Surprised by Roy

No Advertiser poll today – presumably they are holding back for tomorrow. Roy Morgan has produced its traditional day-before poll, but it’s hard to take seriously even by their standards. The sample is a mere 420, and the surveys were conducted "on the weekends between February 4/5 and March 11/12". Separate results are provided for the periods "before election announcement" and "after election announcement", although the former figures are too out-of-date to be of any conceivable interest. The results are at least consistent, with all Morgan’s figures from this year putting Labor on an impossible 50.5 per cent of the primary vote. The Liberals have actually faded during the campaign, from 33 per cent in the previous poll to 30.5 per cent in the latter period of the current one. This one’s going straight in the bin.

In today’s Advertiser, Greg Kelton says that "Labor sources claim their internal polling shows them with a very good chance of winning outer suburban seats such as Newland, Bright, Mawson and Light", giving further reason to think they will not win Hartley and Morialta, as the Poll Bludger election guide currently predicts.

Tasmanian election: Lyons form guide

Known until 1982 as Wilmot, the electorate of Lyons is made up of what’s left over after the north-west coast (Braddon), north-east coast (Bass), western Hobart (Denison) and eastern Hobart (Franklin, which also includes towns to the south to make up the numbers) are grouped together into communities of interest. It thus includes small towns on either side of Tasmania’s pronounced north-south divide, respectively including New Norfolk outside Hobart and Launceston’s southern outskirts, along with tough mining towns on the west coast, fishing towns and tourist centres on the east coast and a lot of farming land in between. Its profile has made it slightly conservative leaning by Tasmanian standards, though it has otherwise moved with the state’s distinct electoral rhythms over the decades.

The recent Liberal decline kicked in early in Lyons when former Premier Robin Gray took his personal vote into retirement at the 1996 election, which saw the Liberal vote drop by 16.3 per cent from its high point of 1992 (compared with a statewide average of 12.1 per cent). This cost them a seat and contributed to the Rundle government’s loss of a majority; another loss in 1998, when the number of seats was reduced from seven per electorate to five, helped cost the Liberals government. But the electorate had still not finished with them, and another dive in support in 2002 (which was actually fairly muted when compared with other electorates) saw the fall of yet another seat, this time to the Greens, who came back into the game after party leader and future Senator Christine Milne lost her seat in 1998. That left Deputy Leader Denise Swan fighting it out for the sole remaining Liberal seat with Rene Hidding, a bitter opponent of both Swan and leader Bob Cheek, who lost his seat in Denison. Hidding began with a slender lead of 3958 primary votes to 3905 but fell behind at one point during the distribution of preferences, recovering late in the count to prevail by just 82 votes.

David Llewellyn was first elected in 1986 and has served as a cabinet minister under Michael Field, Jim Bacon and Paul Lennon. His prestige grew as he handled the notoriously difficult health portfolio without serious incident, and he became Deputy Premier when lung cancer forced Jim Bacon to stand down as Premier in February 2004. This was despite resistance from the Left, which favoured Braddon MP Bryan Green. Weighing up the two contenders at the time, Ellen Whinnett of The Mercury listed Llewellyn’s strengths as being "hard-working, sincere (and) able to get across the detail of the portfolios", and his weaknesses as being "soporific", a "poor public speaker" and "lacking in aggression". Llewellyn has kept a low profile during the election campaign, which the Liberals say is due to his anger at a "shady factional deal" which they claim will cost him the deputy leadership after the election.

Michael Polley has had by far the longest uninterrupted run in the House of Assembly of any current sitting member, having first been elected in 1972 at the age of 22. He held fairly minor portfolio responsibilities until the Labor-Greens accord government of Michael Field came to power in 1989, when he began his first stint in the Speaker’s chair, a position he resumed when the current Labor government came to power in 1998. His sister, Helen Polley, was elected to the Senate at the 2004 federal election. The above table compares his performance on the primary vote with that of Llewellyn since the latter entered parliament in 1986.

