Essential Research: 61-39

Newspoll seems to have taken the week off, but there’s always Essential Research, which has Labor’s lead up to 61-39 from 60-40 last week. Also featured are questions on becoming a republic within the next few years (52 per cent support, 24 per cent oppose – the latter sounds a bit low), whether Australia should agree to allow Japan to conduct whaling if it limits its activities to the northern hemisphere (10 per cent agree, 81 per cent disagree), “how would you rate your loyalty to your employer” and “how would you rate your employer’s loyalty to staff”. Furthermore:

• The silly season endeth – Kerry O’Brien and Lateline are back, and parliaments federal, Victorian and South Australian resume today.

• The Australian Workers Union has released a comprehensive survey of workers’ attitudes to the global financial crisis, derived from 1016 interviews conducted by Auspoll. The headline finding is that 40 per cent fear losing their jobs in the next year.

• Parties’ disclosures of receipts, expenditure and debts are available for perusal at the Australian Electoral Commission, at least so far as donations of over $10,500 are concerned. Siobhain Ryan and Imre Salusinszky of The Australian and Bernard Keane of Crikey sift through the evidence; the latter also opens fire on the Coalition over its obstruction of legislation reversing the 2005 disclosure threshold hike. Keane notes that one travesty can’t be pinned on the previous government: that we have had to wait until February 2009 to find out what went on at an election held in November 2007. Anyone who imagines this has something to do with logistics should consider the practice in New York City, where donations have to be declared before election day and “made public immediately on a searchable, online database”.

• Antony Green returns from a fortnight in the wilderness (literally) with a belated post-mortem on the Liberals’ defeat in South Australia’s Frome by-election. As I suspected, independent Geoff Brock owes his win to a peculiarity of the state’s electoral system that saves ballot papers with incomplete preferences by assigning them the preferences officially lodged by their favoured candidate. Without this provision, 258 ballots that were thus admitted the day after polling day would have been informal, leaving Brock 38 votes behind Labor at the second last count rather than 30 votes ahead. Another issue has been brought to my attention by Kevin Bonham, who points to the fact that a certain number of Liberal voters harmed their candidate’s chances by voting Liberal rather than Labor. If 31 such voters had tactically switched to Labor, Brock would have been excluded and the distribution of his preferences would have given victory to Liberal candidate Terry Boylan. Public choice theorists call this flaw in preferential voting “non-monotonicity”, which is elaborated upon here (although Bonham reckons “some of their worked examples are wrong”).

• Antony also gets in early with a preview of Western Australia’s May 18 daylight saving referendum, which combines customary psephological insight with a keen eye for the state’s lifestyle peculiarities.

• Former Labor MLA Kathryn Hay will run as an independent for the Tasmanian upper house division of Windermere (extending from the outskirts of Launceston north to the proposed site of Gunns’ Bell Bay pulp mill), challenging independent incumbent Ivan Dean at the poll likely to be held on May 2. Peter Tucker at Tasmanian Politics reports that one of the the other two seats up for election, the Devonport-based division of Mersey, looms as a clash between Latrobe mayor Mike Gaffney and Devonport mayor Lyn Laycock. Mersey is being vacated by retiring independent Norma Jamieson.

• Staying in Tasmania, a recount has confirmed that the last remaining Labor candidate in Franklin from the 2006 election, Daniel Hulme, will assume the lower house seat vacated by former Tourism Minister Paula Wriedt.

• Mining magnate and former National Party director Clive Palmer is making himself visible as the Queensland state election approaches, having been profiled last week on The 7.30 Report and in a cover story for The Weekend Australian Magazine. The latest salvo in Palmer’s charm offensive is a demand of $1 million in damages for defamation from Anna Bligh, who said there was “something just not right about one billionaire owning their own political party” (the annual financial disclosures discussed previously list $600,000 in donations from Palmer to the Liberal and National parties). Sean Parnell’s Weekend Australian piece describes Palmer as a “notorious litigant”, who “once listed it as a hobby in his Who’s Who entry”. Palmer’s 18-year-old son Michael has been preselected as the Liberal National Party candidate for the safe Labor seat of Nudgee.

Rick Wallace of The Australian reports that Nationals-turned-Liberal Senator Julian McGauran will face a number of challengers in his bid for one of the two safe seats on the Victorian Senate ticket, with other incumbent Michael Ronaldson “widely expected to claim top spot”. The field includes prominent Peter Costello supporter Ross Fox, barrister Caroline Kenny and solicitor Cate Dealehr. Other names mentioned by Andrew Landeryou’s VexNews are Terry Barnes, a “former Tony Abbott adviser”, and Owen Lysaght, who ran as an independent in Chisholm in 2004.

