Rowallan and Wellington live

WELLINGTON Primary Swing 2PP Swing
LABOR 43.2 -3.4 60.4 0.9
GREENS 26.1 -1.6 39.6 -0.9
Marti Zucco 14.4
Christian Democratic 5.3
Paul Hiscutt 8.1
Stephen Roomes 2.8 73% COUNTED

Sunday 4.00pm. The table has been amended to factor in late results and new intelligence on preference flows (thanks Kevin), and also to correct a calculation error that was inflating Labor’s vote after preferences.

7.38pm. Not sure if they do notional preference counts on election night – I could forgive them if they didn’t. In any case, we’re unlikely to get much more action tonight.

7.33pm. Creek Road, the last booth other than Launceston, has strengthened Parkinson still further in what looks pretty much like a status quo result.

7.29pm. All booths in from Rowallan, Hall is still on 82.3 per cent. Only waiting on Creek Road and the Launceston booth for primary votes in Wellington. Still no two-party preferred count.

7.25pm. A bunch of larger booths plus pre-polls are now in from Wellington. The primary vote swing against Labor has eased a little, such that I think we can safely call it for Doug Parkinson.

7.15pm. 74.0 per cent counted in Rowallan, Hall down ever so slightly to 82.3 per cent.

7.11pm. Preferences amended. I’ve now got 50 per cent of independents’ preferences going to the Greens and 30 per cent to Labor, the other way around for CDP, with the remainder exhausting.

7.10pm. A big flurry of booths in from Wellington, but the existing score hasn’t changed much. Labor are down about 5 per cent and the Greens are more or less steady. My arbitrary estimates showed Labor doing better on preferences than last time. I think I might amend that.

7.02pm. 60.8 per cent counted in Rowallan – possibly the quickest count I have seen, indicative of how this district is dominated by small towns. Little change in the figures: 82.5 per cent to 17.5 per cent.

6.54pm. 54.4 per cent now counted in Rowallan, Hall on 82.2 per cent, Greens on 17.8 per cent.

6.51pm. Six booths in for Wellington. My 5.0 per cent swing to Labor is based on pretty arbitrary preference calculations that probably flatter Labor. For the time being it might be safest just to trust the primary figures, which suggest Labor are losing votes to independents.

6.39pm. Oh dear – a sudden blurt of booth results for Rowallan after a quiet period. Hope it’s not like that for Wellington, of which there is still no word. 22.4 per cent counted in Rowallan, Hall leads 82.1 per cent to 17.9 per cent.

6.23pm. Those small town booths in northern Tasmania are coming in at a rapid clip. Seven booths now in, Hall leading Cassidy 685 to 130.

6.22pm. There are actually three booths in already from Rowallan, which is pretty impressive. Greg Hall leads the Greens 166 votes to 47.

6.20pm. All eyes are on Tasmania this evening as the events that have captured the nation’s imagination over the past two weeks build towards an emotional climax. That’s right folks, it’s the annual periodic elections for the Tasmanian Legislative Council. Since the seat of Rowallan looms as a certain victory for independent Greg Hall (his sole opponent is the Greens’ Karen Cassidy), the focus of attention here will be on Wellington, where it is at least theoretically possible that Greens candidate Marrette Corby or independent Hobart City Council alderman Marti Zucco could pull off an upset. Hopefully the booth arrangements haven’t changed too much since the last poll in 2000, and the calculations in place for the above table will prove of some use. Otherwise I will get rid of it and focus on off-the-cuff commentary. The Greens need a swing of 9.5 per cent to win the seat; if Zucco does better than expected and outpolls them, my table will not be of much use. First figures should be in around 6.40pm.

Rowallan and Wellington

In the past two years, the Poll Bludger cornered the market in online commentary of the annual Tasmanian Legislative Council periodic elections. This time, I have been beaten to the punch by this excellent summary from Kevin Bonham of the Tasmanian Times, to which there is regrettably little to add. However, a broad overview is in order for those of you who have never given the chamber much thought.

