Saturday, March 14, 2020

Legislative Council 2020: Rosevears

This election will now be held on August 1.  

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I've decided to release my Rosevears page for the 2020 Legislative Council elections a little early.  As with Nelson last year, the incumbent is retiring, so I don't have to wait for the March sittings to analyse his voting patterns.  (An article on Legislative Council voting patterns will follow after the March sittings are over, and a Huon guide is now up.)

The election was originally slated for Saturday May 2 but has been postponed indefinitely under powers that I didn't realise existed under the Public Health Act.  Initially it 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.  Now the elections are intended to be held 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.  As the COVID situation has eased, August 1 has been announced as the date.

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

Rosevears (see map) is situated on the west Tamar in northern Tasmania. It includes much of western and central Launceston and the towns of Beaconsfield, Legana, Exeter and Beauty Point.  Industries outside the urban area include tourism, mining and vineyards.

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 held the seat ever since.  The seat is mostly an expanded version of the former division of Cornwall, which always returned independents except for electing one Liberal between 1942 and 1951.  One of the independents, Mac Le Fevre (member from 1978-1984) was a former Labor lower house MP.  

At the 2018 state election the Liberal Party polled 58.2% in Rosevears booths, Labor 25%, the Greens 11.2% and the populist Jacqui Lambie Network 4.2%.  Labor gained 6.5 points while the Greens dropped five, and the Liberal vote was little changed. The Liberal vote ranged from the high 40s to the mid 60s and was strongest at the bible belt Legana booth and the outer suburban areas of Prospect, Riverside and Summerhill.  The Greens had been polling well in some of the small-town rural booths along the West Tamar during the proposed Gunns Pulp Mill debacle but support for them there has now subsided.  They did not beat Labor at any Rosevears booth in 2018 but came very close in Trevallyn (24.4%) and also topped 20 in the central Launceston booths and West Launceston.  Labor's best booth was the mining town of Beaconsfield (32.8%).  

Retiring Incumbent

Kerry Finch is retiring after three terms.  A former high-profile radio and TV 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. In 2014 the Liberals tried to convert the honeymoon effect from their state election win into Legislative Council seats (as Labor had done under Jim Bacon).  Despite a feisty negative campaign against the incumbent in which the Liberals alleged he was a closet Green, Finch easily defeated the Liberals' Don Morris, polling 60.3%.  

My assessments of Legislative Council voting patterns (most recently here) have always placed Finch on the left, but as slightly more moderate than the other left-wing MLCs.  However, Finch does not mince his words in parliament on issues he feels strongly about, particularly social issues.  It is also notable that shortly after being re-elected in 2014 Finch experienced a minor heart attack but has nonetheless completed a successful term in parliament.  

Finch has expressed a hope that he will be followed by another independent.

Candidates (6)

The following candidates, in order of announcement, are contesting.  All candidates live in the electorate unless noted otherwise.  This is only the second Legislative Council contest (after the 2017 Pembroke by-election) where all of Liberal, Labor and Greens have endorsed candidates.

See candidate profiles for some candidates posted on Tasmanian Times.

(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.)

Janie Finlay (Independent) (Facebook, Twitter, linkedincandidacy announcement) is a former Launceston Mayor (2002-5) and long-serving Launceston Councillor (2000-2007, 2014-present).  Finlay was the youngest female Mayor in Australia when elected unopposed in 2002 but in 2005 was narrowly defeated (50.9:49.1) by Ivan Dean on preferences from other male councillors despite having a 10% primary vote lead.  In 2018 Finlay was involved in another close mayoral contest, this time defeated by 11-year incumbent Albert Van Zetten (51.8:48.2).  

Finlay has a small business background including real estate, cafes and boutique furniture design, and is Communications Director at an online game testing company.  Finlay's campaign material in general stresses a local and regional focus and the independence of the Upper House rather than ideas obviously associated with either wing of politics. It is not easy to get any impression of how Finlay might vote based on Launceston Council voting, which is mostly consensus-based with a couple of fairly frequent dissenters.  Finlay has no past party involvements, and has been approached by parties to run in other elections and declined.

Jess Greene (Labor) (Twitter, candidacy announcement) is an organiser with the Community and Public Sector Union, Secretary of Playgroup Tasmania and a voluntary board member of the Child Health Association of Tasmania and Laurel House (a sexual assault support service).  As of July 13 she is also a West Tamar Councillor.  Greene contested West Tamar Council in 2018 but missed the final seat by just 66 votes, however she has just been elected on a recount after another member resigned.  Greene is a regular and respected presence on political social media.  She is the first Labor candidate to ever be endorsed for Rosevears; I am unsure if any Labor candidate was ever endorsed for Cornwall.  Greene has flagged jobs as her number one issue, and has also flagged funding of public services.  