Labor’s third successful candidate in 2002 was Ken Bacon (no relation to Jim), who won a seat in 1998 at the expense of sitting Labor member and now Franklin MP Lara Giddings (Christian Kerr of Crikey, then travelling under his Hillary Bray pseudonym, speculated that voters had him confused with Jim) and was returned with 14.3 per cent of the vote. Bacon retired in April 2005, ostensibly due to health problems associated with diabetes, although he had recently resigned as Tourism Minister after stumbling through parliamentary hearings into huge losses incurred by the TT-Line’s ferry service from Sydney. The Mercury later reported that Bacon felt he had been undermined by Michael Polley, suggesting this was the reason he endorsed former Liberal candidate Russell Anderson for his run against Polley’s wife Kim for the mayoralty of Northern Midlands.

With Llewellyn, Polley and Bacon dominating the Labor vote in 2002, not much was left for their remaining candidates, but one of them was needed to fill the void created by Bacon’s retirement. The recount was won by east coast tourism operator Heather Butler, who polled just 3.1 per cent in 2002 and is said by Sue Neales of The Mercury to have "not exactly been a parliamentary star performer". Concerns that a stronger candidate was required to retain three seats for Labor prompted Paul Lennon to poach Wendy Kennedy, a television and Hobart social identity, but she withdrew at the last minute citing family pressures. The newcomer Labor candidates are Sorell councillor and former mayor Kerry Degrassi (said to be backed by the Left faction) and teacher and football coach Malcolm Upston.

Dutch-born Rene Hidding (first name pronounced "reen", although his foes delight in doing otherwise) ascended to the Liberal leadership after the disastrous 2002 election result deprived the party of both leader Bob Cheek and deputy leader Denise Swan, who stood together at the other side of the schism that rent the parliamentary party throughout the previous term. Hidding does not come off well in Cheek’s recently published memoir, Cheeky: Confessions of a Ferret Salesman, in which Cheek complains of persistent acts of betrayal and delights in revealing that Hidding has avoided financial portfolios because he was declared bankrupt while working as a used car salesman in 1981. Hidding had better luck in business after setting up a building industry company with his four brothers, and served on Launceston City Council from 1985 to 1992. He was elected to Lyons from 7.6 per cent of the vote in 1996 and has been an unspectacular electoral performer since, polling 11.2 per cent in 1998 and 7.0 per cent in 2002.

The new Liberal candidates are Richmond businesswoman Jane Howlett, whom Sue Neales of The Mercury rates a strong chance if the Liberals pick up a second seat; Sorell businessman Andrew Wright, also reckoned to be running a "strong campaign"; Meander Valley transport operator Geoff Page, who as the federal candidate for Lyons in 2001 was the only Liberal candidate in the state to achieve a swing; and Richard Shoobridge, Timber Communities Australia branch president and former Tasman councillor.

Former tourism operator Tim Morris came to parliament via Derwent Valley Council, comfortably topping a ticket of untried Greens candidates in 2002 with 9.1 per cent of the vote. He is considered likely to retain his seat and is unlikely to be threatened by his party running mates: state party convenor Karen Cassidy, Buckland grazier Helen Gee, Dunally businesswoman Frederika Perey and former Kentish councillor Annie Willock.

Norwood from the trees

Election punditry has been an agreeably straightforward matter during the South Australian campaign, with published opinion polling and reported internal polls all pointing in much the same direction. That’s all changed with two polls in today’s Advertiser covering the neighbouring electorates of Norwood and Hartley, located due east of the city. Taken on Tuesday and covering around 500 voters in each electorate, the polls suggest the Liberals are well in contention to gain the former and likely to retain the latter.

