Saturday, April 4, 2015

Legislative Council 2015: Windermere

Live coverage of this elections from 6 pm polling day here.

With NSW run and won (bar the odd seat here and there) it's time for my coverage of the 2015 Tasmanian Legislative Council elections.

I am going to start by posting the seat of Windermere, which at this stage is by far the most interesting of this year's three contests.  A separate article will cover Mersey and Derwent if there are actually elections in those seats.  At this stage I am unaware of any opposition to independent Mike Gaffney and Labor's Craig Farrell, both of whom are probably unbeatable anyway.

There will be a live coverage thread for Windermere and the other seats on the night of Saturday 2 May.  There may be other threads should a campaign issue warrant it.

Seat Profile

Windermere covers the east side of the Tamar River including George Town and the north-eastern and some eastern Launceston suburbs.  It is a diverse electorate, including the strongly Labor satellite suburb of Ravenswood, the pro-Liberal suburbs of Norwood and St Leonards, and some good areas for the Greens along the river.



Nonetheless overall it is Labor-leaning compared to its surrounds.  In the 2014 state election Liberal landslide, Labor managed 30.6% in Windermere compared to just 23.3% for Bass as a whole.  The Liberals managed 51.2% compared to 57.2%, the Greens scored 10% compared to 12.7%, and Palmer United scored 6.5% compared to 5%,  with some booths over 10%.  Labor topped Ravenswood and Waverley booths, but was also beaten by the Greens in Hillwood.  The Greens in turn were beaten by PUP in George Town, Rocherlea and Waverley.

The 2009 Windermere election was of great interest because of the now defunct Gunns pulp mill proposal.  I published a very detailed analysis of booth swings in which I found that the mill issue created both swings to and against the pro-mill incumbent in various booths, which more or less cancelled out over the electorate as a whole.

Windermere includes most of the former Westmoreland electorate, which had only eight different members in its 114-year history, some with apparent party leanings but none of them endorsed party candidates.

Incumbent

Independent Ivan Dean (Facebook) is seeking a third (and I suspect if successful, final) term in Windermere.  Dean was a high profile police commander prior to his political career.  Dean trounced Independent Labor incumbent Silvia Smith (a former federal ALP member for Bass) in this seat in 2003, winning 50.1% of the primary vote to Smith's 27.7% (preferences were not distributed).  Already an alderman on Launceston City Council prior to this victory, Dean was also elected as Mayor of Launceston in 2005, but narrowly lost the mayoralty to Albert van Zetten after a single term.  He retired from Launceston Council at the 2011 elections.

In 2009 Dean was challenged in Windermere by former Bass Labor MHA Kathryn Hay (standing as "Independent Labor") and Green Peter Whish-Wilson (now a Senator), among others.  Dean polled 39.2% to Hay's 26.8% and Whish-Wilson's 16.3%, and defeated Hay after preferences, 55:45.

My review of Legislative Council votes from 2011-2015 has found Dean to be the fourth most conservative MLC in that period.  In that time Dean has voted with Labor's Craig Farrell on 29% of contested divisions, and with Liberals Leonie Hiscutt and Vanessa Goodwin 79% and 69% of the time respectively.  Since the 2014 state election Dean has voted with Farrell 38% of the time and with Hiscutt and Goodwin 78% and 75% of the time respectively.

Dean's policing background makes him a natural on law and order issues which he ran heavily on in his previous campaign.  However he is also noted for his focus on some slightly unusual issues, including the presence or absence of foxes in Tasmania and more recently his Tobacco Free Generation Bill, which has been praised by some doctors but panned by some civil libertarians, and has attracted global attention.

Challengers

Jennifer Houston (Facebook, Linkedincandidacy announcement) is the endorsed Labor candidate for this seat.  Houston is a sociologist, community development officer for Anglicare Tasmania, management consultant and former Migrant Resource Centre manager.  Houston was endorsed last August and has therefore been running for quite a while now.