Jack Davenport (Greens) (Facebook, candidacy announcement, linkedin) is a social worker and Principal Analyst for Children and Youth Services. He has previous social work experience, mainly in child protection, in the UK, South Australia and Western Australia.  He is also a freelance writer and photographer and was a councillor on Preston City Council, UK, from 2004 to 2010.  The Greens have not endorsed a candidate for Rosevears before, though former Bass Greens MHA Lance Armstrong contested Cornwall in 1998, polling 18%.  Davenport has flagged climate change issues including logging issues, and also addressing homelessness and removing poker machines.  Davenport has in the past been a member of the Labor Party but disagreed with their policies on fossil fuels and offshore detention.

Vivienne Gale (Independent) (candidacy announcement) owns a self-storage business and is also a carer for her husband and a master of laws student, having previous tertiary qualifications including B. Comp., MBA, Grad. Dip. Psych (all from Monash).  Gale is on the committee of the QVMAG Arts Foundation and Festivale.  Gale previously contested the seat of Mersey in 2015 (see guide) where she was the sole challenger to independent incumbent Mike Gaffney.  Gale's 2015 campaign included support for the forest industry and opposition to state-based same-sex marriage and other "trendy left" issues, as well as attacks on Gaffney's voting record.  Despite a vigorous campaign Gale was hampered by lack of profile and connection to the electorate and Gaffney won very easily indeed with 75.3%.  In this case, Gale lives only marginally outside the electorate.  Issues highlighted by Gale include improving road safety and transport in the West Tamar area.  

David Fry (Independent) (Facebook, linkedincandidacy announcement) is a Cricket Tasmania Regional Administrator with experience in small business (including as manager of a plumbing business) and in the finance industry.  Fry is also a Justice of the Peace (a person empowered to witness important documents.) Fry was a Liberal candidate for Bass at six state elections in a row from 1989 to 2006, but ceased to be a party member some years ago.  He gradually built his vote and in 2000 he was elected to the House mid-term on Frank Madill's recount. At the 2002 election he polled over 4000 votes but was defeated in a within-party contest by now Premier Peter Gutwein.  Fry now describes his former party as "insular" and opposes practices such as giving party MPs talking points.

Fry's candidacy continues a recent trend of former state MPs popping up in LegCo elections, following Doug Parkinson, John The Duke Of Avram and Ron Cornish among blasts from the past in the last few years.

In the distant past Fry was a religious ultraconservative who campaigned against gay law reform, including through the popup lobby group "For A Caring Tasmania".    In 1992-3 this group (known to have had at least two members, an unusually large number for such groups) sought government funding with the aim of advising same-sex-attracted people of their "true heterosexuality", and suggested that $100,000 be diverted from the AIDS Council's budget to such forms of "counselling" (it is unclear to me whether this was a single proposal or two separate proposals).  In 2003 Fry, alongside a young Michael Ferguson, was involved in the "Tasmanian Family Institute" which sought to oppose adoption by same-sex couples using such persuasive and scientific means as content analysis of submissions by people who also opposed it 

Fry remains conservative on dying-with-dignity legislation but states that his view on gay law reform has changed and that he realises his former views were "not quite right" and that he supported some same-sex partnership rights when in parliament. Issues being stressed by Fry include health funding and support for sporting and community groups.

Jo Palmer (Liberal) (TwitterInstagram, candidacy announcement) is a household name as a former Seven Tasmania newsreader and journalist with 18 years' experience reading northern Tasmania's news.  Palmer also holds various ambassador roles in children's charities and is a former Tasmanian of the Year for charity work.  Palmer's newsreading career has been uncontentious and it has been difficult to get much idea where she might fit into the social issues spectrum of the party.  Although having no prior political experience that I'm aware of, Palmer is a natural at conveying an enthusiasm for getting into politics that would appeal to an ordinary voter while not actually saying anything contentious in the process.  Palmer states that economic and social recovery from COVID-19 is the most important issue facing the electorate and is focused on resourcing community groups.  She has named former Labor Premier Jim Bacon as a politician she admired.

In the celebrity trivia department I note that Palmer is a former Miss Tasmania and Miss Australia 1993, that she is Lyons Labor MHA Jen Butler's sister-in-law and that she is the parent of a Dancing With The Stars house dancer. 

Not Running

Former Lyons Liberal MHA Rene Hidding formed an exploratory committee, as they say in the US, on 23 Oct 2019.  His announcement was followed the day after by Finlay announcing she was definitely running.  On 4 Nov 2019, Rene Hidding suspended his campaign.