Rightly or wrongly, the Poll Bludger is reluctant to junk his overall hypothesis on the basis of one poll, although it has to be noted that it’s the first to be published since the Liberals’ major policy announcements, campaign launch and belated television advertisements. The straw at which I will grasp is the steady rise in the undecided vote across the Norwood polling, which has now reached a remarkable 18 per cent. If the universal expectation of a Labor win is encouraging swinging voters to think again, it might be that a shift in the polls will be enough to bring them back on board. It’s also worth mentioning that the result is consistent with reports of Labor polling showing it on course to win seats in the outer suburban mortgage belt, but making less headway nearer the city. Other noteworthy local factors are a tradition of last-minute swings to the Liberals in Norwood, where Ciccarello had an unexpectedly close run in 2002, and the stubbornness of booths in the southern part of Hartley (the more middle-class and white-bread part of the electorate) which have a tradition of resisting broader Labor swings at both state and federal elections.

These promise to be the first in a flurry of polls over the final days of the campaign. A comment left on this site indicates that The Advertiser was conducting further polling yesterday, so it should have more results up its sleeve tomorrow, presumably statewide this time. Roy Morgan should put what remains of its reputation on the line tomorrow, with Newspoll to follow on Saturday morning. If they all point to a big swing back to the Liberals, a wholesale revision might be in order. Until then, two seats have been given back to the Liberals in the Poll Bludger election guide, although not the two covered by the poll. They are Unley, a normally safe Liberal seat just south of the city which could only have fallen under a Labor best-case scenario, and Mount Gambier, where the buzz locally suggests sitting independent Rory McEwen will struggle to stay ahead of the Labor candidate, whose preferences he will need to overcome Liberal challenger Peter Gandolfi.

Some further additions to the election guide:

Light (Liberal 2.6%): Liberal member Malcolm Buckby has become a target of Labor ads publicising a statement he made at a meeting at Northside Church in Gawler, which was told that while the Liberals would "try to maintain the promises we put out to the electorate running up to the election … not every one is going to be delivered". The Liberals have protested that he was referring in part to the potential for obstruction by the upper house (although there doesn’t appear to be anything about this in the full transcript released today to The Advertiser), and accused Labor of reaching "a new low by secretly filming part of a church service and using it in a political advertisement". The church concurs, telling The Advertiser today that its hospitality had been abused by Labor.

Unley (Liberal 9.1%): The Electoral Commission has forced Liberal candidate David Pisoni to withdraw a radio advertisement critical of "Labor’s infill plan" and its impact on suburban housing density. This has not been the only stumble related to the Liberals’ advertising campaign. Today, The Advertiser reports that the Liberals have been compelled to amend a television advertisement, correcting a claim that South Australia had the country’s "worst waiting lists" to "worst emergency waiting times". An earlier ad had to be corrected because it misspelled Labor.

Tasmanian election: Franklin form guide

Franklin includes the areas of Hobart on the eastern shore of the Derwent River, small towns south of the city and the unpopulated southern part of the World Heritage area to the west. The federal electorate was mostly in Liberal hands in the post-war era (though usually by narrow margins), until Harry Quick won it for Labor at the Tasmanian Liberal wipeout of 1993 and consolidated it thereafter. At state level, the electorate has reflected the pattern of traditional Labor dominance that foundered on the rocks of the Franklin Dam controversy in the early 1980s. The Liberals lost one of their standard three seats at the 1996 election, the last held under the seven-member system, to independent candidate Bruce Goodluck, who had been the federal Liberal member from 1975 until he retired due to ill health in 1993. Goodluck polled 6.3 per cent of the vote and won with help from a good many preferences leaking from the Liberal ticket. He did not recontest at the 1998 election, when the number of representatives was cut to five, and the Liberals failed to recover the seat.

The real Liberal disaster was to come in 2002 when they slumped from 37.0 per cent of the vote to 23.7 per cent and dropped another seat, this time to the Greens. Their only sitting member going into the poll was Martin McManus, who entered parliament at a mid-term recount when Peter Hodgman quit for an unsuccessful run at the 2001 federal election. The other elected member from 1998, Matt Smith – who was elected at the age of 20 – quit shortly before the election after his father was charged with stealing from his employer, and a court was told some of the money may have been used to fund his campaign (his father was later acquitted on all charges). Their only successful candidate was Will Hodgman, nephew of Peter and son of legendary Denison MP Michael Hodgman.