Huon and Rosevears live

7.45pm. Final results for the night: Kerry Finch on 72.8 per cent, Paul Harriss on 62.0 per cent. Mark Rickards will lose a little on pre-polls and postals, but his 38.0 per cent is nonetheless an encouraging result for the Greens.

7.12pm. Twenty-two Huon booths now in; Rickards wins the Kettering booth 228-190, and is still on 38.4 per cent of the vote. Kerry Finch on 73.4 per cent in Rosevears with 11 of 15 booths in.

7.00pm. Seven out of 15 booths in from Rosevears: Colin O’Brien’s 26.8 per cent of the vote is a little higher than I would have expected.

6.57pm. Sixteen booths now in from Huon. Rickards might be disappointed by his 396-371 loss in Sandfly, but his vote is otherwise holding up at 38.2 per cent.

6.53pm. Kevin Bonham says in comments that the trend points to a Greens vote of about 36 per cent.

6.50pm. Nine booths in now from Huon (out of 27), and while Paul Harriss will clearly win, the Greens are doing well enough that the election is more interesting than I expected. Mark Rickards has easily won the Woodbridge booth 211-139, and has 39.8 per cent of the total vote. The Greens narrowly won Woodridge at the federal election.

6.46pm. Kevin Bonham offers more authoritative comments on the Huon figures than my own in comments. Note I was wrong two posts ago about the Middleton 2006 result: the Greens won Sandfly, Barnes Bay and Kettering at that election, but not Middleton.

6.45pm. Two booths in from Rosevears, Finch on 72.7 per cent.

6.42pm. Turns out the Greens outpolled the Liberals at Middleton at the federal election and and topped the poll there at the 2006 state election. According to Bonham and Tucker, “Green support in Huon is strongest around the D’Entrecasteux Channel”.

6.37pm. Four booths in from Huon, and without really knowing the terrain, it seems the Greens candidate is doing remarkably well. He’s won the Middleton booth 113 votes to 91, and had 37.2 per cent of the vote overall.

6.05pm. Round about now, polls are closing in today’s periodical Tasmanian upper house elections, where sitting independents Paul Harriss and Kerry Finch are certain to be re-elected in Huon and Rosevears respectively. Huon covers southern Tasmanian coastline south-west of Hobart; Rosevears includes the western suburbs of Launceston and extends north-west to the mouth of the Tamar River (the Tamar Valley pulp mill location of Bell Bay is on the opposite bank). Harriss once ran as a Liberal lower house candidate at the 1996 state election, and is generally considered to be unsympathetic to the government. He will face Greens candidate Mark Rickards, a former Royal Australian Navy officer and candidate for Franklin at the 2006 state election. Finch is most notable to the nation at large as one of four upper house independents who voted against the pulp mill. He faces a challenge from Colin O’Brien, an independent candidate of low profile. I will make a few observations about the results as they become available.

As I do every year, I have conducted a survey of the upper house independents’ voting record in parliament, this time taking the effort to conduct a separate count of votes that were substantive rather than procedural. The table below shows how often each voted with the four Labor members (five before Terry Martin quit last year); note that Don Wing doesn’t get to vote as he is Council President.

. 2007-08
2002-07 expiry
Jim Wilkinson (Nelson) 3/8 1/6 25/59 (42%) 2014
Sue Smith (Montgomery) 8/11 6/8 19/58 (33%) 2013
Greg Hall (Rowallan) 6/8 5/6 27/64 (42%) 2012
Don Wing (Paterson) 0/0 0/0 2/14 (14%) 2011
Ruth Forrest (Murchison) 5/11 5/8 8/16 (50%) 2011
Tanya Rattray-Wagner (Apsley) 5/10 4/7 11/27 (41%) 2010
Terry Martin (Elwick) 2/9 2/7 0/1 (0%) 2010
Norma Jamieson (Mersey) 3/9 3/7 8/36 (22%) 2009
Ivan Dean (Windemere) 10/10 8/8 13/39 (33%) 2009
Kerry Finch (Rosevears) 4/10 4/8 22/45 (49%) 2008
Paul Harriss (Huon) 6/11 4/8 10/64 (16%) 2008
Tony Fletcher (Murchison) 6/48 (13%) 2005
Colin Rattray (Apsley) 19/36 (53%) 2004