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers called for expressions of interest from possible candidates on January 15 but did not run a candidate.

Issues

Some issues that have featured or may feature in the campaign are as follows.  Whether they are all actually issues that will affect people's voting intentions to the slightest degree is another matter, but they are subjects candidates could make noise about:

* Independents vs party representation: Voters have been more willing to elect party representatives to upper house seats in recent years with the number of endorsed party members in the Legislative Council now standing at an all-time proportional high of 40% (four Labor, two Liberal) compared to nine independents.  The standard argument for independents is that independents can review legislation with a free hand while party operatives are rubber stamps.  The standard argument for party members is that they can have a direct influence on party policy, and in the case of a government member, ensure the government's mandate is respected.  Finch's call for voters to elect an independent is a problem for the left-wing party candidates.  Greene has argued that Finch was a successful MLC because of his progressive views rather than his independence.

* Coronavirus: Coronavirus is swamping everything in political life at the moment.  The government has claimed that as of 13 June that its candidate is part of a plan to rebuild the Tasmanian economy and has questioned other candidates' ability to contribute effectively to that.  Davenport has opposed austerity in an economic response.  Finlay has argued that her business and community experience grounds her well to be part of the response.  Fry has said he would see his role as supervising community and infrastructure spending, and supporting community groups.  Greene has stressed retraining for workers and mental health and family violence issues, and has accused Premier Gutwein of walking away from former Premier Hodgman's stance on family violence.  

* Dying With Dignity: Several failed attempts to pass dying with dignity/euthanasia laws have been made in Tasmania's parliament and Mike Gaffney is gearing up for another try.  It could well pass the Legislative Council but is likely to struggle downstairs.  The Examiner featured candidate views on the issue, finding Gale, Greene and Davenport supportive, Finlay supportive in principle, Palmer undecided though hinting at reservations and Fry opposed (supporting palliative care instead).

Finlay has stated separately that she "support[s] End-Of-Life choices" and, re the Examiner article, "was expecting I would be reported as Support (but understand why I wasn't)."  Finlay's comments reflect a local government culture of not committing publicly to supporting a motion before it is on the table, but one of the reasons for that culture (that you can lose your vote for doing so under conflict of interest rules) does not apply to the Legislative Council.  Subsequently Finlay has described Gaffney's legislation as "robust" and said that she supports it.

Palmer has said that she is not personally comfortable with voluntary assisted dying because of personal experience and her Christian religious views but that she is in principle supportive of the choice subject to safeguards.  She states she is not comfortable with the current Gaffney bill.

* Tamar Estuary: Finlay especially has highlighted the condition and improvement of the Tamar estuary as a major priority. Fry has proposed management by a single authority.

* Northern Prison: The Liberal government proposes a new prison near Westbury, at a moved site which is further from the town but more environmentally contentious.  Davenport opposes the second prison outright, considering the Liberals to have failed on law and order and proposing expenditure on public housing and social services as alternatives.  The other non-Liberal candidates support the prison (citing arguments including having prisoners closer to the northern community) but are undecided or unconvinced about the proposed site, and collectively critical of the government's consultation.

More will be added as I study the campaign further.

Campaign

I will be posting comments on the campaign for Rosevears as it develops.  The advance organisation of several candidates is noted, with Finlay announcing she was running more than six months before the original election date and others having announced between three and five months out.  In the early stages there was been little engagement between candidates, beyond comments by Finlay supporting an independent upper house after Palmer's endorsement.  Davenport also optimistically suggested voters might be more interested in the policies of candidates than in "what they have done before".

Premier Peter Gutwein enjoys virtually unanimous approval at the moment, recently recording a 90% satisfaction rating in Newspoll, which I believe to be the highest rating for a Premier in any scientific poll ever, albeit from a relatively small sample.  Gutwein has featured very prominently in Palmer's advertising.

Both major parties were criticised by the Greens, further endorsed by The Mercury, for using parliamentary resources to promote candidates via media release.  I've found myself struggling to maintain the slightest interest in this issue since I would be astonished if it changed anybody's vote at all, but I mention it anyway.  Technically such behaviour is a sort of route-around (or rort-around) for Section 159 of the Electoral Act, which bans third parties from spending on Council elections except by donating to campaigns.

The Liberals have also been attracting some criticism for arranging appearances by Palmer, I assume as a "nodder" though I haven't seen vision of this yet, alongside their media engagements, including one within a hospital.

Both Palmer's and Finlay's Facebook pages have been very active with similar sized followings and often a few photo-opportunity type posts each day.