Labor by contrast is going into the election with three sitting members, all of them high-profile – none more so than the Premier, Paul Lennon. There has been a perception that Labor will struggle to retain its three seats this time around, which if correct will mean the loss of a cabinet minister. However, a Labor upturn in recent polls may require a revision of this view.

Paul Lennon entered parliament in 1990 via the state secretary position at the Tasmanian Trades and Labor Council. He failed at his first run for election in 1989, but won a seat on a recount the following year when Labor veteran Ken Wriedt retired. He has steadily built up his personal vote over the years, cracking double figures in 1996 and increasing from 13.1 per cent in 1998 to 18.2 per cent in 2002. Lennon emerged over time as the head of the state party’s Right faction, and became Deputy Premier upon the election of Jim Bacon’s government in 1998. He assumed the role of Labor’s "enforcer" and took on an ever more demanding load of portfolios from Bacon who, in the estimation of Tasmanian academics Tony McCall and Peter Hay, sought only to retain "portfolios that kept him out of trouble and allowed him to present himself as the avuncular statesmen". The tough image Lennon acquired led to concerns about his suitability for the job when he took over from Bacon in early 2004. These came to the fore when Labor lost two Tasmanian seats at the federal election due to the disastrous rift with the federal party over forestry policy, which prompted short-lived talk of a leadership challenge. This has long since ceased, but the jury will remain out on his premiership until the figures come in on Saturday night.

Lara Giddings became the youngest woman ever elected to an Australian parliament when she first won a seat in Lyons at the age of 23 in 1996. She was squeezed out when the number of members was reduced at the 1998 election, but returned as a member for Franklin in 2002. This came at the expense of Labor member Neville Oliver, who entered parliament mid-term after a recount when Fran Bladel abandoned her seat to make an unsuccessful tilt at the upper house seat of Huon. Hiddings became Economic Development and Arts Minister in 2004 and, according to Sue Neales of The Mercury, is better placed than party rival Paula Wriedt to retain her seat. Despite being of the Left faction, Giddings has been described as a protégé of Paul Lennon.

Paula Wreidt is the daughter of the aforementioned Ken Wriedt, who was the Whitlam government Agriculture Minister and Senate leader at the time of the 1975 supply crisis, and later led the state party amid its wilderness years from 1982 to 1986. She entered parliament in 1996 and became Education Minister when Labor came to power in 1998. This made her Tasmania’s youngest ever female cabinet member, and two years later she became the state’s first MP to have a child while in office.

With three cabinet ministers up for re-election, the remaining Labor candidates are unlikely to get a look in. They are Ross Butler, a former Lindisfarne real estate agent and school principal, and Daniel Hulme, a Australian Taxation Office worker and former Young Labor president described by Sue Neales of The Mercury as a "right-wing pro-development campaigner".

Will Hodgman is the new generation representative of the evergreen Hodgman dynasty, which includes his grandfather (who served as both a Liberal and independent member) as well as his father Michael and uncle Peter. Hodgman went straight into the deputy leadership of the battered Liberal Party after the 2002 election fiasco and looks certain to go one better in the very short-term future, given the results of a recent poll published by The Mercury which showed he was the preferred Premier of more than a third of Liberal voters. He has set himself apart from his monarchist lawyer father by abandoning his legal career after entering parliament and taking up the position of deputy convenor of the Australian Republican Movement.

The best-known of the Liberal newcomers are Tasmania Police lawyer and criminologist Vanessa Goodwin, who in 2003 was touted as a Senate candidate by party moderates hoping to demote conservative warlord Eric Abetz to the dicey number three position on the ticket, and Tony Scott, a Vietnam veteran and chief executive of the state branch of the RSL. Also standing are Steve Allie, a local business and cricket identity who was a partner in former Liberal leader Bob Cheek’s first business venture in the early 1980s, the Eastern Shore Indoor Cricket Centre; and bed-and-breakfast operator and former aid worker Sue Bastone, who was one of the first Australians to arrive in Aceh after the Boxing Day tsunami. Allie was drafted late in the piece after the withdrawal of Kingston carpet business owner Derek Smith.

