May 3: My live coverage page is now up: LegCo Rosevears and Huon Live
What? Another Tasmanian election? Yes, I know, the dust has barely settled on the main state poll and it's already time to gear up for an election on May the 3rd for two of the state's fifteen upper house electorates. I should have more on the Lower House election (oh, and perhaps even the WA Senate by-election!) over the next few weeks but felt like setting up this guide first. This article will serve as the main outlook and candidate guide piece for the two seats, and will include links to any other articles that arise from the campaigns. I expect to run a separate live coverage thread here on the night.
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The Legislative Council
For those who've managed not to notice it before (even for Tasmanians, this isn't hard) the Legislative Council (or LegCo) is the state's upper house of parliament. It consists of fifteen single-member electorates with members elected for six-year terms. Elections are held on a staggered basis so that each year two or three seats go to the polls.
The Legislative Council is extremely powerful, having the ability to repeatedly block legislation and potentially force the House of Assembly to an election without facing one itself. However, this power is extremely rarely used. Historically the LegCo has had relatively few openly endorsed party members with most MLCs being "independent", although accusation of specific MLCs being "closet Liberals" have been common over the years. At present the Liberal Party holds two seats and the ALP holds one.
Until substantial reform to eliminate malapportionment and reduce the size of the chamber, the LegCo was ultra-reactionary and frequently obstructive. The current LegCo has displayed a moderately conservative position. A right-left split in council voting patterns (see Legislative Council Voting Patterns 2010-3) is fairly common with the right having a 9-5 majority of voting members on average. However the LegCo was not generally obstructive towards the former Labor-Green government, more often amending contentious bills than rejecting them outright. Most of the conservative MLCs have occupied positions between Labor and Liberal (but closer to Liberal) rather than to the right of the Liberals.
Voting in Legislative Council elections is compulsory and preferencing is semi-optional. It is required to preference at least three candidates, meaning that full preferencing is effectively required if the number of candidates is below five.
Incumbents have a high re-election rate and are sometimes returned unopposed, and quite often returned without serious opposition. Since 1960, 82% of incumbents who had opposition have been returned (86% including those re-elected unopposed.) The LegCo has tight campaign spending restrictions, ambiguities and loopholes in which were contentious last year. (See LegCo Campaign Spending Limits Create Confusion)
Nominations for both seats closed on the 10th of April and were announced the day after.
Huon (see TEC map) includes the Huon Valley, the D'Entrecasteaux Channel, Bruny Island, Blackmans Bay and Huntingfield. Although it elected a Labor MLC in the 1940s, in recent decades occupants have often had Liberal Party connections. Premier Will Hodgman's father, Michael Hodgman, won the seat at age 25, and held it before contesting federal parliament for the Liberal Party. On Michael Hodgman's resignation to contest a federal seat, his younger brother Peter Hodgman held the seat before switching to the House of Assembly seat of Franklin, also as a Liberal. More recently Paul Harriss won the seat as an independent in 1998, shortly after missing out as an endorsed Liberal for the House of Assembly. After three terms in the seat (in which time no-one came close to unseating him) Harriss too switched to the Lower House, unseating David O'Byrne and securing a third seat for the party in Franklin.
In the 2008 poll Harriss attracted just one challenger, the Greens' Mark Rickards, and won 62:38, with Rickards winning three Channel booths with a substantial "treechanger" vote (Kettering, Woodbridge and Middleton).
At the 2014 Lower House election the Liberals polled 50% at booths in this electorate, with Labor polling 23.8%, the Greens 21.7%, and Palmer United 3.5%. The Liberals topped every booth except Woodbridge (topped by the Greens with 42%). The Greens finished ahead of Labor in ten booths. Labor didn't break 30% in a single booth and in one small booth (Surges Bay) couldn't even manage double figures! The Liberal vote was especially high down the west side of the Huon River in timber towns affected by the forest industry downturn.
The seat of Huon is vacant following Harriss's successful move downstairs.