Independent Scott McLean (Facebookcandidacy announcement) is an industry and community liaison officer, and former high-profile CFMEU state secretary.  McLean was an endorsed Labor candidate for Bass at the 2010 state election.  He polled 3090 primaries and eventually missed out in a within-party contest by just 183 votes.  McLean has recently quit the Labor Party, and it's not the first time he's spoken out against the ALP.  In 2004 he strongly criticised Mark Latham's policy on Tasmanian forestry, preferring John Howard's alternative.

Vanessa Bleyer (Facebook, Linkedincandidacy announcement, videos) is the endorsed Greens candidate.  She is a Director and Principal Lawyer of Bleyer Lawyers Pty Ltd and a former chair of Environment Tasmania (see more detailed bio.)

Campaign

Some early fireworks were seen in this seat when a pre-campaign Houston letter drop attacked Dean's voting record, accusing him of compliance with Liberal cuts to health and education, which Dean denied.  It seems the Labor strategy is to try to paint Dean as a Liberal stooge.

The attacks have brought up an old political chestnut, an apparently false rumour that Dean sought federal preselection for the Liberal Party in 2007. Dean has described this preselection claim as "nothing but a fabrication" in a Facebook post (screenshot) which appears to have been made on Houston's page but then removed.  The original form of this rumour may be a claim that John Howard sounded out Dean as a possible Liberal candidate for 2004, and Dean was not interested at that time but potentially interested for 2007.  (This was put to John Howard in a radio interview in 2004, with Howard avoiding the question.) It would make little sense for Dean to have actually contested preselection in 2007 when Michael Ferguson was the sitting member.

Jobs and the economy are likely to be issues in this electorate, with George Town hurt by the forestry downturn and unemployment always high in Ravenswood and other outer suburbs.  As an example, one local transport operator, a long-suffering Labor voter, told me that Green policies under the previous state government had gutted George Town causing "5,000 people" (just a slight exaggeration there) to leave.  However, Houston has also tried to make cuts by the new Liberal government an issue, accusing Dean of doing nothing about them.  Dean says he has not supported any education, health or policing cuts and that he has been at odds with the Liberals "in some of these cases".  Various visitors to Houston's Facebook page, some if not all of them Liberals, have been challenging her claims.

The campaign inevitably featured a few appearances from Laura. In the last campaign the incumbent called for tougher penalties for hoons and bikie gangs; my tip this time was the scourge of the drug "ice".  (And so it came to pass, though strangely the Greens were the first to take up the running on that one. Repeatedly!)

Dean's age is a possible factor.  The Advocate (which is the north-western Tasmanian newspaper, whereas The Examiner is the main paper in Dean's electorate) noted that Dean, who turned 70 on 21 April, is the oldest current MLC.  If Dean is re-elected he will be the oldest MLC to be re-elected or elected at all since Henry Baker retained Queenborough very narrowly back in 1965.   It is not that recontesting MLCs over 70 tend to lose, but that in recent decades they have almost always retired rather than seeking re-election.  (Charles Batt was apparently 69 when easily re-elected to Derwent in 1991, though some sources say 62.) David Llewellyn's recovery of his lower house seat in Lyons last year at 71 shows that age is not necessarily a barrier, and I can see the argument being made either way as to whether the LegCo's average age of nearly 60 is a good thing or not.

Some comments posted at The Tally Room by commenter petert suggest a lack of placard visibility from the main challengers, with Dean signs prominent in George Town.   The McLean campaign appears at least fairly energetic judging from its Facebook page comments about flier runs including a double dose for George Town.  And in breaking news as of 22 April, the ALP bus has been sighted in Windermere.  Late in the campaign Houston posted what I take to be TV ads to her Facebook page.  The ads come across to me as gritty and seem well-pitched to the working-class Labor stronghold suburbs.  A comment on Houston's Facebook suggests Labor has been doing "cold calls".  (Also there, the candidate expresses her frustration with the campaign rules and suggests LegCo elections should be all-in all-out as opposed to the 6-year cycle.)

