Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Legislative Council 2020: Huon

This election has apparently been indefinitely deferred.

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Welcome to my page for the 2020 Legislative Council elections for the seat of Huon.  My Rosevears page is already up and an article on Legislative Council voting patterns is probably not far away, and will be linked here when it is written.

The election was originally slated for Saturday May 2, but was postponed to Saturday May 30 to allow more time for the TEC to prepare for a campaign with a high rate of postal and early voting. However the government has now announced an indefinite deferral with an intention to hold the elections by August 25, pursuant to section 13(1) of the COVID-19 Disease Emergency (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2020 (see http://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/bills/pdf/14_of_2020.pdf) and section 5 of the Public Health Act. On 8 April the date of the elections was gazetted as May 30 but this appears to have just been a publication schedule issue as the notice was dated March 30 before the announcement of the postponement.


This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates, campaign information, added candidates and changed assessments.   Other relevant pieces will be linked here.


Seat Profile

Huon (see map) includes the Huon Valley, the D'Entrecasteaux Channel, Bruny Island, part of Blackmans Bay and Huntingfield.  Although it elected a Labor MLC in the 1940s, in recent decades occupants have been conservative and often had Liberal Party connections.  Former 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 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.   Peter Hodgman tried to win his old seat back for the party in 2014, but was defeated by Robert Armstrong (see below).

Huon is one of the greener Legislative Council electorates.  The Channel area including Bruny Island has a huge Green vote at Lower House elections, including some booths where the Greens tend to outpoll Labor and one (Woodbridge) where they outpolled the Liberals even in their bad 2018 result.  However, the old timber towns to the west (Huonville, Geeveston etc) record Green votes that are not far above the state average.  The Blackmans Bay area, the only urban area in the division, is fairly socially conservative.  In 2018 Huon voters voted 48.1% Liberal, 27.5% Labor, 21.2% Green at booths within the electorate, but at two large Blackmans Bay booths just outside the electorate the results were 50% Liberal 33.5% Labor, 14.6% Green.  The few remaining votes were for the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers.

However, Huon is not a right-wing electorate at federal elections; it votes strongly Labor on a 2PP basis, as does the rest of Franklin generally.

Incumbent

Robert Armstrong (Independent) is the first-term incumbent.  Prior to winning Huon in 2014 he had been Mayor of Huon Valley for 13 years, always being re-elected easily.  He had a background in real estate and had also run a takeaway/cafe in Cygnet for many years.  My assessments of Armstrong's voting patterns (see 2014-2018 example here) have always found that Armstrong is a conservative independent who usually votes with the Liberal Party.  While I haven't crunched all the numbers yet, I can say that the 2016-20 update will find that this hasn't changed.  Not only has Armstrong usually voted with the Government but there are very few cases of his vote having decided a matter against it. When he votes against the Government, it is generally on issues where it either easily has the numbers or is nowhere near having them.

In 2014 Armstrong polled second behind Peter Hodgman with 20.4% of the primary vote to Hodgman's 26.1%, in an election with a high degree of "favourite son" voting for local candidates at particular booths.  Armstrong at one stage dropped to third in the distribution of preferences, but a huge preference flow from fellow Huonville independent Jimmy Bell propelled him to the lead and he went on to beat Hodgman easily with 56.9% of the candidate vote.  A noteable aspect of Armstrong's campaign is that he was able to win in this rather low-tech electorate by old-fashioned campaign methods of shoe leather and name recognition.  He had no campaign web presence at all.

Political positionings aside I am unaware of Armstrong attracting controversy or going significantly off brand at any stage of the last six years.  I would say that he has been rather low-profile in terms of statewide news, but Huon is a very locally-focused electorate.  Armstrong lives within the electorate.

Declared Challengers (5)

Publicly declared challengers are listed in order of announcement of candidacy, but I think it's especially important in this case to note that a declared candidate is not a confirmed candidate until nominations close. All candidates live in the electorate unless noted otherwise.

(Note: candidates may contact me once only to request a change to the link their name goes to, or additional links which will be added, or not, at my discretion.  No other changes will be made on request except to correct clear factual errors.  Candidates are welcome to comment in the comment section. Differences in the length of different candidate sections reflect differences in electoral track record and available/(in my view) interesting material, and not my preferences (if any). Unusually, none of the declared challengers thus far have any prior electoral form that I could find.  )

Pat Caruana (Greens) (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube,candidacy announcement) is a staffer for Greens Senator Nick McKim and previously an Examiner and AAP journalist.  Caruana launched his campaign way back in December 2019 when climate change was a major issue as the 2019-20 Australian bushfire crisis (remember that?) ramped up.  Caruana is a fairly well known political social media personality and his tweet announcing he was running garnered over 800 likes.  In 2017 he was involved in a Christmas stunt in which the party trolled Eric Abetz.  Caruana does not live in the electorate but intends to move there if elected.  The Greens last endorsed a candidate for Huon in 2008 (polling 38% in a two-horse race) though former Green Liz Smith ran as an independent in 2014 and almost made the final two.