Peter Hodgman is the endorsed Liberal candidate and, as mentioned above, a former member (1974-1986) for this seat. In 1974 he topped a field of eleven candidates on primary votes with 19.6% and was elected on preferences. In 1978 and 1984 he was re-elected unopposed. On switching to the House of Assembly he was elected with a quota in his own right in 1986, 1989, and 1992, topping the poll in all of these bar 1989 (when he missed doing so by 11 votes). His vote declined in 1996 but he was still re-elected in third place. In 1998 he again topped the poll with over a quota. Peter Hodgman then resigned to contest the seat at the 2001 federal election but his attempt to unseat Labor incumbent Harry Quick failed (42:58).
Since leaving politics, Peter Hodgman has been a real estate agent and consultant. A very high score on the Family Voice Australia survey is one of a few items of evidence that by current standards, Hodgman's views are firmly socially conservative, although this may not have stood out during his previous career.
Robert Armstrong is running as an independent and has been on Huon Valley Council (which covers most of the electorate spatially, but slightly less than half by population) since 1996 and its Mayor since 2001. He was elected in a by-election following the death of previous Mayor, Greg Norris, with 55% of the vote in a field of three. He has then been re-elected as follows :
2002: 68% of the vote in a field of two.
2005: just taken to preferences in a field of three, 58.4% after preferences
2007: 68% of the vote in a field of two
2011: primary vote of 43.7% in field of three, 63% after preferences
Armstrong is generally considered to be politically mainstream and pro-development, and also has a background in real estate.
Liz Smith is a long-serving Greens Huon Valley Councillor but is running as a "progressive independent candidate", having recently resigned from the party because she wished to contest this election as an independent. Smith states "On most issues my views would align fairly closely with Greens’ policies. However, there may be instances where research, evidence and circumstances conflict with that party’s policy." Smith was first elected to Huon Valley Council in 2002 with nearly a quota in primaries, and re-elected with a slightly higher vote in 2007. In 2011 she was elected with substantially over quota (25% compared to Armstrong's 28.5%). She has contested the Mayor or Deputy Mayor positions at every election since 2005 and frequently finishes second out of three but has never been close to winning. Smith contested Huon in 2002, polling 14% in a field of four.
Rodney Dillon is a high-profile leader of the Palawa (Tasmanian Indigeneous community), an Amnesty human rights campaigner and a former State finalist for Australian of the Year. He is involved in the running of the Murrayfield property on Bruny Island.
Pavel Ruzicka is a special species timber industry figure. He was appointed to the Tasmanian Forestry Agreement Special Council at the insistence of the Legislative Council. An interview with Pavel Ruzicka shows that he is no friend of the Greens. He was quoted as a spokesman for the Tasmanian Special Timbers Alliance as supporting the proposed delisting of 74,000 hectares from the recently added World Heritage Area extensions.
Jimmy Bell is Huon Valley Police Citizens Youth Club manager and also a small business owner and former soldier. Bell has provided a more extensive CV of community involvements in comments to this article. The Mercury on Tuesday 29 April carried reporting of systematic vandalism of several dozen Bell signs.
Helen Lane is owner/manager of Active Computers and a state and national sporting coach, administrator and organiser (fin swimming). She has provided a more extensive CV in comments to this article.
The Labor Party is not contesting the seat. More detail on candidates will be added as more information emerges. It is doing so rather slowly and incompletely, as noted by the article by John Fleming II in the Cygnet and Channel Classifieds (and also by me in comments below.) Perhaps Huon is not the most IT-focused electorate but I'm finding this to be one of the more lethargic online races I've seen for a while, perhaps because even the candidates see the outcome as a fait accompli.
The ABC interviewed candidates for Huon on Wednesday 30 April. If I can find a link to the interviews I will post it here; in the meantime here are some photos from the interviews. I didn't hear the interviews but have seen claims that some candidates made homophobic remarks.