The Examiner of Monday 27 April had statements by each candidate.  Those by Houston and McLean are very similar in the range of issues covered (health, education, employment) - the main difference being that Houston's attacks the Liberals while McLean's does not.   Dean's statement covers similar ground while also covering "community safety, law and order", housing, support for pensioners and independence of the Upper House.  Of course, he couldn't help mentioning foxes.  Bleyer's statement runs on environmental issues, essential services, her professional record and (again!) the war on ice.

So we're not getting a lot of policy difference between Houston and McLean, but rather a choice for voters between endorsed Labor and an ex-Labor independent who might still vote with the party a lot of the time.

Candidate interviews were broadcast on ABC radio on Friday 1 May.  I didn't hear them and haven't found a podcast but some highlights can be seen in Tali Aualiitia's Twitter feed.

I welcome any other comments about the intensity of campaigning, sign visibility, incidents, brochures and so on.

Prospects

The fairly close result in 2009 (despite a very modest campaign from Hay in terms of web presence and public policy announcements) and the area's natural Labor lean mean that Windermere is one of the Legislative Council's few marginal seats and there is potential for Dean to be beaten.

All the same unseating incumbent MLCs is difficult especially given their deep community connections (see long list in Dean's profile), the $15,000 spending cap for campaigns, other campaign restrictions and voter distrust of party politics in the Upper House.  Since 1960, 82% of LegCo incumbents who had at least one challenger have been re-elected.

There are two major unknowns in trying to predict the Windermere contest.  The first is whether voters will see the age of the incumbent as an issue.  If they don't, he should win easily and may well increase his margin.

The second is how the traditional Labor vote in the electorate divides between the endorsed, but fairly low-profile, Labor candidate Houston, and the higher-profile ex-Labor indie McLean.  The preferences of Bleyer should strongly favour Houston over McLean and Dean, firstly since McLean's pro-forestry background won't endear him to Greens supporters, and secondly for gender reasons. Either McLean or Houston can win from second if Dean is not too far ahead, but McLean would want to beat Houston by at least three points on primaries to avoid being caught on Green preferences.   That is a big ask in an area where a fair percentage of the Labor vote is likely to be rusted-on.

It is not normal for personal attack politics against sitting MLCs to work.  In recent years, progressive attempts to dislodge Jim Wilkinson over his opposition to state-based marriage equality, and Liberal attempts to evict Kerry Finch over a perceived pro-Greens voting record, both failed dismally.  Incumbents tend to be booted when they are seen as scandal-prone, conflicted by multiple roles, embarrassing or not doing anything.  Dean is somewhat politically eccentric, but he doesn't really tick those boxes.

The presence of McLean will complicate any attempt to use the Labor primary vote as a sign of how the party is recovering from its state election mauling, as will the usual issue of Upper House independence.  Various spin may emerge after the result if Labor loses, but unless it is a very heavy loss, ignore it.  I suspect that although ALP support is rebuilding, Labor is still not fully forgiven and that on that basis if Houston can at least roughly match Hay's 45% 2PP from 2009 that will be seen as a good result.   There will be reason for embarrassment should Labor fail to make the final two on preferences.

Some pulp mill opponents entertained fantasies of Whish-Wilson winning the seat for the Greens in 2009, but they failed to realise that while many local voters might say they oppose the mill, it was only a vote-shifting issue for a minority of those.  Also, claims about the level of public opposition to the mill were frequently excessive and based on dodgy polling.  With the mill gone as an issue the Greens have not had much oxygen in this campaign, won't win, and will be doing well if they can get out of the low teens.

Last time the flow of preferences was marginally against Dean (46.5% of preferences compared to 53.5% for Hay).  That was quite a weak flow to Hay and Dean would be wary of a higher flow this time around.  He would want a primary vote of at minimum 40, and a lead of several points over his nearest challenger.

It is very difficult to predict Legislative Council elections because there is usually no polling and translating state results to upper house contests is messy. Incumbents usually retain and I don't see enough evidence that that pattern will be overturned.  However I am cautious about this one because it is a naturally close seat and because recontesting at 70 makes Dean such an outlier in age terms.  Three of the four candidates seem to have some winning chances and it will be an interesting polling night.

I will have live coverage of all LegCo counts from 6 pm on Saturday.

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