Garrick Cameron (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers) is a really prominent social media personality - his Lord of the Lettuce page has well over 100,000 followers.  He even has an online shop.  A Mercury article says "you might write him off as a coal-rolling redneck who gets off on black-clouding protesting greenies" but "what emerges along with his chronically foul-mouthed language is a quick-thinking larrikin who is riled about industrial-scale food waste."  Particularly, food waste by supermarkets that impose strict aesthetic restrictions on food sizes and shapes.  Cameron frequently pops up in the media for something unusual, whether it is noticing a dead wallaby with a road line painted over it or accepting a $57 parking fine but asking for a $3.50 refund.  He is a hunter.

Dean Harriss (Independent) (candidacy announcement) is a Huonville builder and the son of former MLC Paul Harriss (who held the seat from 1996 to 2014).  He is also a third-generation A-grade cricketer.  At this stage I have little information on Harriss beyond his candidacy announcement in the Mercury, which talked about issues including affordable housing, "red tape" affecting housing developments, traffic (again, what a different planet 2019 was), and the future of the aquaculture and forestry industries.

Bastian Seidel (Labor) (websiteTwitter, Instagram, candidacy announcement,  RACGP page) is much easier to find information about (feel free to Google if that wasn't enough links).  Seidel is a Huonville and Cygnet GP and health advocate who is the Tasmanian spokesman (and former national President) of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.  Seidel was a high-profile speaker very often quoted in media on a range of issues related to rural health and Tasmania's health system even before the coronavirus appeared.  He is the first candidate Labor has endorsed in Huon since Fran Bladel tried to unseat Paul Harriss in 2002 (Harris won easily).  Little is known to me about where Seidel fits into the Labor fabric but The Mercury noted that "Dr Seidel has been an outspoken critic of policies such as mandatory detention of asylum seekers." As of March 15 Seidel's Facebook page said he had stopped face-to-face campaigning to focus on "coordinating the local and regional response to the pandemic and supporting our clinicians and administrative staff to keep our patients and our community safe."

Debbie Armstrong (Independent) (candidacy announcement, article) is a Huonville hairdresser and business owner.  Continuing the family theme in this electorate, Debbie Armstrong is Robert Armstrong's great-niece (I had to look up what that meant.) Issues canvassed by Debbie Armstrong in her candidacy announcement included "infrastructure, planning laws and access to services for children with disability" as well as better health and education services.  Armstrong has now and then appeared in the news commenting on Huon Valley council issues (example).  Facebook posts sympathetic to medical cannabis reform and dying with dignity among other comments suggest to me that Armstrong if elected would be more in the Ruth Forrest mould than her great-uncle's.

Not Running

The Liberal Party doesn't run against incumbents who don't annoy it.  (That's not to say it always officially runs even if they do.)

Issues

I may post a fuller list of possible campaign issues as the campaign develops.  I feel that issues that were being raised in January are probably not now very relevant but may be raised again should the coronavirus situation stabilise.  In asserting that something is a campaign issue I do not necessarily suggest it will move votes, just that it will be talked about on the campaign trail.  Some possible issues include:

* Coronavirus and health system generally: The coronavirus issue is of course swamping everything else at the moment but Huon is unusual because it has a doctor who is a declared candidate.  In mid-March Seidel was criticising "sluggish and inconsistent response to the pandemic" and calling for actions like school closures to occur earlier than they did.  Labor has stressed that the health system was in a strained condition even before the attack of COVID-19, and has also called for free flu vaccinations.

Incumbent Robert Armstrong has said:
" it is my opinion we need to be guided by the Government, both State and Federal, and their health advisers who have the necessary expertise. Public opinions from others can cause confusion and inconsistent responses to this horrible situation."

Robert Armstrong can run on his experience as a legislator passing bills on the matter, while Debbie Armstrong has direct experience of the impact on small business as a hairdresser.  It will be much easier for some candidates to get noticed on the issue than others.

* Independence vs party endorsement: Party representation in the Upper House is at an all-time high (six seats out of fifteen) and both Huon and Rosevears have the potential to increase it further.  The usual lines will be run - that independence is desirable in a house of review, but that being a party MP enables one to have a direct say in party policy for both houses through a party caucus.  We might also see references to Armstrong's voting record and suggestions that he is too close to the Liberal Party, but in the past I have seen little of this, and voting-record based attacks don't tend to work in these campaigns anyway.

* Infrastructure and industry: Various infrastructure issues have been raised by candidates including building affordable housing on the electorate's northern outskirts, and also the Bruny Island ferry.  Possibly economic-stimulus and recovery proposals related to the damage inflicted by the coronavirus will come to the fore.  The area's forest industry was hit hard by the 2018-9 bushfire.