Robert Armstrong is the type of candidate who would normally win a vacant Legislative Council seat: very experienced in local government, apparently unbeatable at that level and ready to be promoted to a super-mayor kind of role. Former mayors Taylor, Valentine, Hall, Dean and Gaffney demonstrate how effective local government can be as a path to a Legislative Council career.
Armstrong's mayoral electoral record, however, while very strong, is not quite as imposing as that of Valentine and Taylor (for example). Also, his empire covers slightly less than half the seat's voter base. But his biggest problem is that he is up against a Hodgman - the uncle of the new Premier and a former MLC for this seat (albeit from a very long time ago). Although retired for thirteen years, Peter Hodgman would still enjoy massive name recognition in the electorate and, in the dynastic environment of Tasmanian politics, may as well be an incumbent. Furthermore the Upper House "independence" card probably isn't quite as effective against party candidates these days as it used to be. Peter Hodgman will be very difficult to beat and I have no hesitation at all in predicting he will win.
I doubt Hodgman will win a majority in the seven-candidate field. I'd roughly expect something in the low 40s for Hodgman, the 20s for Armstrong, the teens for Smith (with none of the others higher than that) and it could be a long but not close cutup.
Rosevears occupies the western Tamar. It includes much of western Launceston and the towns of Beaconsfield, Legana and Beauty Point. Areas within Rosevears are opposite the site of the long-proposed (if currently moribund) Tamar Valley pulp mill and frequently attract high votes for Greens or other anti-mill candidates.
Rosevears was created as a new division out of parts of various pre-existing divisions in the 1999 redistribution. Sitting MLC Ray Bailey was allocated to the division when it was formed but retired in 2002. Prominent former radio announcer Kerry Finch has been the sitting member ever since.
At the 2014 state election, booths in Rosevears returned results of 58.8% Liberal, 18.5% Labor, 16.2% Green and 4.7% Palmer United. The bluewash was such that the Liberals won every booth, most by massive margins. The Liberals' best booth was Legana where they scored a massive 72%. The Green vote peaked at 34.4% at Gravelly Beach while Labor's peaked at 28.1% at Beaconsfield; these were the only booths where the Liberals failed to top 50.
Rosevears is unusual - just a two-candidate race but both are serious contenders.
The recontesting incumbent is independent Kerry Finch. As noted above, Finch is a former radio announcer. Finch won the seat in 2002, polling a 27.2% primary in a field of nine and defeating Rick Shegog on preferences with a final margin of 53.2%:46.8%. In 2008 Finch attracted only one low-profile opponent, Colin O'Brien, and won easily with 72.7% of the vote.
My assessment of LegCo voting patterns places Finch as one of the five members of the Legislative Council's left wing. Although voting patterns show he is slightly more likely to vote with the conservatives than fellow "LegCo lefties" Valentine, Gaffney, Farrell and Forrest, he frequently makes up for this with the strength of his rhetoric on particular issues. He has repeatedly voted against motions that support a pulp mill in the Tamar Valley (though he supports it if built elsewhere) and alone refused to serve on a "select committee" to examine the original version of the state's forestry "peace deal". Finch (radio ad including endorsement from boxer Daniel Geale) generally self-markets as a community-focused and consultative MLC rather than a conventional politician.
The Liberal candidate is Don Morris. Morris is a former staffer and advisor for a range of federal and state Liberal politicians, including the new Premier and the two most recent Victorian premiers. Morris has also been a speechwriter for a state Governor and Secretary to the Government of Norfolk Island. Morris was endorsed for the third Liberal position on the Senate ticket for Tasmania in 2007 but the Liberals won only two seats. Morris also sought preselection for the Liberal Senate ticket in 2013 but wasn't selected.