EMRS: 39-37 to Labor in Tasmania

Tasmanian pollster EMRS has published a survey of 853 committed voters on state voting intention, which shows Labor on 39 per cent (down 1 per cent from May 2007), the Liberals on 37 per cent (up 2 per cent) and the Greens on 22 per cent (up 1 per cent) (hat tip: Steve). Under the state’s Senate-like voting system, such a result would certainly see the Greens holding the balance of power, perhaps with as many as six of the 25 seats. The results in 2006 were 49.6 per cent, 31.9 per cent and 16.2 per cent; in 2002 they were 51.9 per cent, 27.4 per cent and 18.1 per cent. On both occasions the result was 14 seats to Labor, seven to the Liberals and four to the Greens.

On May 3 two independent members of the state’s 15-member upper house will face re-election under the chamber’s unusual system of annual rotating elections. They are Huon member Paul Harriss, a one-time Liberal candidate whose parliamentary votes go overwhelmingly against the government, and Rosevears member Kerry Finch, whose votes split about evenly. One suspects neither is in much trouble: one or both might even be re-elected unopposed, unless the Greens want to be a pain in the arse again. The numbers in the chamber at present are four Labor, one ex-Labor renegade, and ten mostly conservative independents. More from Peter Tucker and Kevin Bonham at the Tasmanian Times.

UPDATE: Following yesterday’s close of nominations for the upper house elections, it has been revealed that two-horse races will proceed in both divisions. In Huon, Paul Harriss will face Greens candidate Mark Rickards, a former Royal Australian Navy officer and candidate for Franklin at the 2006 state election. Kerry Finch faces a challenge in Rosevears from independent Colin O’Brien, who would appear to be the proprietor of a bed and breakfast at Legana just outside of Launceston.

Pembroke and Nelson live

Allison Ritchie 7425 43.3 57.8
Richard James 3120 18.2 42.2
Neil Smith 2277 13.3 30.1
David Jackson 720 4.2 36.1
John Peers 1578 9.2 38.3
Marti Zucco 2047 11.9 34.8

7.53pm. All booths in from Nelson; Wilkinson’s lead widened in late counting, to 10,019 to 6391.

7.50pm. The final booth from Pembroke, Bellerive, has taken a small amount of gloss of Allison Ritchie’s performance with a 17.8 per cent drop in the Labor primary vote.

7.37pm. Lindisfarne in; Labor primary vote down 15.8 per cent.

7.31pm. Four more Pembroke booths make for little change to the overall trend.

7.25pm. Big round of applause for the Tasmanian Electoral Commission. Booth results have been coming in one booth at a time; mainland commissions usually think it good enough to supply results in three or four spurts.

7.24pm. All but two booths in from Nelson; Wilkinson leads 6225 to 4658.

7.21pm. Montagu Bay and Wentworth Street now in; Labor primary vote respectively down 10.1 per cent and 17.8 per cent.

7.19pm. Good result for Labor at the very large Howrah booth, their primary vote down only 3.5 per cent. We can definitely call it for them now. Richard James still clear in second place; I have promoted him on the table.

7.14pm. The second substantial booth from Pembroke, Risdon Vale, is now in. Labor’s primary vote down a relatively mild 7.8 per cent. Independent Richard James looking the best-performing of the others.

7.11pm. Lots of booths now in from Nelson; Wilkinson’s lead of 5711 to 4096 is a bit narrower than I expected, but he’s still home and hosed.

7.10pm. Sixty-four votes in from the Hobart booth. For what it’s worth, Labor’s vote here is down 23.1 per cent from 2001.

7.08pm. Perhaps I spoke too soon with the no-boilover remark; Ritchie was down 10.1 per cent on the primary vote in Warrane. That’s still not enough to put her in real danger, but I should probably await a few more booths before calling it.

7.05pm. Also 199 votes from mobile booths.

7.03pm. The Warrane booth is in; only 6 per cent counted overall, but I think it’s already apparent we’re not looking at a boilover here.

7.01pm. Kevin Bonham notes in comments that the Agfest booth is comparable to the “Northern” booth in 2001, which I had written out of my equations. If so, Allison Ritchie is on track for a primary vote of 50 per cent – bearing in mind that this is from a tiny sample.