* Aquaculture:  Salmon farming issues were prominent in the area, including in Huon Council politics, prior to the coronavirus wiping everything else off the front pages.  The Legislative Council is currently holding an inquiry into the finfish farming industry, which has come under heavy attack from prominent Huon Aquaculture CEO Frances Bender.

Campaign

I have removed the campaign section previously posted here until it is clear when the election will be held.

Implications

The Legislative Council is currently dominated by the left, in the form of four Labor MLCs and five left-wing independents (one of whom retires at these elections).  There are also two Liberal MLCs, two conservative independents and two centre to centre-right independents.  This means the Government usually needs two of the left-wing independents to support it on matters opposed by Labor.

Unlike the Rosevears election where the government could well gain a seat from the left, in Huon the government isn't standing.   At the moment left-right politics is pretty irrelevant and it may be so for some time to come, but some day things might get back to vaguely normal and Legislative Councillors have long terms.  The government's best outcome is probably the incumbent being re-elected, though Harriss might also be acceptable should he win, and Cameron would have some common ground.  A win for Siedel however would see Labor at an equal all-time high of five MLCs and would further increase the government's currently severe difficulties in passing contentious legislation, as well as giving Labor's health campaigns a massive boost.  (At present with four Labor and five left-wing independent MLCs, the government usually needs two of the five to support it or one to support it and another to be away).

Prospects

The default assumption in these things is that the incumbent wins.  In the current cycle incumbents have won 10 and lost 2, and this is very much in line with the historic average.  The two incumbents who have lost in this cycle, Tony Mulder and Adriana Taylor, had both been controversial for strange comments on various issues. There was also a perception Taylor had lost touch with her base.  The retaining incumbents won easily, except for Rosemary Armitage who had a close contest with high-profile nursing campaigner Neroli Ellis.

There are some reasons to be cautious though:

1. The nature of the campaign may be unusual, depending on when the election is held and what restrictions on campaigning exist.

2. Super-mayors who get elected to the LegCo sometimes find that their profile is reduced after six years on the red couches.  This has been cited as a factor in the defeat of Taylor, though I'm not completely buying it given that others (eg Valentine, Gaffney) have been re-elected comfortably.

3. Labor couldn't have picked a more topical time to have a prominent doctor as a candidate.  Seidel already has a large advantage in media coverage.  This might not be so clearly positive (some voters might prefer not to elect a doctor right now in case they were needed elsewhere) but it at least makes the race harder to pick.

4. Labor is on a roll in contests in the south, having gained three seats there in the current cycle.  Based on state election voting this is harder for it than those though (I am not sure how relevant the federal pattern is).

At this stage it would be premature to assume that all the declared candidates will run, or that no new candidates will emerge.  If the field stays as it is, then notwithstanding the area's high Green vote and the potential of others to poll something significant, I see Labor as the incumbent's most serious opposition.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks Kevin

    Could the TEC make this a postal vote only election, sending ballots to all registered voters without the need for them to apply for a postal vote?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not without Parliament coming back and passing legislation. The TEC has noted that they cannot change it to an all-postal vote:

      "The Electoral Commission is bound by the Electoral Act 2004 and the Constitution Act 1934 for the conduct of Parliamentary elections. These pieces of legislation dictate that Legislative Council elections are to be conducted as attendance ballots (where electors attend a polling place) with a polling day in May each year."

      The TEC is also constrained by the following:

      "Under the Electoral Act 2004, an elector can apply for a postal vote if they expect to be unable to attend a polling place on polling day, Saturday 30 May. "

      (which I think would prevent it mailing a ballot to all voters.)

      In practice many voters will apply for postal votes or vote early irrespective of whether they are strictly legally allowed to.

      Delete
  2. In my very humble opinion it's time the electoral process for the LC was changed. The current system of two seats every year is beyond ridiculous. I'd like to see it changed to a system where half of the LC seats are up for election at the same time as the house of assembly. As to the actual process of how this could be achieved I'm open to suggestions how this could be achieved taking into account the current term for a councillor is six years with the only way I can think of being the term would have to be increased by two years.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Kevin,

    Did Parliament defer the Legislative Council elections (as per your above response to Grant) or did the Tas Government or TEC do it without reference to Parliament?

    Keep up the good work.

    dedwards

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As best I can determine the current situation is that a notice is about to be issued, I think by the Director of Public Health, to defer the elections. Although this was announced a few days ago I can find no evidence that the notice has yet appeared.

      The Parliament was not directly involved in this decision beyond that its COVID-19 legislation created the power for this to occur. The TEC has no power to postpone an election, it can only advise.

      The Parliament will soon be recalled to seek to pass two items of legislation one of which will be the extension of the Huon and Rosevears terms so those divisions are not left unrepresented because of the delayed elections.

      Delete