Saturday, March 14, 2020

Legislative Council 2020: Rosevears

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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 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.  Nominations will close on April 23 and be announced on April 24.  There will be five weeks of early voting. I strongly encourage voters to vote by post if eligible to do so (TEC will mail out information). 

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates, campaign information, added candidates and changed assessments.  I was expecting to visit the electorate during the campaign but won't now be doing so for obvious reasons. 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, have so far announced their intention to contest.  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.  

(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 I am aware of, but has been approached by parties to run in other elections.

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).  Greene contested West Tamar Council in 2018 but missed the final seat by just 66 votes.  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.

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%.

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.  

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'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.

Fry's current views are unknown to me and his campaign material online steers clear of anything divisive. In the distant past he 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 

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.   

In the celebrity trivia department I note that Jo 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.

Possibly Running

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

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 Rene Hidding suspended his campaign.

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 high of six (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.

* Coronavirus: Coronavirus is swamping everything in political life at the moment though I am yet to see it emerge as a point of contention between candidates.

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 election and others having announced between three and five months out.  To this stage there has 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".

In response to the coronavirus situation, Labor and Green candidates have suspended face-to-face campaigning in this electorate and also Huon.  Palmer has also suspended doorknocking, and Finlay has shifted her campaign to be "more active in the digital space".

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.

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 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. 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 and as a strong enough candidate that a Liberal victory shouldn't be called as 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. 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 would 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 should probably 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, 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.  

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