The endorsement of Morris for this seat represents an opportunistic departure from a claimed Liberal policy of not contesting LegCo seats occupied by independents (although this also happened in 2000, when the party endorsed a candidate against Don Wing and was crushed). This claimed policy has been offered as a reason for not running against Liberal-friendly independent MLCs in the past. However in this instance Liberal Party state director Sam McQuestin claimed that "Mr Finch's actions as an MLC were not consistent with Liberal policy". Labor's Craig Farrell suggested in response that "The Liberal Party's message to MLCs appears to be that it's OK to be
an independent MLC, as long as you vote with the Liberal Party".
Morris has espoused socially conservative views, not only opposing same-sex marriage especially at state level (standard for Liberals) but also strongly opposing aspects of last year's abortion law changes, which were passed by many of the LegCo's conservative-leaning independents and also supported by Liberal Vanessa Goodwin. (However in the Examiner on 28 April he said he did support the decriminalisation aspect of the changes.)
West Tamar Mayor (and also Local Government Association of Tasmania President) Barry Easther has authorised a flier for Morris, to the annoyance of local Finch supporters.
The ALP is licking its wounds and not contesting this one, and the Greens have no reason to run against Finch who has given them no cause for complaint on any major issue. That said, Finch has claimed new Greens leader Kim Booth had said the Greens would run a candidate.
Unlike the boring and lacklustre Huon campaign, Rosevears features a serious, polarised and increasingly feisty contest on major state issues, a relative rarity in the LegCo.
Attempting to highlight Finch's issue positions, Morris (see also this letter) has challenged Finch to a debate on the forestry peace deal and jobs. Finch has refused stating he is too busy and claiming such a debate would be stacked by Liberal supporters. Morris then issued another broadside accusing Finch of truancy for his refusal to sit on the Legislative Council's committee on the peace deal, and has also called Finch a "closet Green". (A change from independent incumbents being accused, sometimes with good reason, of being closet Liberals).
An ABC candidates' debate occurred on 23 April. A recording of it has been uploaded by the incumbent: part one part two. (The audio quality isn't great; the debate isn't up on the ABC site yet to my knowledge.) The incumbent in his opening interview came across as energetic, a good communicator and on top of his game. The challenger, while not quite having the radio experience to be as smoothly spoken, didn't make any big mistakes either (though he did make a factual error when he asserted he would be the only Government MLC in the north.) [correction added much later: actually this was merely a case of unusual usage, since some people still refer to "the north" and "the north-west" as different regions.]
Morris repeated the claim that Finch is a "closet Green" in the ABC interview, claiming he has a voting record "in lock-step" with the party. Finch described this as mischievous and offensive, claiming to be a "true" and "fierce" independent, but his response when Morris raised it again didn't necessarily follow: that he had never actually dealt with Greens legislation, so how could he be following their agenda? An obvious answer to this is that the Greens agenda has also often included supporting, opposing or trying to amend legislation passed by other parties (especially supporting Labor bills in the 2010-14 parliament) but Morris didn't pick up on this as the debate moved on.
Morris has since launched a very unsubtle TV advertisment again tying to tie Finch to the Greens for supporting the forestry peace deal and opposing the alleged pulp mill. Finch has cried foul saying he has "legal advice" the ad "could be in breach of Section 197 of the Electoral Act." On that he ought to get a better lawyer, since that section relates narrowly to the formalities of vote-casting and not to candidates slagging each other off. The infamous Section 196 would be a bit more to the point were it not apparently the case that "print, publish or distribute" doesn't include "broadcast".
Finch confidently hit back on Twitter thus:
As of Tuesday 29th April, Liberal robocalls attacking Finch's voting record (adding his vote for same-sex marriage to the mix and ignoring that this vote was shared by Independent Liberal Tony Mulder) have also been reported. (Whatever else might be said of them, I don't agree that the robocalls are defamatory.) The use of robocalls is being heavily bucketed by commenters to the Examiner's article about them and questions are even being raised about who is paying for them in the context of the LegCo's tight spending restrictions, which bar parties from incurring expenditure. Indeed Finch has now called for the Electoral Commission to investigate.