The Tasmanian parliament inverts the usual practice by having multi-member electorates with proportional representation for the lower house and single-member districts for the upper house. There are 15 of the latter, for which elections are held over a six-year cycle with either two or three electorates going to the polls on the first Saturday of each May. Since the elections are detached from the hoopla of a state election campaign, they are dominated by local issues and personalities and resistant to the influence of the major parties. In particular, the Liberal Party has not formally endorsed a candidate for an upper house election since 2000. This is essentially because its practice of staying above the fray is popular and well-established, and it fails to win support whenever it goes against it. Furthermore, the dominance of the chamber by independents is in the party’s long-term interest given Labor’s overwhelming historical dominance in the lower house. Labor has never had such qualms about directly involving itself, and currently holds five of the 15 seats from electorates in and around Hobart. This is a historically strong position for them, as they usually had only one or two members before the chamber was garnished from 19 members to 15 in 1997 (as part of the package of reforms which cut lower house representation from seven members per electorate to five).

The elections to be held on Saturday week will be for the electorates of Rowallan and Wellington, which are respectively held by independent Greg Hall and Labor’s Doug Parkinson. Greg Hall’s almost certain re-election removes some of the interest from the Poll Bludger’s annual audit of independent MLCs’ voting behaviour in parliament, combined with the fact that the division bell hasn’t had much of a workout in the past year. Given the small sample of just eight divisions, the only point of interest is that newcomer Ruth Forrest has lined up with Labor on five of eight occasions, suggesting she will prove more agreeable to Labor over time than Tony Fletcher, her predecessor as the member for Murchison. The following table shows the frequency with which each independent sided with Labor in divisions going back to 2002. Former members are indicated by italics, and no votes are recorded for Don Wing since he became Council President in 2002.

. 2005-06 2002-05 expiry
Don Wing 0/0 (-) 2/14 (14%) 2011
Ruth Forrest 5/8 (62%) 2011
Tanya Rattray-Wagner 1/7 (14%) 7/12 (58%) 2010
Norma Jamieson 2/5 (40%) 5/23 (22%) 2009
Ivan Dean 4/8 (50%) 6/23 (26%) 2009
Kerry Finch 1/8 (12%) 17/29 (59%) 2008
Paul Harriss 3/8 (38%) 4/48 (8%) 2008
Sue Smith 2/6 (33%) 16/44 (36%) 2007
Jim Wilkinson 3/6 (50%) 20/45 (44%) 2007
Greg Hall 1/8 (12%) 21/48 (44%) 2006
Tony Fletcher 6/48 (12%) 2005
Colin Rattray 19/36 (53%) 2004

These figures suggest that Greg Hall (left) has been one of the less hostile independents from the government’s perspective, with one-time Liberal Party candidate Paul Harriss remaining as the outstanding anti-Labor member after Tony Fletcher’s retirement. Labor would not be too displeased that Hall’s only rival nominee for Rowallan is Greens state convenor Karen Cassidy (right), who polled 1.5 per cent from a party total of 15.8 per cent in Lyons at the March 18 state election. Perhaps the Greens did not realise that they would be out on a limb when they decided to contest the seat, but surely they would have done better to have sat it out so Hall could be elected unopposed, as was the case with Don Wing in neighbouring Paterson last year. Rowallan is not fertile territory for the Greens, covering small towns west of Launceston and south of Davenport including a short stretch of northern coastline at Port Sorell. This area is covered by the divisions of Lyons and Braddon at lower house and federal level, the latter being the only one of the five that failed to return a Greens member at the past two elections. Their vote in local booths was around 11 per cent at the state election, which was fairly typical for Braddon and below par for Lyons (where their total was 15.8 per cent). As such, the likely sentiment among voters will be irritation at having been dragged to the polls by a candidate with no serious prospect of victory.

Wellington, which covers central Hobart and inner suburbs as far north as Moonah, is a very different matter. By Kevin Bonham’s reckoning, the Greens polled 30.6 per cent in the electorate’s booths at the state election compared with a total of 22.9 per cent across Denison, while Labor’s 42.8 per cent and the Liberals’ 23.7 per cent compared with electorate-wide results of 46.9 per cent and 26.6 per cent. Bonham notes that the Greens vote was exceptionally high in the inner city booths of West Hobart, Lansdowne Crescent and Hobart (53 per cent, 46 per cent and 44 per cent respectively), but this was cancelled out by much stronger Labor results in the more traditionally working class suburbs of Moonah and Lutana in the north. The Greens polled 28.0 per cent at the last upper house election for Wellington, which was in 2000. Doug Parkinson (left) won on that occasion from 46.3 per cent of the primary vote, having previously been member for the abolished division of Hobart from 1994.

