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Finally after so many articles covering the upcoming Legislative Council elections, the stage is set for the voters to decide. (The main previous article has been my Legislative Council candidate preview and at the top you'll find an index of the others.) Here are my views on what might occur, noting that LegCo crystal-ball-gazing is an extremely vague exercise in the absence of polling. In summary of my views, Vanessa Goodwin will retain Pembroke, Jim Wilkinson will probably hold Nelson (perhaps comfortably) and I think Montgomery will be close between Hiscutt and either Fuller or Vincent.
Pembroke is on Hobart's eastern shore and covers most of the City of Clarence (for map see here). It has a usually Liberal-leaning history, having been held for 40 years (1959-99) by the McKay family (Peter McKay becoming an endorsed Liberal near the end of his tenure), and then briefly by then Clarence mayor Cathy Edwards, who was often considered Liberal-leaning. Allison Ritchie broke the pattern by holding the seat for Labor for eight years before resigning citing health reasons at the same time as a nepotism-related media storm (see more here). It was then easily won by Vanessa Goodwin for the Liberals.
The campaign for Pembroke has not been as noisy as the Nelson stoush, though it has also featured a same-sex marriage campaign against the incumbent. No candidate has been particularly keen to be seen as socially radical, with both Vanessa Goodwin and Allison Ritchie supporting mandatory sentencing for child sex offenders, and even Wendy Heatley falling on the conservative side of her own party with a suggestion that the cutoff for abortion on demand in the bill endorsed by her Green colleagues be reduced from 16 weeks to 12.
A key feature of the campaign has been the usually evasive attitude to engagement with debate of the former MLC, Allison Ritchie. Ritchie has not only failed to be upfront about the full circumstances of her initial resignation from the seat, but did not provide yes/no answers to questions about her likely approach to same-sex marriage, abortion or euthanasia legislation in response to the ABC's survey. While Ritchie's comment "I think these issues require more than 'yes' or 'no' answers" might be seen as valid in isolation, she has had abundant opportunity to provide longer answers in the campaign or on her website. Strangely, these only emerged (with some of the answers still fence-sits) in reply to the Australian Christian Lobby's questionnaire. (Speaking of which, apart from the dispute about whether or not the ACL actually contacted Ed Vincent, the ACL generally deserves praise for publishing both their questions - misleading as some of them are - and the answers from candidates in full. This is something that many of the leftist groups campaigning in this election would do well to emulate instead of just, for instance, assigning ticks and crosses. See links to all electorates here.)
Worse, Ritchie was the sole candidate to skip the most significant candidate debate of the election, that held by 7ZR 936 ABC radio, citing unspecified "family reasons". In general, Ritchie has adopted a very risk-averse campaigning style consisting of a plethora of signage and statements that can mostly be characterised as either uncontentious or as populist. Today a leaflet urging voters to put Vanessa Goodwin last over asset sales appeared, ostensibly authorised by former Labor MLC and Harradine group Senate candidate Kath Venn, who has also authorised Ritchie posters. Ritchie also, however, obtained an endorsement from Barry Jones in the same round of leaflet drops.
A slightly blue tinge in the seat can be detected in the 2010 state election results: voters for the main parties in Pembroke split 42.5% Liberal, 32.5% Labor, 24.9% Green. Preferences do not flow strongly from the Greens to Labor over Liberal in state elections so this is probably comparable to about a 54.5:45.5% Liberal/Labor split. Vanessa Goodwin's 38.5% in the 2009 by-election in a field of eight looks fully respectable compared to her party's electorate vote a year later.
The state figures seem a reasonable basis for modelling given that two of the three candidates are endorsed by their parties, and while Allison Ritchie's degree of current connection to Labor is unclear, many voters would identify her as having some degree of Labor-connection through her former tenure in the seat. If we therefore take the primary figures from the last state election as a baseline, the following factors might be considered:
* The general state swing from Labor and the Greens to the Liberals, although Pembroke lies within Franklin in which the swing may be more just Liberal to Green because of candidate factors at the last state election.
