a seat at the last election under the seven-member regime in 1998.

The senior of Labor’s two incumbents in Bass is Health Minister Michelle O’Byrne, who entered politics as the federal member for Bass from 1998 until her defeat in 2004. On contesting the state election in 2006, O’Byrne emerged as Labor’s strongest performing candidate in Bass, outpolling 17-year Labor veteran Jim Cox. She was promoted to Community Development Minister seven months after her election, and then to Environment Minister in February 2008 and Health Minister after the 2010 election. Reflecting the decline in support for Labor, O’Byrne’s share of the vote fell from 23.3% in 2006 to 17.8% in 2010. Her brother, David O’Byrne, was elected in the division of Denison at the 2010 election, and immediately elevated to cabinet. Both have backgrounds in the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union, and are accordingly aligned with the Left.

The second Labor candidate elected in 2010 was Brian Wightman, a former principal of Winnaleah District High School. Wightman won promotion to cabinet in the reshuffle caused by Treasurer Michael Aird’s retirement in November 2010, taking on the Attorney-General and environment portfolios. Wightman’s 5.9% share of the vote in 2010 placed him ahead of seemingly higher-profile candidates in Scott McLean, the forests division secretary of the CFMEU (4.8%), and Brant Webb, who won brief national fame as one of the two survivors of the Beaconsfield mine disaster in 2006 (4.2%)

Rounding out the Labor ticket are Andrew Connor, a Meander Valley councillor who works in information technology; Adam Gore, who has worked as a musician in the army and as a teacher; and Senka Mujkic, who works at the Migrant Resource Centre in Launceston and was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The highest-polling Liberal candidate in 2010 was Michael Ferguson, making his state electoral debut after serving as federal member for Bass from 2004, when he unseated Michelle O’Byrne, until 2007, when he was defeated by Labor’s Jodie Campbell. Ferguson polled an exceptionaly strong 25.0% to take a second Liberal seat vacated by former party leader Sue Napier, who bowed out a month before the 2010 election owing to a recurrence of the breast cancer to which she succumbed the following August. Ferguson was noted as a social conservative and a member of the state party’s ascendant Right, having been director of the Tasmanian Family Institute. He has accordingly been identified with causes including opposition to gay adoption laws, abortion and stem cell research.

In the wake of Napier’s departure, the only Liberal incumbent at the election was Peter Gutwein, who first won election in 2002 with 9.1% of the vote. His win came at the expense of fellow Liberal David Fry, who had filled a vacancy mid-term. Gutwein went against party policy in his debut term by calling for an end to old-growth logging, and was briefly dumped from the front bench after voting in favour of a Greens motion calling for a commission of inquiry into child sex abuse. He was restored after the 2006 election in education and further gained police later in the year, before recovering Treasury when Will Hodgman relinquished it in August 2008. Currently he holds Treasury together with forestry and industry.

The Liberals have a further three candidates vying for a hoped-for third seat for the party: Sarah Courtney, owner of a Tamar Valley vineyard; Barry Jarvis, the mayor of Dorset; and Leonie McNair, co-principal of the Launceston Preparatory School.

Kim Booth returned the Greens to Bass at the 2002 election after they emerged empty-handed at the last election held under the seven-member regime in 1996, and the first one for five members in 1998. Curiously, Booth’s background was as the owner and operator of a building and saw-milling company, and also as deputy mayor of Meander Valley. After running unsuccessfully in 1998, Booth was comfortably elected in 2002 as the party scored fractionally short of a full quota in their own right, easily making up the rest on Labor preferences. He had a much tougher time in 2006, when the Greens vote fell from 16.5% to 13.6%, and was initially thought by most observers to be headed for defeat. However, he eventually prevailed by 138 votes after benefiting from a high rate of exhausted Labor votes, and from Labor voters who crossed to the Greens after casting a personal vote for Michelle O’Byrne. There were no such problems in 2010, when the Greens vote rose to a new high of 21.0%. After the election, Booth revealed he had been the only dissenter in the five-person Greens party room against the Labor-Greens alliance which saw his collegues Nick McKim and Cassy O’Connor assume positions in cabinet. His running mate on the Greens ticket is Amy Tyler.

