Thursday, April 6, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Launceston

This is my third of three preview articles for the three Legislative Council seats up for grabs next month.  Rumney has already been posted here and Murchison is here. There will be a live coverage thread for all seats on the night of Saturday 6 May.  There may also be other threads on Launceston if a campaign issue warrants them.  For more about the current political makeup of the Legislative Council see my assessment of voting patterns.

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates or changed assessments.

Seat Profile

To the surprise, I would suspect, of nobody, Launceston is based in the city of Launceston. It takes in certain central, southern and inner suburbs of the city and the satellite town of Hadspen.  It includes outer-suburban booths that are notoriously swingy at federal elections, as a result of which the federal Bass electorate habitually dumps sitting members.



Launceston booths delivered a strongly pro-Liberal result in the 2010 state election, but at the 2014 election results of 59.3% Liberal, 22% Labor and 12.4% Green weren't much worse for the left than the rest of the Bass electorate.  The volatility of the area, and Bass as a whole, was shown at the 2016 federal election when there was almost a 20% swing from the state result, with the Liberals managing only 39%, Labor 41.2% and the Greens 10.8% in the booths within this LegCo seat.

Launceston has been held by both major parties in the distant past.  Up til 2011 it was held by independent Don Wing for 29 years.  The major parties sometimes tried to beat him but came away with bloody noses.  When Wing retired, both majors had a shot, but failed again.

Incumbent

Rosemary Armitage (Facebook) (independent) is seeking a second term, and is one of several MLCs to have a local government background.  First elected to Launceston City Council in 2005, Armitage easily won the Deputy Mayoralty in 2007 but lost the mayoral race to Albert van Zetten by three votes in 2009 after various recounts.  Choosing not to go into party politics but instead run as an independent for the vacant seat, Armitage was second on primaries with 31.7% in a field of four on election night.  Liberal Sam McQuestin had obviously no chance on preferences with a lead of 2.3% and in the end Armitage thrashed him with 56.2% of the final two-candidate vote.

In LegCo terms, Armitage is very close to the centre of the left-right spectrum.  She votes with the somewhat conservative independent Greg Hall almost two-thirds of the time and apart from that there is almost no variation in how often she votes with or against others.  She is usually community-focused and uncontroversial but struck back with a two-page letter after Liberals accused her of contributing to Andrew Nikolic's defeat in Bass by holding a press conference regarding the Launceston General Hospital during the federal campaign.

Challengers

Brian Roe OAM (Facebook, Twitter, linkedin, announcement) (Labor) is a high-profile nationally experienced sports administrator, primarily in athletics but also with AFL Tasmania and was once General Manager of a World Rowing Championships in the state.  He also has experience in law. He contested Bass for the party in 2002 polling 1335 votes, and was then a member of Michelle O'Byrne's campaign team for the 2006 election.

Roe has a gregarious online footprint but copped some ribbing on social media for his website with its heading "A Policy Statement Or Something Here", which some really horrible person (okay, it was me) saved to the Wayback Machine.  As of April 6 the website is "Launching Soon".  As of May 2 this remains the case.

Neroli Ellis (Facebook, Twitterlinkedin, announcement) (independent) is an even higher-profile contender.  Ellis is the Secretary of the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, a superannuation director and a former Australian of the Year state finallist.  Ellis is frequently interviewed by media. The Mercury rated her the 48th most powerful person in Tasmania in 2016 and Crikey rated her 16th in 2014.

Ellis says she will campaign on "health, education, jobs, infrastructure and development".  Ellis states she is not affiliated to any party and, like Armitage, has resisted preselection offers.  At this stage I do not have a clear sense of how different Ellis might be politically (or not) to the incumbent.  Ellis is running a significant campaign including 30-second TV advertisements.