* Sophomore effect for Goodwin facing her second election.
* Adverse reputation factors for Ritchie based on the circumstances of her previous resignation from the seat.
* The evasive appearance of Ritchie's campaign.
* Any remaining personal vote for Ritchie from her previous performance.
* Heatley's generally good electoral track record as a moderate Green.
* A general tendency for the Greens to slightly underperform in LegCo elections compared with state, all else being equal.
* Goodwin now lives in the electorate (though she didn't when she was first elected); Heatley and Ritchie do not.
* Campaign against Goodwin over same-sex marriage.
* Ritchie being the sole "independent" in the field.
My net assessment is that when these factors are applied to the results of the last state election, they are overall favourable for Goodwin compared with Ritchie and Heatley. They may be very unfavourable to Ritchie but it is easy to overestimate how critical the electorate will be of her history, and I do suspect that the strongly Labor-voting suburbs in the electorate will remember her well.
I'm expecting a two-candidate preferred result (Goodwin over Ritchie) in the high fifties if it gets that far, though anything from mid-50s to low 60s won't surprise me. I think Goodwin has a solid chance of making the question academic by winning on primaries. Certainly the Liberals will not want this one to be close and anything below 45% primary for them would be disappointing. I'm expecting Ritchie to finish ahead of Heatley, but I'm by no means certain that will happen. Any vote above 30 is reasonable for Ritchie all considered, while anything above 20 is acceptable for the Greens.
Nelson is in the southern Hobart suburbs and takes in Dynnyrne, Sandy Bay, Kingston, Mt Nelson, Taroona and Fern Tree and the fringes of Blackmans Bay. See the ABC elections site to see how it has changed since an extremely boring two-candidate non-contest in 2007. Historically the holder of the seat is a notionally independent conservative; former members in the forerunner Queenborough include Sir Henry Baker, Bill Hodgman and John Stopp. Jim Wilkinson was probably once more progressive than average for the seat but lately is a pretty reliable vote for the Liberal Party, his responses on the ABC's social issues questionnaire mirroring those of Liberals Vanessa Goodwin and Leonie Hiscutt and his voting patterns similar to those of Vanessa Goodwin.
This has been one of the most vigorous and vintage LegCo fights I can recall, with the incumbent up against three candidates who are all opposed to his conservative stances on recent legislation, and also facing a storm of local and national "super PACs" of various sizes endorsing some or all of the other candidates to get around the Council's spending limits. Sideshows have included the Liberal State President making a failed attempt to stop Hans Willink from calling himself an "Independent liberal", and the bizarre and illegal distribution of thousands of unauthorised fliers making completely confected claims about the lifespans of gay and lesbian people. (I add that while the Electoral Office has referred these fliers to the police, in my view the people (ir)responsible should also be referred to a team of psychiatrists. There's a certain irony in someone breaking the law to imply that same-sex marriage shouldn't be legal.)
In the 2010 state election the Liberals polled 41.6%, Greens 28.6%, Labor 21.8% and Andrew Wilkie (Ind) 8% (12.8% in contested booths). A ReachTEL poll of unknown source suggested a swing approaching 10 points to the Liberals (excluding undecided voters) since that time. In the 2010 federal election the figures were 33.1%, 20.9%, 30% and 15.9% respectively, but the Wilkie share was deflated by not contesting all booths. In the booths contested by Wilkie the vote was Liberal 30.5%, Wilkie 25.5%, Labor 22.5%, Green 21.5%.
Wilkie's results show that the picture of the seat as just dark blue with a green fringe is a tad simplistic. Some parts of the seat have a fair few "Turnbull Libs" - affluent, moderate, socially progressive, and not reliably loyal to the party. There are even quite a few of these in the deepest blue zones in the rich parts of Sandy Bay. Defecting Turnbull Libs were probably joined at the federal poll by usually devoted Liberal voters who voted tactically for Wilkie because he could beat Labor but the Liberal Party couldn't.
