Thursday, April 9, 2015

Legislative Council 2015: Derwent and Mersey

This is my second candidate guide for this year's Tasmanian Legislative Council contests.  See Legislative Council 2015: Windermere for the most exciting of the three seats up for grabs at this election.  My current review of Legislative Council voting patterns may also be of interest.

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

Derwent: Seat Profile

As its name suggests Derwent covers much of the middle and upper Derwent Valley.  It starts in the outer suburbs of Glenorchy and takes in Old Beach, Bridgewater/Gagebrook, Brighton, the major town of New Norfolk, and a scattering of small farming, fishing and timber towns up to Lake St Clair and out into the south-west.

Derwent is the sole remaining Labor seat in the Legislative Council and has been held by the ALP continuously since 1979.  Charles Batt and then former Treasurer Michael Aird were long-term occupants of Derwent, and on Aird's retirement in 2011 it was won by Craig Farrell.  Labor has won the seat eight times in a row, Farrell's win being the only one of these in which it has been taken to preferences.

This is not surprising given that the seat is strong Labor territory in state elections.  In spite of the general hiding that saw Labor poll only 27.7% in Lyons (which includes most of Derwent), the ALP was only just behind the Liberals in the Derwent booths overall.  In these booths, Labor polled 40.8% compared to 41.4% for the Liberals, a feeble 7% for the Greens, 4.8% for PUP and 4.4% for independent Paul Belcher.  The Labor result in the area was largely down to their strength in the Glenorchy area and Bridgewater/Gagebrook booths and there were massive swings against the party in smaller booths.

Derwent: Incumbent

Derwent Labor incumbent Craig Farrell (website, Facebook, Twitter) has been the local MLC for four years since his win in the by-election caused by Aird's resignation.  In that by-election, Farrell won with a primary vote of 38.6%, nearly double his nearest rival in a field of five.  On preferences Farrell defeated ex-Liberal Glenorchy alderman Jenny Branch 56.6:43.4.  

Prior to this Farrell's electoral record in local government (full details here) had been reasonable but nothing spectacular.  At the time of his preselection he was Deputy Mayor of the Derwent Valley Council.  In earlier life he had a background in real estate and TV.

If Farrell expected a long apprenticeship on the backbench, it wasn't to be.  With Lin Thorp beaten at the same elections and Doug Parkinson retiring in 2012, in just a year Farrell was holding probably the most demanding and thankless job in Tasmanian politics of the time as Leader for the Labor/Greens Government in the Legislative Council.  Farrell's performance has been quite well reviewed (eg see The Examiner).  My assessment of Legislative Council voting patterns found Farrell (who is frequently bound by party discipline) to be the second most left-leaning MLC.

Derwent: Challenger

Farrell has one challenger. New Norfolk resident Alan Baker (websitecandidacy announcement, Facebook) is a New Town based IT consultant with a previous background in building, volunteer firefighting and working at a high school.  Baker is new to politics and decided to run for the seat on hearing on ABC radio that the incumbent might be elected unopposed.  Baker has told The Examiner a key focus will be on "harnessing new technologies to drive economic growth". He has also told The Mercury that he considered running for local council last year but was deterred by the size of the field.

Derwent: Prospects

As its record above shows Derwent is a safe Labor seat, and the party's increase in support since the last state election means it would probably have been retained against any opposition.  Also, at the time of writing the only opponent is apparently very low-profile and has not had time for a big lead-in campaign across this rather large electorate, which makes Labor's task easier.  It does not seem that this will be a nasty campaign, with not much sign of policy difference between the opponents.

However, there is always some level of resentment towards party politics, or towards any specific party's politics, in the Upper House and some voters may vote for the challenger because he is such an obvious underdog.  Also, Labor is not fully rehabilitated from its state election crunching.  The ALP vote will provide some kind of test of the level of remaining dissatisfaction with Labor in the seat, bearing in mind that the seat record is 80.64% set by Charles Batt in 1985.  Despite late signs of a close shave, anything below 65% in a two-candidate race against an unknown opponent would be cause for some concern.

An ABC "debate" involving the two candidates can be heard here.


Mersey: Seat Profile

Mersey contains all of the city of Devonport, most of the large town of Latrobe, the smaller towns of Spreyton, Forth and Turners Beach and surrounding rural communities.  Mersey has never been won by an endorsed party candidate, though its representatives have tended to be conservative and sometimes had Liberal party connections.  Often the area has had a slight Labor lean compared to the rest of the north-west coast but at the 2014 state election this was certainly not the case.  The Liberals polled 60.9% (cf 58.7% for Braddon as a whole) with Labor getting 23.1%, the Greens 6.7% and PUP 6.1%.