The Greens candidate for Wellington is social worker Marrette Corby (left), who according to the Mercury is "almost blind". Corby also ran for Denison at the state election but managed only 0.6 per cent of the primary vote, having been squeezed out by high-profile party colleagues Peg Putt and Cassy O’Connor. Joining her on the ballot paper are Michael Fracalossi of the Christian Democratic Party and independents Marti Zucco, Paul Hiscutt and Stephen Roomes. Zucco (right) has by far the highest profile, being a Hobart City Councillor who is commonly described in the local press as "colourful" and "outspoken". Zucco has recently attracted considerable attention through his involvement in what has become known as the "Battery Point coffee wars", a matter of sufficient interest to have warranted an item in Crikey shortly before the state election. Zucco’s use of the word "mafia" to characterise local opponents of coffee roasting at the Oomph! Tasmanian Gourmet Coffee café prompted an overheated complaint to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission by former Labor MP John White (who despite his name is a figure in the local Italian community) and another local activist, Sandra Champion. Zucco says he has been inspired to run because Parkinson is "the most under-achieved politician I’ve seen in 12 years", and because he was angered by Parkinson’s complaint that the council had neglected Cornelian Bay (located in the north of the electorate) in favour of Sandy Bay (immediately to the south). Bonham has a fair bit to say about Zucco’s electoral record:

Marti Zucco, longstanding Hobart City Council alderman, had a rather strong tilt at the old (upper house) seat of Newdegate in 1993, where he polled 25% to run third out of four behind incumbent Ross Ginn and Labor’s Mel Cooper on around 33% each. (Cooper actually just outpolled Ginn but lost on preferences). However, HCC results over the years suggest that Zucco’s best vote-gathering days are behind him. In 1996 he polled 11% of the HCC aldermanic vote; by 2006 this was down to 7.1%. Also, Zucco (probably because of the way he polarises the electorate) always attracts fewer preferences than his primary vote levels indicate. I’ll be surprised if Zucco’s vote is anything much over 15% this time, but at least he might provide some entertainment for the spectators if his opening attacks on Parkinson are anything to go by.

Of the other candidates, Fracalossi will no doubt gather enough Liberal votes to do considerably better than the 0.7 per cent the CDP scored at the state election, but he cannot be rated a serious chance. If media profile is anything to go by, Paul Hiscutt and Stephen Roomes will have to work the electorate very hard to make any impression at all. All I have been able to ascertain about Hiscutt is that he is a nurse, and that he had a letter published in the Mercury recently defending the worth of the upper house. Roomes is described as a "New Town tourist operator", but beyond that both Google and Factiva have drawn a blank.

In like Lin

Today’s periodic elections for the Tasmanian Legislative Council produced a handsome win for Labor incumbent Lin Thorp in Rumney and a predictably indecisive outcome in Murchison, where the result will be decided by preferences. At the close of counting, with declaration and absentee votes still to come, Thorp was on 51.0 per cent of the primary vote (up from 45.7 per cent in 1999), with Sorell mayor and independent candidate Carmel Torenius a distant second on 24.6 per cent. The remainder was divided evenly between the Greens’ Glenn Millar and independent David Traynor. Thorp prevailed in all but one of the 24 booths. The surprise of the evening was the poor showing in Murchison from Burnie mayor Alvwyn Boyd in Murchison, who finished fourth out of a field of five candidates with 14.2 per cent. It may be inferred that the benefits of a high profile on council do not extend even slightly beyond the area of the municipality, since only a part of the City of Burnie is located within Murchison, and that prospective candidates in locally focused elections need to campaign hard and early (Boyd did not announce his intention to run until the day nominations closed). The front-runner at the close of counting was Australian College of Midwives president Ruth Forrest with 29.0 per cent, ahead of Kevin Hyland (26.5 per cent) and John Oldaker (21.3 per cent). The gap between Oldaker and Hyland is too wide to be bridged by preferences from the Greens’ Scott Jordan (9.0 per cent), especially given Oldaker’s vocal opposition to land handbacks to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council. Hyland is still an outside chance, but a win for Forrest seems by far the most likely outcome.