Remembering also that the federal Liberal campaign in 2010 was ever so slightly awful, I think we should resist temptation to read the federal results as a sign that the seat's Liberal voters will be that easily peeled away from supporting Wilkinson.
The 2007 Nelson result is only useful if the final two-candidate context is Wilkinson vs Baxter. If they are the final two then Baxter has a massive mountain to climb given that the redistribution has padded the swing required from 11.6 points out to probably more like 14. That, against the backdrop of a general swing against the Greens, seems extremely difficult.
The more interesting final two-candidate context, should it come to that, is Wilkinson vs Richardson. Labor Party supporters who might prefer Wilkinson to a Green will support Richardson in such a situation (provided they have actually heard of her), while Greens will also be likely to do so. So there's a strong case that the baseline position between these two would be closer than between Wilkinson and the Greens. I also think that the preference flow from Baxter to Richardson will be much stronger (because of Richardson's position on same-sex marriage especially) than the weak Greens-to-Labor flows at the last election.
If the baseline for a Wilkinson-Richardson contest (allowing for the redistribution and an assumed strong preference flow from the Greens) is considered to be 55:45 in Wilkinson's favour, these are some factors that might further influence it:
* The large swing from Labor and the Greens to the Liberals in public sentiment since the last election, which effectively benefits the Liberal-ish candidate Wilkinson.
* Richardson's comparative inexperience and low profile in the electorate.
* Strength of Wilkinson's sign campaign. (Not only does he have a lot of signs, but I think his simple, mainly yellow, sign is especially effective.)
* Targeting of Wilkinson by same-sex marriage campaigners.
* Targeting of Wilkinson over his legal work and alleged part-time status.
* Points made against Wilkinson in debates.
(I've omitted "targeting of Wilkinson over his lack of an electorate office", as I don't expect that to be a significant factor!)
Many of these points also apply if it is Wilkinson vs any other candidate. The first factor listed above is the big one. The idea that the same-sex marriage issue itself can get close to overturning the general statewide picture is a little difficult to swallow, since if it was true it would probably mean that seat-by-seat same-sex marriage campaigns could be carried out against Liberals in many federal electorates and could determine the next federal election (in spite of all polling evidence otherwise).
The more difficult anti-Wilkinson factor to assess is the campaign against him for being part-time. It's worth noting that many previous candidates who have tried to do two major jobs at once have ended up booted out of one or the other - Cathy Edwards lost her Pembroke seat, Ivan Dean lost his Launceston mayoralty. Wilkinson's law work on the side is not in the same league but I doubt he would have agreed to give it up after the election if he did not believe it was doing him damage. And I think it is, but only moderately so.
Concerning debates, it's not clear how much impact arguments between different candidates actually have. But my impression is that while the Nelson debate at the Dr Syntax was fairly even, since then Wilkinson has been shown up by Baxter repeatedly, both on abortion and on his uninspired response to the forest peace deal.
I'm finding it hard to convince myself that an established, respected incumbent in a seat with a very blue history, at a time when a progressive government is on the nose, is going to lose as a result of his set of issues positions plus a bit of law work on the side. I can see the various factors against Wilkinson potentially giving him a scare, but I'll be surprised if they cost him the seat.
Similar comments apply if there is a Wilkinson-Willink contest, but I think that with his low profile and late start Willink will do very well indeed if he can even get into third let alone second, even with McQuestin's sterling help.
Estimates for Wilkinson's primary vote I've heard have ranged from the low 40s (and if it's that low, he could lose, as preference flows should be seriously ugly for him) to over 50. A few weeks ago without doing much analysis I reckoned he would get about 46. With what has been thrown at him, his attitude may well be that a win is a win is a win and the margin really doesn't matter.
As mentioned I find it hard to see Willink getting into third unless one of the others bombs badly. Baxter and Richardson may both finish somewhere in the 20s. There's a general expectation that Baxter will outpoll Richardson, but if Wilkinson's performance is at the lower end of expectations then this might not be the case. Richardson does have the advantage that her strong linkage with issues popular among Greens voters may help her to compete for the Green vote; she is also the only female candidate, and as an independent ALP member who doesn't have a history as a party candidate she may attract some votes that would not go to the party.