Emma Anglesey (Facebook, announcement) (Greens) is an advisor to Senator Peter Whish-Wilson.  She is a young musician and songwriter (website, Facebook, Twitter) who has been a Triple J Unearthed Spotlight artist.  Anglesey is campaigning against the government's plan to open up previously deferred forests for logging on the grounds of impacts on Tasmania's brand.

Matthew Allen (announcement, story, linkedin) (Shooters and Fishers), a builder, was the lead Shooters and Fishers (note: the state branch has no "and Farmers") candidate for the Senate in 2016.  The party polled 1.4% in the state.  He was also the lead candidate in 2013.

Mark Tapsell (Facebook, linkedin) (independent), who lists his occupation as "Sheetmetal" was the Recreational Fishers Party candidate for Bass at the federal election, polling 4.9%.  The RFP - an anti-supertrawler party with links to left-wing unions and otherwise Labor-ish policies - is not registered for state elections.

Campaign

The state of the state's health system is a significant issue in Launceston.  Multiple issues surrounding the Launceston General Hospital - currently a downgrade in teaching accreditation, also bed shortages, waiting times and so on - are continually in the headlines and health continually rates highly in issues polling.  The issue was considered to be a major cause of the unexpectedly heavy defeat of the federal Bass Liberal incumbent Andrew Nikolic.  It is no accident that the issue has attracted the attention not only of Armitage, who has asked several questions about it in parliament, but also Ellis who is first and foremost a health-issues campaigner.

The state of Launceston's water and sewerage systems has also been raised as an issue by all the major candidates.

On April 13 Anglesey criticised Armitage for considering supporting Tania Rattray's amendment to remove "offend" and "insult" from the section 17(1) of the Anti-Discrimination Act.  (Armitage has since apparently decided not to support this proposed change.) This amendment is a recent appearance of the failed federal push to remove similar wording from section 18C, in a debate that was previously dominated by a bad proposal to create a "religious purpose" exemption.  Anglesey has also criticised comments on domestic violence by Rumney MLC Tony Mulder, and this is covered on the Rumney page.

Ellis is portraying herself as a "vote for change" candidate. Armitage portrays her main strength as hard work for the community.  Armitage's TV advertisement, which includes the endorsement of her predecessor Don Wing, intriguingly makes no mention that she is the incumbent.  Both Ellis and Armitage claim to represent "common sense".

See also Rob Inglis' campaign primer.

Prospects

Labor is currently on a high following strong federal results and a leadership change, but despite Roe's sporting prominence he did not set the track alight in his previous start.  He will probably set a new personal best, but can he snare the gold or even silver?  We'll see, and I don't completely rule out Labor winning, but I think the bigger danger to Armitage comes from the independent Ellis.

Armitage and Ellis come across as quite similar candidates, both well-known and playing from the "100% independent" playbook.  Armitage has the (large) advantage of strong established community connections as the incumbent and based on her local government experience, while Ellis comes across as more dynamic and an adept media player.   It is unusual to see an incumbent as at some risk in a LegCo contest just because of the opponent they are up against.

Nonetheless, high profile does not always mean success in Legislative Council contests and the question is whether voters will see enough reason to shift to a high-profile but politically unknown quantity.

It's not even clear who will finish third.  Labor were third last time, but with a low-profile campaign at a time when their political stocks were tanking.  If Labor make the top two I would expect preferences to flow between the two female independents.  If they don't, I think the left preferences might favour Ellis and hence Armitage might want some sort of primary lead this time around. I expect that conservative voters will prefer the incumbent, who is not exactly radical on social issues.

As for the Greens, this will provide some sort of test of how they are travelling in Bass, where their state seat is often shaky and Andrea Dawkins is still building profile. The Greens tend not to shine in upper house elections because there are so many independents, so anything above say 10% would be OK.

A Sportsbet market has Armitage 1.50 Ellis 3.60 Anglesey 7.00 Roe 15.00 as of April 9.  I suggest this has the Greens too short given poor recent results in the area and probably the other listed challengers too long.

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