In 2003 local nurse Norma Jamieson defeated incumbent Geoff Squibb in an upset, but Jamieson retired after a single term.

Mersey: Incumbent

Mike Gaffney was elected MLC for Mersey in 2009.  He polled 42.9% of primaries in a field of four, defeating nearest challenger Steve Martin 60:40 after preferences.  While Gaffney had been a very popular Mayor of Latrobe, his success was such that the Mayor of much larger Devonport, Lynn Laycock, didn't even make the final two. In contrast with Ivan Dean, Gaffney continued being re-elected to the mayoralty comfortably even after he became a Legislative Councillor, until he was forced to retire by new laws against holding positions in both state and local politics.

Gaffney, a long-serving school teacher including at Latrobe and Devonport high schools, had previously been a Labor candidate for Braddon in the 2002 state election, in which he polled 5720 primaries but couldn't get past the three Labor incumbents.  He resigned his ALP membership prior to running for the Legislative Council, and it had been seven years since he had run as a Labor candidate, but he was targeted by Liberals as not independent enough.  It can be safely concluded that the Liberal campaign against Gaffney backfired.

Following the 2010 state election Gaffney was approached to join the Bartlett Labor ministry but said he would only do so as an independent and wouldn't rejoin Labor.  The idea went no further and Labor instead accepted two Green ministers.

My analysis of Legislative Council voting patterns for the last four years finds that Gaffney is one of the LegCo's five-member "left wing", together with MLCs Farrell, Finch, Forrest and Valentine.  In that time Gaffney voted with Labor's Craig Farrell on 88% of distinct contested divisions and with Liberals Vanessa Goodwin and Leonie Hiscutt 31% and 23% of the time respectively.   Despite this, Gaffney was reported as giving qualified praise for the Hodgman Government's direction for the state in its first year in office.

Since the election of the Hodgman government, Gaffney has voted with Farrell on 83% of distinct contested divisions and with Goodwin and Hiscutt 21% and 22% of the time.  However these figures may exaggerate the polarisation of Gaffney's recent voting, since they include many divisions on one single bill (Protection from Protestors).

Mersey: Challenger

Gaffney one challenger, announced on the day nominations are to be released.  Vivienne Gale (candidacy announcement) is the manager of Launceston Self Storage and is a registered family dispute resolution practitioner with three prior degrees (B. Comp., MBA, Grad. Dip. Psych) all from Monash University. She is currently completing a fourth degree, in law and has previously run "a number of family businesses" in "concrete construction and development".  Some Examiner letters from Gale indicate her views - one typically "pro-development", (another one like that here), another promoting scientific education, one on the supertrawler. and one condemning Green support for law-breaking activists.

Mersey: Campaign and Prospects

 Gale has stated "I support the Tasmanian forest industry and don't believe the state should legalise same-sex marriage" and that she will not be distracted by "trendy-left" issues.  This is an implied critique of the incumbent, who voted for state-based same-sex marriage and the forestry peace deal. Gale has also claimed the incumbent is too close to Labor.  A campaign flyer shows Gale's platform to be decidedly right-wing.

Gale's campaign bears strong comparison with last year's attempt to unseat Kerry Finch, who was also attacked from the right for having a left-wing voting record.   While the challenger this time is not burdened with being endorsed by a party (as was Finch's Liberal opponent), her disadvantages are likely to include lack of established profile and being from well outside the electorate.  In most cases strong community connections (such as those listed on Gaffney's parliamentary webpage) play a bigger role in LegCo elections than voting record.  Also while the Mersey electorate voted very heavily Liberal in last year's state election, that isn't typical, with the Brenton Best shenanigans probably playing a role in the left's poor results in the area.

Legislative Councillor Tony Mulder, elected as an "independent liberal" has been assisting Gale in the campaign and with attacks on Gaffney's voting record (see The Advocate and Gale's letter in The Examiner).  I doubt that many voters in the north of the state will appreciate this intervention from a "southerner".

Pieces written by the candidates in the Sunday Examiner the week before the election continue the pattern of the campaign thus far with Gaffney running on his community connections and on listening to all sides, and paying no attention to attacks from his opponent.  To the extent that she isn't just attacking Gaffney, Gale seems to be running mainly on health (especially the Mersey Hospital) and economic development.

With the new Liberal state government far from soaring in opinion polling, it is unlikely attacks on Legislative Councillors who have reservations about government legislation will be effective.

Despite - or perhaps even with the assistance of  - the political attacks on his record, I expect Gaffney to retain comfortably.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Kevin,

    More than happy to talk with you in the coming weeks.

    Alan Baker