Nick McKim is rated as the current Greens member most likely to succeed Peg Putt as leader. The local federal Labor member, Harry Quick, created a stir within his party early in the campaign when he endorsed McKim in his election material. The other Greens candidates include former parks ranger and current "weather observer" Mike Anderson, science teacher Jane MacDonald and aged care assessor Gerard Velnaar. Breaking the Greens mould somewhat is Mark Rickards, a real estate agent and former naval officer.

Out of the box

As the South Australian election campaign limps into the home strait, the re-election of Mike Rann’s Labor government appears as much a foregone conclusion as ever. That’s despite earlier reports that Labor hard-heads were worried about what the Liberals might have up their sleeve in the final week, for which the cash-strapped party has been waiting before unloading its television commercials (except in Mount Gambier – more on that below). Unlike Labor’s ads, these are not available on the party website, so the Poll Bludger is not aware if they have landed any surprise killer blows. Despite good press last week for Liberal policies to build a highway between Adelaide and Victor Harbour and give first home buyers a $3000 grant (on top of the $7000 already provided by the federal government), the nervous talk from the Labor camp was probably an attempt to manage expectations. It was contradicted by a report in The Weekend Australian saying Labor was "confident of capturing Adelaide’s outer suburbs", where internal polling shows Mike Rann’s campaign pitch had "resonated".

One television advertisement that has raised eyebrows has been Labor’s effort showing a flat-footed Rob Kerin mumbling and bumbling in response to a query as to why he wants to be Premier. Internet surveys conducted by Graham Young of On Line Opinion have prompted him to tell Adelaide’s Independent Weekly that voters have been left cold by the ad:

Labor has been riding high in the polls, but the party’s recent advertisements that take a vicious swipe at Rob Kerin’s leadership of the Liberal Party have not been well accepted by voters. As a consequence, the standing of Premier Rann has been lowered, according to our latest state election focus group and questionnaire responses. Even more alarming for Labor is that the ads have left Kerin almost unscathed, and will also guarantee stronger votes for independents and minor parties in the Legislative Council. But still the Liberals are yet to put forward a proposition that voters will buy.

Having only just got around to viewing the infamous ad, I suspect there might be a gap between voters’ conscious reaction to it and its effect on their voting behaviour. During my visit to Adelaide a fortnight ago, I told a stunned hotel owner that I was there to observe the election campaign. After he recovered, the first point he could think to make was the very point the ad is making – that Kerin gives the impression he would be happier in opposition. And it is an axiom of election campaigning (for me at least) that the most effective advertisements are those that reinforce existing perceptions. In this respect, the use of Kerin’s first name in the ad’s punchline ("does Rob really want the job?") seems like a nice touch, emphasising the popular view that Kerin is a good bloke who doesn’t have the steel in his spine to meet the demands of leadership.

I happen to be reading a book at the moment by American academics Stephen Ansolabehere, Roy Behr and Shanto Iyengar called The Media Game: American Politics in the Television Age, which makes the following observation about the 1988 presidential campaign:

Immediately after the Republican convention, the Bush campaign began an unrelenting attack on Dukakis’s positions on major issues, his record as governor of Massachusetts, and his commitment to basic American values. Inexplicably, the Dukakis campaign failed to respond directly to these charges for over a month. Most post-mortems of the 1988 presidential campaign emphasised the significant payoffs to Bush that resulted from the Dukakis campaign’s inability or unwillingness to confront these ads. The Dukakis campaign violated Roger Ailes’s first axiom of advertising strategy: "Once you get punched, you punch back".

"Punching back" is the very antithesis of Kerin’s style, and such negative campaigning as there has been from the Liberals has played the ball rather than the man. Ansolabehere, Behr and Iyengar ultimately conclude that the main effect of attack ads is to dampen voter turnout, but this of course is not a consideration under compulsory voting. A local variant on the effect might be to drive up the vote for minor parties and independents, and here Young’s assessment sounds on the money.

