Margin: Labor 7.5%
Location: North-Western, Tasmania
In a nutshell: Braddon is a classic blue-collar seat which usually votes Labor, but is prone to backlashes over bread-and-butter economic concerns. Hostility to arrangements with the Greens has the party fearing just such a result this time around.
Braddon covers the north-western coastal areas of Tasmania, along with King Island in the Bass Strait. The redistribution before the 2010 election extended the electorate along the full length of the thinly populated west coast, which benefited Labor by adding the mining towns around Queenstown. The dominant population centres are Devonport and Burnie, which respectively supply about 25% and 18% of the voters. The timber and mining industries that have traditionally provided a solid base for Labor are balanced by beef and dairy farming, which contribute to a more conservative lean in the western parts around Smithton. Burnie is Labor’s greatest source of strength in the electorate, although Devonport also traditionally leans its way. The electorate is distinguished by the lowest proportion of residents who completed high school of any electorate in Australia (and, relatedly, has the eleventh lowest median family income), and it ranks second only to neighbouring Lyons as the electorate with the smallest proportion of non-English speakers.
Like all of Tasmania’s five electorates, Braddon has had an uninterrupted existence going back to the original division of the state into single-member seats in 1903, although it was somewhat confusingly called Darwin until 1955. Darwin was held by Labor legend King O’Malley from its creation until 1917, and then by conservatives of various stripes until Ron Davies gained it for Labor in 1958. Davies held the seat until 1975, when future Premier Ray Groom’s victory contributed to the first of a series of Liberal clean sweeps of the state which continued to 1984. The Liberals’ electoral position strengthened during Groom’s tenure due to the decline of the area’s key industries and the political upheaval caused by the Franklin Dam controversy, and he was succeeded upon his entry to state politics in 1984 by fellow Liberal Chris Miles.
Braddon’s fortunes changed very suddenly in 1998 when a 10.0% swing made Peter “Sid” Sidebottom the seat’s first Labor member in 23 years. Labor has since been defeated only in 2004, when John Howard’s late-campaign trumping of Mark Latham over forestry jobs fuelled a 7.0% swing that delivered the seat to Liberal candidate Mark Baker. Unlike Dick Adams in neighbouring Lyons, Sidebottom had declined to distance himself from Latham’s policy. Endorsed again in 2007, Sidebottom was able to recover the seat with a modest 2.6% swing, before adding a further 5.1% to his margin in 2010. On the former occasion the swing was most strongly concentrated around Smithton, reversing a heavy swing to the Liberals from 2004, while the swing in 2010 was greatest in Devonport and Latrobe.
Sid Sidebottom had been a Central Coast councillor and electorate officer to Senator Nick Sherry before entering parliament, and he returned to the employ of Sherry during the interruption of his parliamentary career from 2004 to 2007. Sidebottom is currently factionally unaligned, but like Sherry was formerly a member of the Centre/Independents faction, known in its Hawke government heyday as the Centre Left. He was promoted to parliamentary secretary after the 2001 election, serving in various permutations of agriculture, resources and fisheries over the ensuing term. Not until November 2011 did he recover the status he had achieved during his first stint in parliament, the reshuffle held that month slotting him into the familiar agriculture, fisheries and forestry portfolio.
The Liberal candidate is Brett Whiteley, who was a member for Braddon in the state parliament from 2002 until his defeat in 2010. The party originally chose Devonport real estate agent Michael Burr, but he withdrew in July 2012 on health grounds. Burr had prevailed in a preselection vote over Poppy Growers Tasmania president Glynn Williams and veterans advocate Jacqui Lambie, reportedly with backing from Senators Richard Colbeck and Stephen Parry and local state MP Adam Brooks. Whiteley did not contest the original preselection, saying at the time he was focused on returning to state politics. He won the second preselection ahead of Glynn Williams and a new entrant in Joan Rylah, founder of pro-development group Unlock Tasmania. Former Senator Guy Barnett said he had been approached to run, but preferred to pursue his bid for the state election.
A ReachTEL automated phone poll of 588 respondents conducted two-and-a-half weeks out from the election had Brett Whiteley with a commanding lead: 56% to 40% on the primary vote after exclusion of the undecided, and 56.6-43.4 on two-party preferred.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.