Murchison and Rumney: part two

The division of Rumney is based around Storm Bay about 25 kilometres east of Hobart and includes Sorell, Richmond and Port Arthur. It was won for Labor upon its creation in 1999 by Lin Thorp, who did exceptionally well to defeat incumbent Steve Wilson, member for the abolished division of Monmouth from 1980. Although he sat as an independent, Wilson went on to contest the lower house division of Lyons as a Liberal at the 2002 state election, but scored only 3.7 per cent to finish fourth out of the five candidates on the Liberal ticket. Thorp outpolled Wilson by 45.7 per cent to 44.9 per cent on the primary vote and emerged just 65 votes (0.2 per cent) ahead after preferences. Peter Tucker, one-time Tasmanian Liberal staffer and currently a PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania, informs the Poll Bludger that Thorp has built a high profile in her electorate, appearing at "every sausage sizzle and school fete going".

Given that Thorp was able to win the seat under much less favourable circumstances in 1999, she would have to be the favourite to win given the apparent lack of disaffection with the Lennon government. The most fancied of her three opponents is Carmel Torenius, the mayor of Sorrell. Torenius ran on the Liberal ticket for Lyons at the 1998 state election and polled an uninspiring 2.9 per cent, although her profile would have improved since. Also in the field are Greens candidate Glenn Millar, a former staffer for Christine Milne who has been campaigning against Walker Corporation’s Ralph’s Bay canal estate proposal (also opposed by Thorp), and Clarence City Council alderman David Traynor. Traynor is a former ALP member who was the party’s candidate for Monmouth in 1993, and was also on their lower house ticket for Franklin in 1992. The 25.8 per cent he recorded on the former occasion was considerably inferior to Thorp’s performance in 1999, although Thorp benefited from greater organisational support from her party which by that time was fancying its chances of an eventual Council majority. At the very least Traynor has the potential to serve as an irritant by splitting the Labor vote.

The division of Murchison is the state’s largest, covering the north-western corner of the state including Burnie west of Shorewell Creek (accounting for roughly a quarter of the town’s population) and the entirety of the state’s west coast. Its population centres include logging towns that swung savagely against Labor at the federal election, delivering the corresponding electorate of Braddon to the Liberals with a 7.1 per cent swing. As the mayor of Burnie, Alvwyn Boyd has the highest profile out of the five candidates but most of his municipality is located in the neighbouring division of Montgomery. He also began his run late, coming forward on the day nominations closed. Last year Boyd suggested he would not seek to remain mayor beyond October, but he is apparently reconsidering this while promising to see out his current term as mayor without pay if elected to parliament. The other candidates are Kevin Hyland, self-employed truck driver and deputy mayor of Waratah-Wynyard; John Oldaker, Circular Head councillor, farmer and Vietnam veteran; Ruth Forrest, state president of the Australian College of Midwives; and Scott Jordan of the Greens. Oldaker has been the most vocal opponent of calls for "cultural ownership" of Rocky Cape and Sundown Point to be tranferred to the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania, which emerged as an issue after the Legislative Council’s recent surprise decision to allow the transfer of Cape Barren and Clarke islands at the other end of Bass Strait.

Murchison and Rumney: part one

On the first Saturday of each May, voters in either two or three of the 15 divisions that make up the Tasmanian Legislative Council elect members to serve six-year terms. Three such elections were scheduled for this year – in Murchison in the state’s north-west, Rumney to the east of Hobart and Paterson in Launceston – but nobody has stepped forward in Paterson to challenge Don Wing, a former Liberal turned independent who entered parliament in 1982 and became Council President in 2002. To the Poll Bludger’s knowledge, this is the first time a state parliamentarian has been elected unopposed since 1993 when Tony Fletcher, now retiring as independent member for Murchison, enjoyed a clear run in the since-abolished seat of Russell. Three independents and one Greens candidate will compete to fill the vacancy in Murchison, while in Rumney Labor’s Lin Thorp faces a field of three challengers in a seat she won narrowly in 1999.

This time last year your correspondent had a fair bit to say on the chamber’s evolution and political make-up, the striking feature of which has always been the dominance of independents. The Liberals have a long-standing tradition of not formally endorsing candidates, while Labor’s representation historically wavered between one seat and two. The reduction of the chamber from 19 members to 15 in 1997 strengthened the hand of the major parties by creating larger divisions that placed greater organisational demands on candidates, but only Labor has been able to capitalise. Their representation has since increased to five, and at one point they harboured fantasies of securing an outright majority. The Liberals reacted by endorsing two candidates at the 2000 elections, but both performed poorly and they have not since repeated the mistake.