Others: The lead candidate of the Palmer United Party would appear to be Chris Dobson, a bus operator and former RAAF airframe fitter. Also on the ticket are Mark Hines, a former electrical engineer with the army; Tim Parish, a George Town councillor; and Brian Gunst, a teacher. There are two further candidates: Ray Kroeze of the Australian Christians, and independent Brett Lucas.

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.

23 comments on “Tasmanian election guide part one: Bass”

  1. If the Libs don’t get three seats in Bass, then they are cactus. The Lib victory scenario involves 3 seats in each of Bass, Braddon and Lyons and either 2-2 or 2-3 in Denison-Franklin.

    One assumes Booth will hold his seat and Wightman will probably lose his. I have no idea which of the Liberal candidates will benefit: where I live in the south of the State, Jarvis has the highest profile due to his strong anti-forestry stance. I guess this will help him, although that’s not completely clear.

    More generally, my mail is that there isn’t much in the way of private polling, so the latest ReachTEL poll is the best info going around. This more or less suggests that the contest is over and that the Libs are certain to get 13 seats, with a possibility of a 14th by winning the third seat in Franklin.

    On the ReachTEL figures, the only conceivable way this won’t happen is for the Libs to lose one of their existing two seats in Denison and not gain the third seat in one of the other four seats: most likely Franklin. Even if this occurs, one feels that Brenton Best – if re-elected in Braddon (which seems more likely to me than the Libs winning a fourth seat or the Green O’Halloran holding on) – is laying the himself to go independent and then perhaps do a deal with Hodgman.

    Another scenario is the PUP picking up a seat in one of the five electorates Braddon or Denison seem the most likely – and then themselves doing a deal with Hodgman (in exchange for what I’m not sure).

    One problem with either of these scenarios is that they would involve Hodgman trying to govern as leader of a coalition, something he has pledged over and over again not to do.

    If the Libs end up in any of these nightmare scenarios, they will have nobody to blame but themselves IMO. The swing towards them (assuming it holds up to the election) would be more than enough to give them a certain majority in a 35 seat Parliament (cue in Kevin B to disagree with me).

    For those of us hoping for rational economic and fiscal policies, the election campaign has been extremely depressing. Despite all their silly ideas on so many issues, the Greens are holding up as easily the most sensible party in these respects, in that they are committed to not wasting taxpayer dollars on pulp mills and subsidies to the forestry industry.

    The Liberals seem to be going around promising everything to everyone – more police, more grants to various things, etc, etc – and this all to be paid for by massive cuts to the Tassie public service, which is already struggling to meet its responsibilities as a result of severe cuts under Labor.

    I don’t think many people in Tassie believe that the Libs have the answers, but they are sick to death of Labor and the Greens. So that’s where it looks likely to end up.

  2. My reading of my aggregation of state polling under the 35-seat system would be 18 Lib, 9-10 ALP, 5-6 Green, 1-2 PUP. The 35-seat system would do a better job of minimising the risk of dispropotionate outcomes for Labor and the Greens. The picture as concerns Liberal majority chances is not much different.

  3. “The Greens also cannot take a seat in Bass for granted, as illustrated by their failure to win a seat at the last election under the seven-member regime in 1998.”

    Hope this is no longer the case. I don’t feel this is longer the case. Launceston seems a little more refined these days compared to the rural hick post it used to be.

  4. I now have all 126 candidates up at the link given above. Labor has drawn extremely well getting effectively pole position everywhere bar Lyons. Oddly the three grouped independents in Denison have drawn the last three places, a 1 in 84 chance event.

  5. KB: I agree that, on the basis of the latest ReachTEL polling, the Libs get an absolute majority pretty easily in either a 25 seat or 35 seat parliament via 3-3-3 in the north and 2-2 in the south or 4-4-4 in the north and 3-3 in the south.

    But, in a 35 seat parliament, the 3 for the Libs in Denison is more robust than the 2 that they are tracking to get in a 25 seat parliament. And, even if the 3rd seat in Denison were to fall over, they are a reasonable show of getting a 4th in Franklin or a 5th in Braddon.

