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.