The voting rights of the Council President are governed by a complex mix of rules and conventions, the practical upshot of which is that tied votes are usually resolved in the negative. This means that Labor must secure the support of three independents other than Don Wing in order to pass legislation. This brings us to what promises to become a regular annual event at the Poll Bludger, the audit of the independents’ record in siding with or against the government when the house divides.

. 2004-05 2002-04 expiry
Tanya Rattray-Wagner 7/12 (58%) 2010
Norma Jamieson 3/12 (25%) 2/11 (18%) 2009
Ivan Dean 5/12 (42%) 1/11 (9%) 2009
Kerry Finch 7/12 (58%) 10/17 (59%) 2008
Paul Harriss 2/12 (17%) 2/36 (6%) 2008
Sue Smith 5/10 (50%) 11/34 (32%) 2007
Jim Wilkinson 6/11 (55%) 14/34 (41%) 2007
Greg Hall 5/12 (42%) 16/36 (44%) 2006
Tony Fletcher 2/12 (17%) 4/36 (11%) 2005
Don Wing 0/0 (-) 2/14 (14%) 2005
Colin Rattray 19/36 (53%) 2004

The left column tallies divisions that have occurred since last year’s elections, at which Tanya Rattray-Wagner replaced her retiring father Colin Rattray as the independent member for Apsley and Terry Martin retained Elwick for Labor upon the retirement of David Crean, brother of Simon and a former state Treasurer. The middle column covers the previous two years (all votes recorded for Don Wing were from the period before he assumed the Council Presidency). Based on the latter figures, the Poll Bludger last year characterised Harriss, Fletcher, Dean, Smith and Jamieson as the "Council Opposition" with the remainder holding the balance of power. Ivan Dean has proved more inclined to support the government in the past year, while Sue Smith has become even more of a borderline case. Along with Harriss, Tony Fletcher has consistently been the most troublesome member from Labor’s point of view and they will presumably be pleased to see the back of him. The others have remained true to earlier form, with Rattray-Wagner following more-or-less in her father’s footsteps.

Saturday’s elections will presumably return a member for Murchison with similar conservative credentials to Fletcher’s. The more important question for Labor is whether they can retain their delicate hold on Rumney, which looms as the first substantial electoral challenge faced by Paul Lennon since he assumed the premiership shortly before last year’s elections. A closer examination of these contests will follow in the coming days.

Half-time report

Results from the Tasmanian upper house elections are in line with the expectations outlined below, although Steve Mav has done better than I predicted in finishing the night a close second in Apsley, presumably having projected his Liberal credentials sufficiently to win over party loyalists. However such has been the spread of support among the 10 candidates that he has achieved this with a mere 15.4 per cent of the primary vote (from a raw figure of 2,870 from 18,599). While the Poll Bludger knows nothing of the various candidates’ preference ticket arrangements he would be very surprised if many of them treated Mav more kindly than the other two front-runners, Tania Rattray-Wagner and Brendon Thompson. Rattray-Wagner pulled ahead of Mav late in the evening’s counting to finish with 3,078 votes (16.6 per cent) with Thompson also gaining on Mav to land third with 2,839 (15.3 per cent). Whoever wins will do so with less than 20 per cent of the primary vote, and anyone who can think of a comparable outcome in Australian electoral history is invited to call it to the Poll Bludger’s attention. Mandy Burbury has done well to finish fourth with 11.8 per cent and will not be conceding defeat just yet. It should be noted here that the description of Max Hall below as "little known" was somewhat unfair since he is a former Dorset councillor remembered fondly enough to have attracted 10.8 per cent of the vote and is perhaps still an outside chance. Glamorgan-Spring Bay Mayor Cheryl Arnol leads the field of also-rans with a disappointing 9.6 per cent.