It does appear that there is one card the Liberals can play in the final days, and for all I know their television ads may be doing just this. It relates to fiscal responsibility and taxation, and the dividend available to them by virtue of their dangerous promise earlier in the campaign to cut 4000 jobs from the public service. By contrast, Labor’s promises – which, in the estimation of Michelle Wiese Bockmann of The Australian, "account for $700 million over four years" – are to be funded largely by "efficiencies". Combined with discontent over land tax, the Liberals have the opportunity to at least narrow the gap with a credible pitch at the hip pocket nerve.

Some recent and future updates to the election guide:

Mount Gambier (Independent 25.0% vs Liberal): Allan Scott, millionaire trucking magnate and publisher of the Border Watch newspaper, has stood down editor Frank Morello after the Border Watch ran a number of articles on Friday seen to be critical of the Liberal Party and its candidate, Peter Gandolfi. The move has also prompted the sudden resignation of Lechelle Earl, the writer of the articles and the paper’s chief-of-staff. Craig Bildstein of The Advertiser wrote on Saturday that "everyone The Advertiser spoke to suspects millionaire businessman Allan Scott is the chief financier" of a local Liberal campaign that has been "flush with funds", with "widespread reports that the Liberals spent $50,000 on TV advertising between October and January". Yesterday The Advertiser reported that it "has learned that Labor candidate Brad Coates last week threatened to withdraw $6000 worth of advertising from the Border Watch because of concerns that the paper was ‘too pro-Liberal’".

Florey (Labor 3.6%), Newland (Liberal 5.5%) and Wright (Labor 3.2%): Labor has promised to take back control of Modbury Hospital (located in Florey, but of interest to Newland, Wright and other less marginal neighbours), which was sold to private operator Healthscope by Dean Brown’s Liberal government in 1995. An anti-privatisation assessment of the hospital’s history under Healthscope can be found on the University of Wollongong website. Concerns about standards at the hospital have been widely reported in recent weeks, with the Sunday Mail talking of "GPs earning at least $2400 a shift" to "supervise foreign interns at Modbury Hospital after staff complaints of potential risks to patients". The Liberals have put the cost to the government of Labor’s promise at $5 million a year.

Mawson (Liberal 3.5%), Heysen (Liberal 9.9%) and Finniss (Liberal 15.9%): The Liberals have made a keynote election promise to replace the notoriously dangerous road that currently links Adelaide and Victor Harbour with a $130 million four-lane highway. The announcement scored an encouraging front-page headline ("Kerin to fix killer road") in The Advertiser, a paper many have faulted for coverage that seems tailored to curtail the extent of Labor’s victory. The following day, Treasurer Kevin Foley accused the Liberals of being $200 million out on their costings, but Greg Kelton of The Advertiser reports that the Liberal estimate was supported by both the RAA and the Committee for Adelaide Roads.

Morialta (Liberal 3.6%): The Weekend Australian reported that Labor are less confident about Morialta than "mortgage belt" seats further from the city, specifically Mawson, Bright and Newland.

Tasmanian election: Denison form guide

Denison essentially covers all of Hobart west of the Derwent River, plus some hinterland beyond. It is the strongest electorate in the state for the Greens, having elected Bob Brown at the 1986 election and returned the party’s only member at the 1998 election, when representation was first reduced from seven members per electorate to five. The electorate also produced Tasmania’s only state Democrats MP when Norm Saunders (who later became a Senator) won a seat in 1980 and retained it in 1982. The former election was another unique feature of Denison’s history, having been held after the election of three Labor members from 1979 was ruled invalid due to breaches of a silly rule capping campaign expenditure at a mere $1500, which had hitherto been politely ignored. This led directly to the introduction of Tasmania’s joyous system of Robson rotation, which ought to be the envy of the democratic world. Wayne Crawford explained the episode thus in The Mercury in 2002:

Labor had held a conference on the West Coast to officially endorse its candidates for the by-election. The Left faction in control of the party decided to run a how-to-vote ticket in the poll and endorsed northern suburbs Left-wing lawyer John Green at the top; fellow Denison MHA and Deputy Premier and Treasurer Neil Batt – then also a federal heavyweight as the party’s national president – was put No 4 on the ticket, which he took as a snub, given his seniority … Originally, the order of candidates’ names on ballot papers was alphabetical. Thus, because of the "donkey vote" (by which many electors simply chose their favoured party and voted straight down the list) the House was full of people whose names began with A, B and C. When I started covering Parliament in the late 1960s, 15 MHAs (of the 35) had names beginning with A, B or C.

For years, a Liberal MHA for Bass, former Launceston banker Neil Robson (an intelligent man and a member of Mensa, the organisation for people with very high IQs) had been arguing for a system of "rotating" the order of names on ballot papers to give all candidates a share of "favoured" positions – that is, positions at the top or bottom of the paper or positions under well-known or popular candidates … and for years he had been dismissed (not only by Labor but by members of his own party) as "the mad professor". After the Left’s perceived snub to Batt in the lead-up to the 1980 by-election, Robson, as he recalls, abruptly went from "mad professor" to "man of vision". The government suddenly saw the wisdom of his system as a means of trumping the Left’s how-to-vote ticket. Under the Robson system, a how-to-vote card would be worthless because it would be nothing like the ballot papers, which would be printed in batches of many various forms and shuffled.

The upshot of the February 1980 by-election was that Green lost his seat and Neil Batt topped the poll (helped by not only Lowe but also Bob Hawke, then ACTU president, campaigning for him).

As the chart below indicates, the emergence of the Greens initiated a period of electoral stability that ended with the Liberals’ calamitous performance at the 2002 election, at which Bob Cheek became the first Tasmanian party leader since 1903 to lose his seat. His personal vote fell to 7.7 per cent from 12.9 per cent at the previous election – still the highest vote for a Liberal candidate, but preferences from Liberal supporters as well as opponents pushed veteran Michael Hodgman ahead of him.

Labor’s electoral slate has been wiped clean by the exit of Jim Bacon, who polled a massive 35.5 per cent in his own right in 2002. Most of his preferences went to the other senior member in the electorate, Attorney-General Judy Jackson, who surprised many when she announced her retirement last year. The dearth of established sitting members led to talk that the void might be filled by local federal MP Duncan Kerr, whose plans to move to state politics at the 2002 election were scotched by then Labor leader Simon Crean (who feared a repeat of the Cunningham by-election). Labor’s sitting members are the two candidates who fought it out for Labor’s third seat in 2002 – the eventual winner, Graeme Sturges, and David Bartlett, who entered parliament through the recount held when Jim Bacon quit due to terminal ill-health in early 2004. Sturges is a member of the Left faction and is rated by Sue Neales of The Mercury as the only Labor member certain to hold his seat, on the grounds that he is "regarded as an outstanding member representing local constituents". Bartlett is a former IT worker for the state Treasury, who copped flak during the last election campaign after he put his computer skills to use by spamming local constituents. He is thought to face a tougher assignment than Sturges, as is often the case with members elected at mid-term recounts.

Bartlett faces what Sue Neales of The Mercury describes as "two high-profile and younger female candidates" who "have been keenly headhunted to fill the gap left by long-term fixture Ms Jackson". They are Tasmanian Small Business Council president Louise Sullivan (whose preselection appeared in doubt when Labor Left union official and state executive member Nicole Wells refused to endorse it in December 2005 on the grounds that she was not a financial member of the party) and Lisa Singh, a manager for Arts Tasmania and a former Hobart citizen of the year. Sue Neales reported on the weekend that internal Labor polling showed Singh was likely to win at Bartlett’s expense. Also on the Labor ticket are Julie Collins, a former Labor state president who has worked as a staffer to premiers Jim Bacon and Michael Field and Senators Carol Brown and Sue Mackay, and her Left faction colleague Joe Ritchie, who is the brother of Pembroke MLC Allison Ritchie.