6.50pm. The first booth from Pembroke is the booth at Agfest; as there was no comparable booth in 2001, I do not have two-candidate calculations. Only 152 votes.

6.31pm. The first booth from Nelson, Sandfly, gives 47 votes to Wilkinson and 35 to Nilsson. I will move the Pembroke table to the top of the post when real figures come in – the ones there now are purely for test purposes.

5.30pm. Welcome to the Poll Bludger’s live coverage of today’s Tasmanian Legislative Council periodical elections for the seats of Pembroke and Nelson. Since Nelson is a foregone conclusion, independent incumbent Jim Wilkinson facing opposition only from Greens candidate Tom Nilsson, the focus of attention will be on Pembroke, where Labor’s Allison Ritchie faces at least a theoretical chance of defeat at the hands of either the Greens candidate, Neil Smith, or one of four independents: Marti Zucco, David Jackson, Richard James and John Peers. The accompanying table will show the primary vote in both numbers of votes and percentages, and an estimate of two-candidate preferred results based on comparison with equivalent booth results from 2001. These assume that preferences will split 57/33 in Labor’s favour if the Greens run second, or 33/55 if an independent runs second; a 10 per cent exhaustion rate is predicted, as voters are only compelled to fill three boxes. This is fairly arbitrary, and better informed readers (you there, Kevin?) are invited to suggest alternatives in comments. I will start with the assumption that the Greens will run second; two-candidate figures are also provided for the others in the event that I am wrong. If so, subtract the total from 100 to get the result for Labor. The first figures should be in at around 6.30pm – any figures you see before then will just be a test.

Periodical tables

May being almost upon us, a hardcore psephologist’s thoughts turn to the curious spectacle of a Tasmanian periodical upper house election. Mainlanders who know of the Tasmanian Legislative Council’s existence usually note it for its historical conservatism and preponderance of independents, but few are aware of its unusual manner of election. Just as Tasmania bucks the national trend with a lower house elected by proportional representation, so it inverts normal practice with an upper house composed of 15 single-member electorates. Elections for these seats are held over a staggered six-year cycle, with two or three up for election on the first Saturday of each May. The Liberals do not contest these elections, having determined they are best served by the traditional dominance of conservative independents (not least because they are usually in opposition). Labor until recently held five seats, all located in and around Hobart. That fell to four in late March when Elwick MLC Terry Martin was expelled from the parliamentary party after crossing the floor to vote against the government’s contentious fast-tracking of the proposed Tamar Valley pulp mill.

Each year the Poll Bludger conducts an audit of the various members’ voting behaviour in parliamentary divisions, of which there have been only eight in the past year.

. 2006-07 2002-06 expiry
Sue Smith (Montgomery) 1/8 (12%) 18/50 (36%) 2013
Greg Hall (Rowallan) 5/8 (62%) 22/56 (39%) 2012
Don Wing (Paterson) 0/0 (-) 2/14 (14%) 2011
Ruth Forrest (Murchison) 3/8 (38%) 5/8 (62%) 2011
Tanya Rattray-Wagner (Apsley) 3/8 (38%) 8/19 (42%) 2010
Terry Martin (Elwick) 0/1 (0%) 2010
Norma Jamieson (Mersey) 1/8 (12%) 7/28 (25%) 2009
Ivan Dean (Windermere) 3/8 (38%) 10/31 (32%) 2009
Kerry Finch (Rosevears) 4/8 (50%) 18/37 (49%) 2008
Paul Harriss (Huon) 3/8 (38%) 7/56 (12%) 2008
Jim Wilkinson (Nelson) 2/8 (25%) 23/51 (45%) 2007
Tony Fletcher (Murchison) 6/48 (12%) 2005
Colin Rattray (Apsley) 19/36 (53%) 2004

Note that no votes have been recorded for Don Wing since he became President of the Legislative Council in 2002; the only vote recorded for Terry Martin is the one that led to expulsion. This was the only floor-crossing incident in the period in question.