Elwick has gone perfectly according to script, Terry Martin winning with 59.7 per cent of the primary vote. Although about 6 per cent shy of Labor’s performance in these booths in the 2002 Assembly election, the result would be at the upper end of the party’s expectations. It was a disappointing result for the Greens, whose candidate Helen Burnet failed to build on their performance here from 2002 in polling 14.8 per cent. This was some distance behind independent Steven King, who benefited from being the only option available to conservative voters to score 20.2 per cent. Although finishing last by a long distance Kamala Emanuel may have broken some sort of record for her Socialist Workers Party in polling 5.2 per cent.

UPDATE (5/5/04): Tania Rattray-Wagner was eventually elected ahead of Brendon Thompson with 55.5 per cent of the two-candidate preferred vote. Thompson beat Mav into second position by 53 votes. Full results are available at the Tasmanian Electoral Commission.

UPDATE (3/5/04): At the close of counting on Sunday evening Rattray-Wagner had extended her lead to 1584 votes (8.6 per cent) following the elimination of Lesley Nicklason, Cheryl Arnol, Max Hall and Mandy Burbury. Contrary to the Poll Bludger’s expectations Brendon Thompson did no better than Steve Mav on preferences and nearly relinquished third place to Burbury. Thompson and Mav are in a near dead-heat for second place, Thompson leading 5486 (30.5 per cent) to 5451 (30.3 per cent), subject to rechecking and the counting of postal votes. Whoever out of the two is eliminated, 65 per cent of the preferences then distributed would need to go against Rattray-Wagner for her to be defeated.

UPDATE (2/5/04): A primary vote re-check found Thompson attaining a three-vote lead over Mav to move into third place. Mav has again defied the Poll Bludger’s expectations to recover second place through preferences following the elimination of the three weakest performing candidates, but it’s early days yet. Rattray-Wagner’s narrow lead remains little changed, now at 236 votes. The pattern could be broken with the imminent distribution of 1,819 votes for Greens candidate Lesley Nicklason.

Belated Apsley and Elwick preview

The Poll Bludger apologises for his failure to come good on his promised preview of today’s Tasmanian Legislative Council elections in a more timely manner, as the good citizens of Apsley and Elwick now have only a few hours to absorb the invaluable insights contained herein before exercising their vote. Better late than never though. Those of you who are unacquainted with the peculiarities of the chamber and the manner of its election would do well to check this earlier posting before proceeding.

The first thing to be noted is that the campaign has attracted very little publicity, particularly from Hobart’s monopoly newspaper The Mercury, and for this reason the Poll Bludger expects a low turnout in the city seat of Elwick. This is good news for Terry Martin, Mayor of Glenorchy and Labor candidate (technically an independent, but there is no secret that this is a formality to allow him to remain mayor until council elections later this year) in a seat the party would only lose if an independent were to gain some oxygen, which Martin’s three opponents have manifestly failed to do. Helen Burnet is the Greens’ candidate and although she has attracted little media coverage, her vote will be worth keeping an eye on to gauge the response of an inner city Labor seat to the state’s pro-logging new Premier. Independent Steven King made the papers by being one of 10 hardy folk to show up last week in support of a rally against legalised brothels organised by Martin’s council colleague, Alderman Nigel Jones. And Kamala Emanuel represents the Socialist Workers Party. Booths in this area gave Labor about two-thirds of the vote at the 2002 Assembly election compared with about 18 per cent for the Liberals and 14 per cent for the Greens, with others including the SWP in statistically-insignificant territory. Compelled by law to vote in an election they probably only found out about at the last minute, voters can be expected to act upon force of habit and fall in behind the well-known Labor-endorsed local mayor.

The real action for this seat came with the Labor preselection contest and its relation to the apparently Byzantine goings-on at Glenorchy Council. Martin was opposed by his Deputy Mayor, Stuart Slade, a party colleague but factional opponent on council. Others in Slade’s council grouping include aforementioned morals crusader Nigel Jones and Steve Mav, who is also a candidate for Sunday’s elections – but for far-away Aspley rather than local Elwick. Slade’s alignment with Mav no doubt raised eyebrows in the party given his links to the Liberals, which include a candidacy at the 2002 Assembly election. Slade was put under pressure to withdraw by his own right faction, but appeared reluctant to do so due to personal rivalries with Martin, whose promise to stay on as Glenorchy Mayor would deprive him of a stint in the chair. Without factional backing Slade was easily defeated by Martin, who while unaligned came with the endorsement of his good friend, former Premier Jim Bacon.