Justice cannot be done in the space available to the state and federal parliamentary career of Michael Hodgman QC, which goes back to 1966 when he was elected to the upper house seat of Huon. He won the federal seat of Denison from Labor at the 1975 election and held it until defeated by Duncan Kerr in 1987, before returning to state politics in 1992. Hodgman lost his seat at the 1998 election but recovered it on a recount in 2001 after the retirement of former Premier Ray Groom. He was the only Liberal to win a seat in Denison in 2002, narrowly running down party leader Bob Cheek after preferences. In his tell-all book published last year, Cheek described Hodgman as "the darling of the Sandy Bay blue rinse set" (with "more front than Dolly Parton") and said he had "entered every leadership contest state or federal, without being asked … and rarely got more than one vote". One of Hodgman’s legal clients, noted Melbourne poet Mark "Chopper" Read, forced a rhyme from his surname by rating him "a master of the legal twist/a shrewd and artful dodge-man". Now 67, he lives out his leadership ambitions vicariously through his son, Franklin MP Will Hodgman, which are likely to be realised in the not-too-distant future.

Martine Healy reported in The Mercury last year that the initial announcement of only four candidates led to speculation that a spot was being held for a high-profile recruit – believed to be "Federal Hotels spruiker" Brendan Blomeley, who in April 2005 denied reports he had been recruited by Senator Eric Abetz. The spot ended up going to Fabian Dixon, a prominent lawyer and former Law Council of Australia president. A suspiciously short time after his nomination was announced, news reports emerged of a Law Society of Tasmania investigation into Dixon over allegations of overcharging and negligence. According to The Australian, the complainant claimed Dixon had told him that the judge hearing his case, Michael Hannon, was "an ex-partner of mine and I usually get what I want from him", and said he did not inform him that Hannon was notorious for taking years to deliver judgements (although in the Poll Bludger’s experience, taking forever to achieve bugger all at ruinous expense is par for the course in the legal system). Despite this, Sue Neales of The Mercury reported on the weekend that Dixon is well in contention to win a seat, perhaps even at the expense of Hodgman.

The other fancied Liberal newcomer is Richard Lowrie, a former rugby player and manager with Incat whose father served for 18 years in the Legislative Council. Also on the ticket is Elise Archer, yet another lawyer and the wife of state party president Dale Archer. Heather Low Choy of The Mercury included Archer (along with Michael Hodgman) in a list of the ten best-dressed Tasmanians in July 2004 for her "sharply tailored professional attire with an edge" and "beautiful accessories". Blind to the precedent of Imelda Marcos, Archer unwisely nominated shoes as as her "wardrobe fetish" and confessed to having "lost count of how many pairs I have, it’s that bad". The remaining candidate is John Klonaris, a Hobart small businessman and a figure in the local Greek community.

The safest bet going in Denison is the re-election of Peg Putt, who succeeded Bob Brown as member in 1993 and single-handedly carried the party’s banner after a changed electoral system reduced it from five seats to one at the 1998 election. The Greens have long fantasised about winning two seats in Denison, but recent polling suggests this is likely to remain beyond their reach. The most fancied of their remaining candidates is Cassy O’Connor, who has attracted attention because she worked until recently as an adviser to Labor’s Duncan Kerr. This was seen to indicate that gap that has opened between the Labor Left and the party’s pro-business, pro-forestry industry state hierarchy. O’Connor earlier made herself known as the public face of a campaign against a controversial housing and marina development at Ralphs Bay east of Hobart. Writing in The Mercury, Greg Barns took her nomination to mean that Peg Putt plans to retire mid-term so that her seat, and perhaps also her party leadership, might pass on to O’Connor (at the expense of ambitious rival, Franklin MP Nick McKim). Rounding out the ticket are social worker Marrette Corby, teacher Bill Harvey and ambulance communications officer Toby Rowallan.