    This issue will become important if the actual vote in Hobart and surrounds is significantly less favourable for the Libs than the ReachTEL poll is indicating: this scenario would see the chance of a third seat in Franklin evaporate, put the second seat in Denison under threat and – in extremis – put the third seat in Lyons in doubt too (although I very much doubt that this will happen).

    It’s only impressionistic, but my sense is that some people in Hobart who six months ago were 100% sure that they were going to vote for the Libs are starting to have second thoughts. The Lib campaign has been (even) weaker than I expected, and they seem to be struggling to project any sort of economic plan beyond some sort of idealistic and unrealistic dream about a return to the golden days of forestry. I’m sure that this stuff goes down pretty well north of Campbell Town, but it’s increasingly meaningless to most Hobartians: an ever-decreasing number of whom feel any sense of connection to forestry. And even those down this way who care about forestry can’t have been too excited by the news that the Libs aren’t proposing to do anything to try to reopen the Triabunna mill.

    So, in short, the risk for Hodgman and co is that the swinging voters leaning towards them in the south are marginally attached and could either swing back to Labor or (perhaps more likely) go to the PUP.

    My point is that, from the current polling figures, it would take less of a swing back from the Libs in the south to knock Hodgman off his 13 out of 25 seat perch than it would to overturn a likely 18 out of 35 seat result. That’s how I see it anyway. And, if I turn out to be right, I won’t have any sympathy for him.

  6. Actually make that 19 Lib and 0-1 PUP in the above, looks like I was looking at the individual recent ReachTEL poll figures for Franklin and not my aggregate figures. They would be on for 4-2-1 in Franklin in my aggregate at the moment and a little more comfortably than they are on for 3-1-1 in the current system. (Indeed though the polling aggregate has them on for 3-1-1 I don’t currently trust it.)

    On my current figures in Denison however, the Liberals are safer in their quest for 2 in the 25-seat system than they would be for 3 in a 35-seat system. This isn’t surprising: the threshholds are 33.3% and 37.5% respectively but if they fall just below in either case there’s no-one else in sight.

  7. KB. Fair enough. The Libs would need to fall a fair way below 2 quotas in Denison to bring PUP into play. And of course 2 out of 5 quotas is easier to get than 3 out of 7: sorry, I had a senior moment and forgot my basic maths!

    Still, I can construct mathematical scenarios in which the Libs get a majority with a 35 seat system and miss out with a 25 seat one: but they don’t work on the ReachTEL figures. I guess I just want it to be true because I think the 25 seat system is so stupid. I should probably get over this as I suspect 25 seats are here to stay (well, unless and until the Greens win two in Denison).

    Anyway, thanks for posting the guide to candidates: I’ll read it with interest.

  8. Psephos@10

    Is the principal objection to 25 seats as opposed to 35 seats that it produces unrepresentative parliaments, or that it produces ministries with very limited talent?

    These days it is more the latter than the former but also there are other points heard too. These include the erosion of the backbench and the heavy workload for politicians holding multiple ministries (who end up relying on large numbers of advisers, thus cancelling out perceived cost benefits.)

    Also casual vacancy countbacks end up being a bit of a joke, because the ideal strategy to minimise leakage is to run three gun candidates and two nonentities. However if the star candidates get elected and later resign, the nonentities get elected.

    I can still remember some of the dills who used to get in under 35 seats and I don’t think people should imagine a return to that system will solve all the talent pool problems.

  9. Maybe the problem is that Tasmania just doesn’t have enough talent to govern itself. Not surprising if half the population is functionally illiterate, as I read last week. What if we offered you ten seats in the Victorian Parliament and a Tasmanian team in the AFL?

  10. My objection to the move to the 25 seat parliament is about how and why it was done: that is, a cynical attempt to reduce the political effect of the Greens. While I am by no means a Greens supporter, I see them playing an important role down here in tempering the influence of the forestry sector, Federal Hotels and other powerful elements with whom both Lib and Lab tend to jump straight into bed.

    Thankfully, the 25 seat parliament strategy hasn’t worked too well so far. Now it’s more of an embarrassment than anything else: reducing the talent pool of potential ministers.