The Poll Bludger expects the formality of Martin’s election to be confirmed early this evening. Apsley is quite another matter. The district covers a quite extensive area of rural north-eastern Tasmania where campaigns are entirely about parish pump issues and local personalities. Ten of these have stepped forward to contest the seat upon the retirement of Colin Rattray, with only Greens candidate Lesley Nicklason carrying the endorsement of a party. There are three candidates who appear to be serious contenders and the even competition means the winner will be elected off a low primary vote after a complicated distribution of preferences. At the risk of exposing himself to an Albert Langer-style persecution by the authorities, the Poll Bludger believes it worth pointing out that voters in these elections are only required to preference three candidates, after which they may exhaust, but does not imagine this to be widely known by the voters and expects a full complement of completely distributed ballots to await the scrutiny of officials. Since the Electoral Office states that counting of preferences will not begin until tomorrow those with an interest in the outcome are advised not to hold their breath.

The departing Rattray is a farmer who has represented the region for 12 years and local voters will presumably be looking for someone similar but younger. Emphasising their rural backgrounds, front-runners Brendon Thompson and Tania Rattray-Wagner are both presenting themselves as Rattray’s natural heirs. Being his daughter, Rattray-Wagner has an intrinsically stronger case. She also has a second job as Deputy Mayor of Dorset. Thompson was the president of the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, standing down from that position in order to run. The other candidate to watch is Cheryl Arnol, mayor of Glamorgan-Spring Bay Council. Rounding out the field are Mandy Burbury, a local tourist operator with a high but probably not high enough community profile; Bob Campbell and Peter Paulsen, respectively organisers of the Pollie Push a Barrel Race and Binnalong Bay Great Abalone Bake-Off; and little-known locals Max Hall and Stephen Hanslow. So baffled is the Poll Bludger by Mav’s candidacy that he can only think that he’s missing something (perhaps he ticked a wrong box on the nomination form?).

Whoever wins, the government will most likely find them less easy to do business with than Rattray – not for any grand ideological reasons, but simply because independent members arrive in parliament with a natural desire to exercise the muscle they have acquired after so much effort and expense. Thus will the government emerge from Council elections for the third year running facing a chamber just that little more irritating than before they went in. The Poll Bludger takes the unfashionable view that voters know perfectly well what they’re doing when they present an entrenched government with such an outcome, and suggests that abolitionists would do well to bear this in mind.

Council of the wise

The best way to explain the Tasmanian parliamentary system to newcomers is to say that it’s like the federal parliament, only the other way round – single-member districts in the upper house, with multi-member electorates chosen by proportional representation in the lower. Of the many important features that this glosses over, perhaps the most significant is the unique system of annual elections for upper house seats held on the first Sunday of each May, at which either two or three of the 15 districts go up for election on a rotation system. This year is the turn of Apsley, a rural seat covering the north-east corner of the state, and Elwick, in the northern suburbs of Hobart.

The system by which the Council is selected is consistent with old-fashioned notions that a rolling mandate for the upper house, combined with longer terms (six years in this case) and a restricted franchise (only properly eliminated with the abolition of rural vote weighting in 1997), would provide a check against whichever libertine passions happened to be consuming the mob on the day the lower house was elected. It was thought that the result would be an independent and conservative counterweight to the government of the day, and in this respect it can only be said to have been a great success. Much of this is due to the Liberal party’s long-standing, highly unusual and very astute convention of not running endorsed candidates. The Poll Bludger is not foolish enough to imagine that any political behaviour can be explained in terms of ethical principles, and has no doubt that the Liberal tactic is based on a calculation that conservative independents are more likely than endorsed Liberals to defeat Labor candidates. Given that Labor’s representation hovered between one and two for many years up to the 1990s, the wisdom of this approach has been self-evident. Furthermore, Labor’s ascendancy in Tasmania over the years has been such that unpredictable behaviour from the Council during rare periods of Liberal government has seemed an acceptable trade-off.

