Tasmania has been distinctive as the founding state and most reliable support base for the Greens, who first established a strong presence in state parliament and then won their first Senate seat with the election of former state leader Bob Brown in 1996. The party did not succeed with Brown off the ticket in 1998, which was the last election contested by indepedent stalwart Brian Harradine, who was elected six times through a career that began in 1975. The Greens have won seats at every election since, including two in 2016, when their second candidate narrowly succeeded in holding out the lead candidate of One Nation. Nonetheless, the party's support has fallen off considerably from its peaks of a decade ago, both at state elections and in the Senate.
The state's other distinctive feature has been its electoral volatility, reflected in frequent changes in the distribution of five remaining seats between Liberal and Labor Liberal winning the third seat in 1990, 1996, 2001 and 2004, and Labor doing so in 1993, 1998, 2007 and 2010. The normal pattern was broken with the national slump in the combined minor party vote in 2016, and in particular with the strong 6.6% vote recorded for the Palmer United Party and its firebrand lead candidate, Jacqui Lambie. Together with the Greens winning a seat, this reduced both major parties to two seats.
The 2016 double dissolution coincided with a weak showing for the Liberals in Tasmania, with Labor taking five seats to the Liberals' four, the Greens winning two, and Jacqui Lambie pulling off a rare feat in sustaining her political career under her own flag after falling out with the minor party she had started out with. The result was also extraordinary in that below-the-line voting caused the sixth candidate on the Labor ticket, Lisa Singh, to win election over the fifth candidate, John Short only the second time this had occurred, the first also being in Tasmania in 1953, when Senate elections attracted considerably fewer candidates. This reflected a rebellion by Labor voters against Singh's demotion to accommodate Short, a non-incumbent union official. It was also aided by Tasmania's smaller fields of candidates and voters' familiarity with candidate-based voting from the Hare-Clark system at state elections, with 28.1% of Tasmanian Senate votes being cast below the line, compared with 6.5% nationally.
Two of the elected members have since fallen prey to the Section 44 parliamentary eligibility crisis, in both cases because of British citizenship by descent through their fathers: Stephen Parry, a Liberal, and Jacqui Lambie. In the court-ordered recount that followed, Stephen Parry's place was taken by fellow Liberal Richard Colbeck, but the election of Lambie's running mate, Steve Martin, proved problematic in that he refused to resign to make way for her return after she resolved her citizenship issues, as per her demands.
The recount process in Tasmania was uniquely complicated in that the high rate of below the line voting made the outcomes considerably less predictable than in the mainland states. In particular, suggestions that Steve Martin too might be ineligible, on the basis that his mayoralty of Devonport potentially constituted an office of profit under the Crown, raised the spectre of a recount in which the last position was decided in favour of One Nation candidate Kate McCulloch at the expense of the winner from 2016, Nick McKim of the Greens, despite McKim having not been directly affected by Section 44. This did not transpire, but the recount process proved consequential in changing the order of election of the candidates, which in turn affected the allocation of six-year and three-year terms.
As first determined after the 2016 election, Liberal and Labor received two six-year terms each, with the Greens and Jacqui Lambie receiving one apiece. However, a substantial share of Lambie's support consisted of below-the-line votes that did not flow directly to Martin, who was accordingly elected at a later stage in the count, and was thus determined by the Senate to be entitled only to a three-year term. This was to the advantage of the Liberals, who accordingly secured three three-year terms to Labor's two and the Greens' one. The Liberals had only one three-year term to Labor's three, with the others going to Martin and the Greens. Martin will accordingly contest the coming election as the lead candidate of his newly adopted party, the Nationals, which he joined in May 2018. One of the long term Liberal Senators, David Bushby, resigned in January and was succeeded by his sister, Wendy Askew, a banker and political staffer.
The Liberal ticket will be headed by Richard Colbeck, who has not suffered a repeat of the indignity of being demoted to a losing position at the 2016 double dissolution election. Colbeck first entered the Senate after filling a casual vacancy in 2002, and led the party's ticket at the 2007 and 2013 elections. He held parliamentary secretary rank from 2004 through to September 2015, when he was promoted to the junior ministry as Tourism and International Education Minister. This followed Malcolm Turnbull's ascension to the prime ministership, Colbeck having been the only Tasmanian Liberal who was so much as suspected of having supported him against Tony Abbott. The very same reshuffle saw Senator Eric Abetz, factional conservative and a uniquely powerful figure in the state party, dumped from cabinet to the back bench. His subsequent dumping to fifth position was accordingly seen as an exercise of revenge by the conservative faction. Colbeck did well to record 4.0% of the statewide vote as below-the-line votes, but this was not sufficient to overturn the order of the Liberal ticket, in contrast to the 6.1% share of Labor candidate Lisa Singh.