Montgomery includes much of Burnie plus the Central Coast council area taking in Ulverstone and Penguin.
It's the north-west coast, the Labor-Green coalition is on the nose, the Liberals are soaring in the polls, the endorsed Liberal candidate has a name-recognition link to two former MLCs for an overlapping seat - surely this is over and Leonie Hiscutt will win by miles? Well, I'm not sure, and my main reason for not being sure is that I don't think Hiscutt has been impressive as a candidate. Although having a strong community profile and having clearly campaigned energetically, she tends to communicate in a very shrill, strident and grumpy fashion. She's also very hardline, not just socially conservative but outright reactionary on some issues (eg abortion) and has generally (but not always) been the one to attack other candidates. We've seen before, when Sam McQuestin failed by some margin to win Launceston running a similar scare campaign against independents, that questionable Liberal candidates do not win even Liberal-leaning LegCo seats where there is a strong independent who is acceptable to conservative voters. They take even further risks if they place themselves as far to the right as Hiscutt has, when they don't have to.
It is interesting to contrast the attitudes of Hiscutt and Fuller in the link above. Fuller presents a fairly typical local-government-based independent super-mayor kind of campaign, although she has been much more open on contentious broader policy issues than some who have successfully trodden this path before. Hiscutt is basically running as a rubber stamp for an incoming Liberal state government. So this will be a good test of how the voters actually see the role of the Council and whether anger at the State Government's performance trumps the traditional role of the Council as an "independent" house of review.
There may be a perception that the coast is ultra-conservative, but I think things have changed since the 1980s. There is a generally conservative tendency, which can be seen in the social-issues positions of all the candidates, but it no longer translates into automatic Liberal dominance. At the last election Montgomery had a slightly Labor lean - 44.5% Labor, 41.6% Liberal and 13.8% Green. Is the Hiscutt name still a strong brand in the area or does it carry echoes of an era of homophobia that the coast is proud to have put behind it?
If Hiscutt is beaten, I think it will more likely be by Cheryl Fuller or Ed Vincent than Kevin Morgan. Morgan started late, he has Labor government links, and he is also linked to the controversial and for many voters mysterious Sirolli program. Although he seems to have built up some standing through the campaign, I'm doubtful he can match his opponents' CVs or Fuller's local government credentials.
I don't, however, think that I can apply the same template as for Launceston and therefore declare that Hiscutt doesn't have much of a chance. There are key differences to the Launceston poll in 2011:
* The Labor-Green government is much more on the nose now than then, when it was only starting to become seriously unpopular.
* While Rosemary Armitage took very few policy risks, both Fuller and Vincent are easily tied at least to support for the forestry peace deal.
* Both Fuller and Vincent have taken progressive positions on some of the social issues before voters, meaning that hardline social conservatives are unlikely to support them.
* Armitage was a longer-established local government figure than Fuller, and one who had nearly won the mayoralty and had a very high profile across the whole of her electorate.
* Vincent has the slight disadvantage of living outside the electorate.
I expect Hiscutt to lead on primaries, and if she doesn't lead substantially on primaries it will be over for her as it was for McQuestin as there will be preference flows between all the other three candidates. As with Wilkinson, she will probably want to poll at least into the low 40s. I would not be surprised to see a scenario in which one of the three non-Liberals has to try close down Hiscutt from well behind on the preferences of the others. Not having been on the ground in the electorate to see things like the quantity and quality of sign coverage I don't feel I'm in a position to predict a winner with any confidence, but there is a lot here that says that there is no one ideal candidate and that this one is therefore likely to be pretty close.
Polling Day update: In discussions about Montgomery I've seen two views expressed fairly often:
(i) that the coast really is "mad as hell" and Hiscutt will win in a canter.
(ii) that Fuller will just win, 51-49 or so.
If this is a fair idea of the range of possibilities, then it's hard to avoid suspecting Hiscutt is the more likely winner.