    I’m not sure that , in general, the Tassie political talent pool is much weaker than anywhere else: it’s declining everywhere these days IMO (eg compare the current frontbenches of both sides of Federal politics to those of the 80s or 90s).

  11. Psephos@12

    Maybe the problem is that Tasmania just doesn’t have enough talent to govern itself. Not surprising if half the population is functionally illiterate, as I read last week. What if we offered you ten seats in the Victorian Parliament and a Tasmanian team in the AFL?

    I’d expect that to lead over time to the emergence of a vaguely unified Tasmania Party that would hold the balance of power in Victoria quite a lot of the time hence perpetuating the same “mendicant” status the move would be designed to avoid.

    As for the start of the 25-seat parliament in 1998, Tony Rundle was so driven up the wall by having Christine Milne continually holding the proverbial gun to his head that he chose probable self-immolation in preference to having it continue. He did so reluctantly because it was Labor who most ardently wanted what we currently have and wouldn’t take anything else. It was done the way it was to nobble the Greens but they were hardly innocent of blame given the way they were playing the game. That’s probably why they were not able to generate any sympathy vote over it.

    Oh, for those who want to play tipster my Not-A-Poll on the number of seats the Liberals will win is now open for business at http://kevinbonham.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/not-poll-how-many-seats-will-liberals.html Curiously 12 is in the early lead but I find the early voters on my site tend to be lefties; the later voters not so.

  12. Psephos @15
    I worked as a collector in the last census, in a rural area. I did not encounter anyone who was unable to read the census material or understand notes I left them. There might have been a few who were assisted by friends or relatives, but certainly nothing like half. I think the bar for “functional literacy” has been set a bit high. I note that by the same measure, 44.4% of Australians are functionally illiterate. Tasmania is the worst state, but not by a huge margin – Tasmania 48.5%, SA 47.2% (Figures from ABS 4228.0 – Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies, Australia, 2011-2012).

  13. It seems from the info provided by MagicPudding that someone is being deemed functionally illiterate if they fail to get over the following bar (Level 3):

    “Texts at this level are often dense or lengthy, and include continuous, non-continuous, mixed, or multiple pages of text. Understanding text and rhetorical structures become more central to successfully completing tasks, especially navigating complex digital texts. Tasks require the respondent to identify, interpret, or evaluate one or more pieces of information, and often require varying levels of inference. Many tasks require the respondent to construct meaning across larger chunks of text or perform multi-step operations in order to identify and formulate responses. Often tasks also demand that the respondent disregard irrelevant or inappropriate content to answer accurately. Competing information is often present, but it is not more prominent than the correct information.”

    I agree with MP that that’s setting the bar a bit high, so my answer would be no.

  14. After 213 votes on my Not-A-Poll site readers predict a mean and median result of 13 seats for the Libs (this is also my current prediction); however 14 seats is the commonest individual prediction, and 69% predict a Liberal majority.

  15. Pudding and KB, good answers, thanks.

    I would assume given the national polling that Tasmanian Labor will be flogging as hard as it can the notion that a Hodgman government will expose Tasmania to the full horrors of the Abbott regime, with massive cuts to the social safety net and industry subsidies that keep Tasmania afloat. Is there any sign that this is having any effect? Do you believe there is any chance that it will have any effect? Or is Tasmanian Labor just too far gone for anything to save it at this stage?

  16. Labor’s attack ads (http://www.youtube.com/user/TasmanianLaborParty) are mostly on the theme that Hodgman is supposedly like Campbell Newman. There’s also one that tries to say he isn’t really a player when it comes to standing up for Tasmania – off at the races etc, and one somewhere that has fun with Turnbull cutting him loose on the NBN.

    The problem with the whole Abbott-based attack angle is that it doesn’t really make sense that who is in power here will make a big difference. To the extent that these issues are federally controlled it won’t matter who is Premier, and to the extent that they are state-controlled the Libs at state level will have no reason to commit political suicide by acquiescing to the feds. So I don’t think there’s that much in it as scare campaigns go.

    I think their chances are slim whatever they do.

  17. The point is not whether an Abbott scare campaign makes sense – it’s whether it will have any effect. But I take the point that your answer is that it won’t.

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