Three seats fall vacant this year, two held by independents (Sue Smith and Jim Wilkinson, respectively members for Montgomery and Nelson) and one by Labor (Pembroke, held by Allison Ritchie). The first two hardly warrant comment – in Montgomery (covering eastern Burnie and beyond), Sue Smith (left) will continue her 10-year career after being elected unopposed. In the southern Hobart seat of Nelson, Jim Wilkinson (right), a member since 1995, is not likely to be troubled by his sole opponent, Greens candidate Tom Nilsson. However, Pembroke looms as a potentially intriguing contest, with Ritchie defending a narrow margin as a member of an increasingly unpopular government – although Kevin Bonham of the Tasmanian Times does not believe any of her opponents look the goods. Pembroke covers most of the urban area on the Derwent River’s eastern shore, from Risdon Vale south through Lindisfarne and Bellerive to Tranmere. The following table shows the results from the previous two elections in Pembroke along with those for the equivalent booths at the last state and federal elections. The Liberal column has been used to accommodate the previous independent member, Cathy Edwards; no connection between the two is implied.

2006 STATE 48.5 33.4 16.0 2.2
2004 FEDERAL 49.0 39.4 8.3 3.2 57.4
2001 PERIODICAL 53.8 46.2 53.8
1999 BY-ELECTION 35.6 41.6* 22.8 46.2

The candidates are as follows:

Allison Ritchie (Labor). Ritchie scored a significant victory for Labor when she won the seat in 2001 at the age of 26, successfully campaigning against sitting independent Cathy Edwards’ dual role as mayor of Clarence. Until 1999, Pembroke had been the only upper house seat with a formal Liberal member; Peter McKay officially joined the party in 1991 after holding the seat as an independent from 1976 (when he succeeded his deceased father, Ben McKay, member since 1959). Ritchie is now convenor of the Left faction, and was said by Sue Neales of the Hobart Mercury to have been “openly excited” at the prospect of Bryan Green becoming the faction’s first Premier, prior to his political demise last July. Sue Neales reported in May last year that Paul Lennon was “making it plain for all to hear” that he wished for Ritchie to enter federal politics, “most likely so he could ensure her replacement in the state’s Upper House came from his own Centre Left faction”. It was widely thought that Ritchie might succeed the retiring Harry Quick in the federal seat of Franklin, a fiefdom of the Left, but she said she was not interested for family reasons. Ritchie has landed something of a coup by winning endorsement from Doug Chipman, Clarence councillor and former Liberal state president, who has appeared in her campaign material describing her as the “best candidate”.

Marti Zucco. Perhaps the best known of Ritchie’s challengers, Marti Zucco ran in last year’s periodical election for Wellington on the other side of the water (polling 14.4 per cent), despite living in Pembroke. Shortly before that election, Kevin Bonham had this 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.

Interestingly, Zucco had a run-in last year with John White, who complained to the Anti-Discrimination Commission on behalf of the Italian community (of which he is a figurehead, his name belying his ethnic origin) when Zucco used the word “mafia” to characterise opponents of coffee roasting at a Hobart cafe. White, who had earlier been a Denison MP and Health Minister in Michael Field’s minority government, was at the centre of the government dealings that led to Bryan Green’s downfall.

Neil Smith (Greens). Smith is a “self-employed electronics engineering consultant” and anti-logging campaigner. His previous run for office was as a lower house candidate for Lyons in 1998, when he polled only 138 votes (the Greens vote being dominated by future Senator Christine Milne, who nonetheless lost her seat).

David Jackson. A factory manager, Jackson was a Clarence alderman in 2004 and 2005, being elected on a recount after a sitting alderman retired. Kevin Bonham notes that Jackson’s electoral record has been less than spectacular: “Jackson has most recently run for Clarence in 2002 (last of 13 with just 289 votes), 2005 (15th of 19 with 293 votes) and Pembroke in 1999 (a remarkably poor 3.3% in a field of just five)”.

Richard James. A Clarence alderman and Lindisfarne accountant, Kevin Bonham summarises James’s electoral record thus (bearing in mind that the aldermanic votes are from fields of 13 and 11 candidates):

James has run in so many elections (variously as a Liberal, Democrat or independent) that it would take several pages to attempt to list them all. He ran for this seat in 1989 (polling 30.5% out of four candidates), 1995 (32.6% of 3), and 1999 (13.26% of 5) but not in 2001. In the 2002 Clarence aldermanic election he polled 9.8%, a significant drop from the 12.8% he polled in 1999, when he was second elected. Running for Deputy Mayor of Clarence in 2005 he polled 29.63% (of 4) and was narrowly defeated by ex-Liberal MHA Martin McManus on preferences.

John Peers. Another Clarence alderman, Peers was elected with 6.9 per cent of the vote in 1999 and re-elected with 6.7 per cent in 2002. He ran unsuccessfully for deputy mayor in 2005, polling 22.4 per cent from a field of four candidates.

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.