A candidate forum was held by the Tamar Valley News Friday 24th at 6 pm (note sound issues at start, which were soon resolved).  Palmer did not attend, citing prior engagements.  She also did not appear for ABC Drive interviews (which I unfortunately didn't hear while they were up.)

Palmer did however appear for the ABC debate, in which she was heavily pressed re her position on Voluntary Assisted Dying (see above).

Palmer received major coverage in a very long Mercury article devoted to her campaign and expected victory and premised on an unsupported claim that "political watchers in Canberra are now tracking Ms Palmer’s campaign with interest, with some considering how they could lure their likely new star MP to Canberra."  That said, the Mercury is not the primary Tasmanian newspaper for Rosevears voters.

There has been a very high rate of postal voting for the elections.  Probably fewer than half of the votes cast will be on election day.

Implications

A Palmer victory in this seat combined with a hold by staunchly conservative independent Robert Armstrong in Huon would improve the Government's position in the Legislative Council from a current balance of 4 right, 2 centre/centre-right and 9 left to a new balance of 5 right, 2 centre/centre-right and 8 left.  The left would still have a majority, and potentially a working one in view of President Craig Farrell (ALP)'s stated willingness to use his casting vote along party lines.  However it would reduce the number of left independents the government needed on side on a given issue from two to one.  A Finlay win would cause less change to the existing picture.  See my recent article on Council voting patterns.

The by-election is the first leadership test for new Premier Peter Gutwein.  The seat is mostly in his home electorate and his party is advantaged by the profile of its candidate and the electorate being much friendlier to the Liberal Party than other parties.  It may not be as simple as that but a clear win for Palmer on the night will be seen as a seamless transfer to the new Premier, while a loss or perhaps even a very close win will mean questions are asked.

Prospects

Jo Palmer is widely expected to win.

Rosevears is a strongly Liberal electorate at state elections. However, it has been very open to electing independents, including left-wing independents, to the Legislative Council, and has already once rejected the "government mandate" argument for electing a Liberal member.  That said, Jo Palmer is such a high-profile and popular candidate that many observers declared it "game over" as soon as she was selected.  Richard Herr took a contrary view, pointing out that other prominent newsreaders had also run for parliament and failed.  None of those newsreaders quite had Palmer's profile, in my view. Also, John Remess, who Herr gives as an example, was running at the 1998 seat-reduction election against a very strong slate of Liberal incumbents.

Finlay ticks many boxes as the sort of local-government based candidate who is often elected to such seats (a la former fellow councillor Rosemary Armitage in neighbouring Launceston) and could easily be seen as a good successor to Finch by voters receptive to his call to elect another independent. But we should be cautious about assuming that most voters voting for Finch agreed with his politics, as opposed to voting for the famous name they trusted.  In this case the more famous name is Palmer's, and she ticks the same box that got Finch in in the first place.  All the same I do see Finlay as Palmer's major opposition here, especially given the history of independent success in the chamber, and as a strong enough candidate that a Liberal victory shouldn't be considered certain in advance.

The pattern since 2014 has been that Liberal LegCo candidates usually get just over half the previous state election vote on primaries, which would put Palmer in the low 30s and at the mercy of a long and probably unpleasant preference cut-up. However there was one exception, with incumbent Leonie Hiscutt holding 80% of the state election vote in Montgomery.  It's possible Palmer will do something like that and win easily.  If she can hold even two-thirds of the state election vote (approaching 40% primary) then that should be enough as she could expect a strong flow from Fry, who will probably poll a non-trivial vote.

What about Fry?  A conservative independent beat the Liberal candidate in Huon in 2014, but Robert Armstrong was a mayor competing with a long-retired politician - and even so, Armstrong only just made the final two.  In this case Fry is the lower-profile candidate, and lefties may not be so willing to preference him above the Liberals even if he somehow makes the final two.  Fry may do better than Ron Cornish though, because of his stronger connection to the electorate (Cornish polled 7.4% in Pembroke).

With Finlay in the field I see no reason why the left parties could win Rosevears and I don't expect either to match their state election primary vote.  Even second place against Palmer and Finlay would be a strong result for Labor here, provided it is achieved with a reasonable primary vote, but that would be most likely in a scenario where Palmer wins easily.

Rally-round-the-flag polling has been seen almost everywhere in the western world suggesting that voters are flocking to incumbent governments in their uncertainty about coronavirus and desire for strong leadership against it.  This could well play to Palmer's advantage.  However, there are questions both about how durable these polling boosts are and, in Australia especially, how well they translate into votes.

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