The Liberals' use of robocalls is interesting given that in the state election, Will Hodgman criticised the tactic: "I don't like them because I don't think Tasmanians like being rung by a computer at their home."
It would be so much easier for Finch if he just pointed to one major recent policy position taken by the Greens that he fundamentally opposed, but there isn't one for him to point to. On the other hand, the Liberals are taking a risk that may well backfire by trying to use opposition to the pulp mill against Finch in an electorate, parts of which could be impacted by it if it ever happened. In a rational sense the pulp mill is a dead issue anyway but it appears to play a role as a kind of symbolic totem for being pro-jobs.
There is at least a prima facie case that Kerry Finch's voting record makes him vulnerable. Finch much more often voted with the former Labor/Green government than with the then Liberal opposition, and did so on some very major issues, yet Rosevears voted overwhelmingly for a Liberal majority government. Finch's views, while not partisan, seem to be well out of step with the way his electorate voted, so his challenge is to convince the electorate that his value as a voice of review and scrutiny (or his work for his electorate) exceeds the potential for him to obstruct the new government's mandate.
That is, if enough of the electorate is paying attention to debate about the position and not just to who they have or haven't heard of, and in the latter regard Finch's incumbency and previous profile are big advantages, while Morris is much less well known. The case can be made that voters electing Morris are just electing a rubber stamp (ditto for Peter Hodgman in Huon) but the same argument did not stop voters electing Labor MLCs against incumbents in the first term of the Bacon Government. I think that there is historical precedent for Finch being in danger, though this is not the same as saying he will actually lose.
Normally when Legislative Councillors have lost in recent decades they have been past their political prime, scandal-prone or compromised by holding multiple positions (eg also having a major local government role). Finch doesn't fit any of these stereotypes, and the prospect of an incumbent being turfed in a LegCo election because of their issue positions is something we have not seen for a long time if at all. Nonetheless the Liberal brand is so strong in the area that there must be a chance of this happening.
I see this as a very open contest, and it's one that to this stage we've seen no polling data on and that has no relevant precedent, so it's difficult to predict it in any reliable way. Negative campaigning does not have a strong record in LegCo elections but that's partly because it is so hard to do it. The Liberals seem to have found some ways around the problems there.
Should Finch hang on with, say, 52% - which seems to be a pretty common expectation - the Liberals will be boasting about securing a massive swing against the incumbent. If this happens anything of the sort should be ignored. Finch had only low-profile opposition last time, but this time the Liberals have gone just about all in, in an electorate that just voted 59% for them in the Lower House. A win by any margin is a triumph, a loss by any margin is a failure. It really is as simple as that.
I'd really like to make a prediction on this one (as I've done in every other LegCo contest since 2007), but given the unusual nature of the contest, I've found no useful way to model it. If the Liberal government was anything but brand new then I'd expect Finch to keep his seat. If you use the 2008 result in this seat as a basis for modelling then you have to make huge adjustments in Morris's favour for the scale of his campaign, his profile arising from that, and the party swing in the electorate. If you use the 2014 state result as a base (assigning Finch all the Green votes plus some portion of Labor) you need to adjust for Finch's independence, incumbency and higher existing profile than Morris. Either way large adjustments are being applied to a lopsided base, and it's very easy to go astray. I'm not even sure this will be close, and think it's possible either candidate could still win pretty comfortably.
Tally Room guide
TEC LegCo page
ABC Elections guide
Candidate statements from The Mercury
Poll Bludger thread
Australian Christian Lobby candidate responses for Huon and Rosevears.
Pirate Party candidate Q+A has received responses from some candidates
Monday April 28 Examiner print edition includes lengthy interviews with Finch and Morris.
(Disclaimer: I'm opposed to almost all the ACL's views and do not endorse the content of their questions, which are frequently loaded and misleading. Nonetheless they are one of the few forces that effectively prods candidates into taking positions on social issues, and their surveys are often a valuable insight into who will fence-sit and who will kowtow in an attempt to get votes.)