The past decade has seen an improvement in Labor’s representation and a short-lived and unsuccessful attempt by the Liberals to get in on the action. Ignoring the lessons of history, the Liberals first attempted to abolish the Council in 1997, and then decided to field candidates in 2000 when this failed. Both their candidates performed disastrously, with one running third behind the Greens, and the Liberals have not repeated the error since. Labor on the other hand increased its numbers from two to five between 1995 and 2001 (or six if including Labor independent Silvia Smith, who held the federal seat of Bass for the party from 1993 to 1996) in a house which shrank from 19 members to 15 during the same period. Labor has been assisted here by the smaller number of larger electorates, which require more resources for effective campaiging and thus favour party machines over independents, as well as the abolition of rural vote weighting. The outcome has had a lot to do with the liberalisation of the Council’s attitudes, with the government needing the support of only a small number of independents to pass gay law reforms and liberalise Sunday trading.

However, recent history suggests the May 2001 elections were Labor’s high-water mark, and that next month’s elections need to be viewed in this context. In that year Labor’s Allison Ritchie succeeded in ousting independent Cathy Edwards from Pembroke in large part due to her successful attacks upon Edwards’ dual role as Mayor of Clarence, a not uncommon practice in the Council. That led excitable folk in the party to talk openly of a possible Labor majority two elections hence, and to promote the effort by having MP Fran Bladel resign from her lower house seat to stand against independent incumbent Paul Harriss in Huon. It seems obvious in hindsight that this threat to the chamber’s cherished independence would provoke an electoral backlash, and so it proved. Harriss was comfortably re-elected, Labor’s other candidate in Rosevears scored 8.3 per cent, and the following year saw Silvia Smith easily defeated in Windermere by conservative independent Ivan Dean.

Some idea of the impact of these results, as well as what’s at stake on May 1, can be discerned from the following table noting the percentage of occasions on which the various independent members voted with the Labor members (who voted en bloc on each occasion) during the 36 divisions which have taken place in the Council since the May 2002 elections.

# % expiry
Norma Jamieson 2/11 18% 2009
Ivan Dean 1/11 9% 2009
Kerry Finch 10/17 59% 2008
Paul Harriss 2/36 6% 2008
Sue Smith 11/34 32% 2007
Jim Wilkinson 14/34 41% 2007
Greg Hall 16/36 44% 2006
Don Wing 2/14 14% 2005
Tony Fletcher 4/36 11% 2005
Colin Rattray 19/36 53% 2004
Sylvia Smith 19/25 76% 2003
Geoff Squibb 5/21 24% 2003

Some points of clarification: Silvia Smith and Geoff Squibb are italicised because they are no longer members, Squibb having been defeated by Norma Jamieson in the 2003 election for Mersey. Don Wing has participated in markedly fewer divisions than his colleagues as he has been Council President since early 2002, and the Poll Bludger has not taken the trouble to record his exercise of the casting vote.

Reporting in March 2002 on the government’s efforts to secure the numbers on the contentious issue of Sunday trading, Martine Haley of The Mercury reported that senior Labor figures believed outgoing Apsley member Colin Rattray was "the only truly independent MLC in the Legislative Council". The figures above suggest this is a bit rough on Kerry Finch, Greg Hall and Jim Wilkinson, who respectively voted with Labor in 59, 44 and 41 per cent of divisions in which they participated, compared with Rattray’s 53 per cent. While the others are independent in their way and show little resembling party discipline, it would not be unreasonable to group them together as the Council Opposition. Ivan Dean was Liberal enough to get a phone call from John Howard in February begging him to contest federal preselection for Bass, and he has only voted with Labor on one occasion. Tony Fletcher rarely votes with Labor and holds conservative views on same-sex adoption and abortion. Relative newcomer Norma Jamieson’s record so far, particularly on gay adoption and poker machines, suggests her to be within the Council’s socially conservative tradition. Don Wing on the other hand is a former Liberal Party director who appears to have fallen out with the Tasmanian party’s ascendant right faction, being vocal in his criticism of the party’s disendorsement of small-"l" Liberal (and now Australian Democrat) Greg Barns. Sue Smith may be a borderline case, although in the lead-up to her bid for re-election in 2002 Labor used a reference she had sent to Liberal preselectors on behalf of a Senate candidate to cast her as a "closet Liberal".

Accepting this slightly arbitrary classification, the house thus has five government members, six of the opposition (including the Council President) and four independents. The election on May 1 will see one Labor member and one Labor-friendly independent vacate their seats. Nominations closed Thursday and the list of candidates is available for all to behold at the Tasmanian Electoral Commission. The Poll Bludger will take a closer look at these campaigns and who’s involved in them closer to the big day.