Colbeck returned to the Senate in February last year by the grace of Section 44, winning the fourth Liberal seat on the recount held after Stephen Parry was disqualified. He maintained his moderate credentials by lining up in support of Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison against Peter Dutton in the two party leadership votes of August 2018, and was subsequently promoted to parliamentary secretary rank. Reports suggested he nonetheless faced being shunted once again down the Senate ticket. However, he emerged with the top position with backing from Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton and Mathias Cormann.
The second candidate on the ticket is Claire Chandler, risk advisory manager at Deloitte Australia and former electorate officer to Senator David Bushby. Chandler has been identified as a conservative and an ally of Eric Abetz. In third position is Tanya Denison, a Hobart councillor. The presence of two women on the ticket marks a change in the recent form of the state party, which went without a female representative in the federal parliament between 2002 and March 2019, when Wendy Askew filled her brother David Bushby's Senate vacancy. Askew had earlier been an unsuccessful candidate for a place on the Senate ticket, as had Brett Whiteley, the former state and federal member for Braddon who failed to win the seat back for the Liberals at the by-election there last July.
Three of the five Labor Senators elected in 2016, Carol Brown, Lisa Singh and Catryna Bilyk, were allocated three-year terms, all of whom are seeking re-election. However, Singh has again been demoted to a normally unwinnable position at number four, the party's factional hierarchy apparently being not much concerned about the unprecedented voter rebellion when they did the same thing in 2016. Brown and Bilyk hold the top two positions, reflecting their third and fourth positions on the ticket in 2016, while the third position has gone to John Short, repeating the situation in 2016 when he was placed one position higher than Singh.
Carol Brown is a principal of the Left faction who has served in the Senate since filling a casual vacancy in 2005, and has since been re-elected from second position in 2007 and first position in 2013 and 2016. She was promoted to parliamentary secretary rank after the 2013 election defeat, then to the outer shadow ministry in the disability and carers portfolio after the 2016 election.
Catryna Bilyk is a Right faction member and former official with the Australian Services Union who was first elected from third position in 2007 and promoted to second in 2013, before taking the fourth position on the ticket at the 2016 double dissolution election. She has thus far remained on the back bench.
The third candidate is John Short, state secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, whom the state's Left faction has been resolute in supporting ahead of the claim of factional colleague Lisa Singh.
Short's selection to the already uncertain prospect of third position leaves Lisa Singh relegated to fourth place, after 6.1% of the state's voters went below the line in a successful endeavour to elect her ahead of Short in 2016. Singh, who is of Indian Fijian ancestry, entered politics as a state member for Denison at the 2006 election, serving in David Bartlett's cabinet from November 2008. She was then squeezed out as Labor was reduced from three seats to two in Denison at the 2010 election, before returning to politics in the Senate the following year, winning election from third position on the Labor ticket at the August 2010 election. Despite her extraordinary feat at the 2016 election, she was subsequently demoted from a parliamentary secretary position she had held since the 2013 election defeat.
The lead Greens candidate is Nick McKim, who was narrowly successful in winning the Greens' second seat in 2016. McKim's political career began in state parliament when he was elected to a seat in Franklin in 2002, to which he was re-elected in 2006 and 2010. He then became one of two Greens to hold a position in cabinet under Labor Premiers David Bartlett and Lara Giddings through to January 2014, when Giddings pulled the plug on the Labor-Greens arrangement, followed two months later by the government's landslide defeat. McKim was nonetheless re-elected in Franklin, but moved to the Senate the following August after filling the vacancy created by the retirement of Christine Milne, who had led the party from 2012 to 2015.
The election marks a comeback opportunity for Jacqui Lambie, a former soldier who became politically active after engaging in a long-running dispute with the Department of Veterans Affairs over her disability pension and compensation for back injuries she sustained during her service. Lambie worked for a period on the staff of Labor Senator Nick Sherry, but unsuccessfully sought Liberal preselection for Braddon at the 2013 election. She was then enlisted as the lead Senate candidate for the Palmer United Party, whose well-oiled campaign powered her to 6.6% of the statewide vote and one of three Senate seats won by the party across the country, in addition to Clive Palmer's lower house seat in Fairfax.
Lambie became the first of the party's members to resign in November 2014, with Queensland Senator Glenn Lazarus following suit in March 2015. However, whereas the Glenn Lazarus Team failed to gain traction at the 2016 election, Lambie was handsomely re-elected under the banner of the Jacqui Lambie Network with 8.3% of the statewide vote, enough to secure her the fourth elected position out of 12 and with it a six-year term. The party was not able to replicate the success at the 2018 election, scoring 3.2% statewide and failing to win any seats.
By that time, Lambie had lost her Senate position in November 2017 as part of the Section 44 parliamentary eligibility crisis, owing to dual British citizenship by descent through her Scottish-born father. The recount elected her running mate from 2016, Devonport mayor Steve Martin, who refused to make way for her return by resigning after she resolved her citizenship issues. Lambie declared herself set on a return to the Senate, scotching suggestions she might run for the lower house seat of Braddon, which covers her home turf of Burnie. She has since maintained a high public profile through media appearances, particularly on the Ten Network's reality television show I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.