Monday, April 4, 2016

Legislative Council 2016: Apsley and Elwick

Added May 7: For live results and postcount comments go here.

This is my candidate guide and preview for the two Tasmanian Legislative Council seats that are up for elections this year.  Nominations closed on April 15, and the elections are on Saturday May 7th; I expect to post live comments on the counts as per normal.  However I will be busy in the week leading up to the election so updates may be briefer or less frequent than usual.

These elections are important for the future legislative program of the Hodgman Liberal Government. At present it usually but not always has the numbers upstairs (see voting patterns).  If both seats fall to Labor, then the left will have a blocking majority on major contentious issues.  Even one Labor win would be quite significant for the balance of the chamber.

Despite the implications of Legislative Council elections for state politics, many LegCo elections are decided in a similar way to local council voting, based on personal profile, community connections and "parish pump" type campaigning.  Attempts to attack incumbents both right (Wilkinson, Dean) and left (Finch, Gaffney) over their voting records have failed spectacularly in recent years - but at least state political issues are now being discussed at all in these campaigns.

It is rare for incumbent Legislative Councillors to lose their seats.  Small electorate population bases make it easy for incumbents to become entrenched, close overlap with local government areas often results in local mayors becoming unbeatable "super-mayors" in the Legislative Council, excessive funding restrictions make campaigning difficult for challengers, and a voter preference for independent MLCs puts parties at a disadvantage.  Two incumbents were unseated in 2003, but only one in the twelve years since.  Since 1960, recontesting incumbents have been re-elected 83% of the time if challenged, or 87% including those returned unopposed.

Independent MLCs may have a further advantage this year.  The Legislative Council inquiry into the Tasmanian Electoral Commission has reported that "At the time of drafting this report, it has been determined that candidates can now identify themselves as ‘Independent’ on the ballot paper."  This is consistent with the TEC now listing non-party-endorsed candidates as Independent whereas previously they were listed as blank.

Note that this page will be updated and edited to reflect candidate declarations and my views as things happen (or don't) through the campaign.

Apsley: Profile

Apsley is a large rural electorate that includes the east coast, the bulk of the Midlands and almost all the non-urban north-east including Flinders Island.  Its largest towns are Scottsdale and St Helens, each with populations of around 2000.  Other towns include Bagdad, Bicheno, Campbell Town, Evandale, Lilydale, Oatlands and one of my pet indicator booths (because of the massive swings it produces over forestry issues) Triabunna.  Industries include farming, more farming, what remains of forestry, coal mining, fishing, and tourism.

Apsley was formed from large parts of the abolished electorates of South Esk (north-east), Monmouth (east coast) and Macquarie (midlands) in the 1998-9 redistribution.  None of these electorates had ever elected an endorsed party candidate. Incumbents were often very conservative and tended to have very long careers.  The latter is also an attribute of the federal seat of Lyons, which much of Apsley belongs to, and a possible reason is that the large number of dispersed small towns in this area makes profile-building difficult for challengers.   Apsley's first incumbent was former South Esk member Colin Rattray, and on his retirement after two terms in 2004 the seat was won by his daughter Tania (see below).

At the 2014 state election, the Liberal Party won 41 of 42 booths in Apsley with only Mathinna's 88 voters keeping the red flag flying.  In 29 of these the Liberals more than doubled Labor's score and the size of some of the Liberal votes in quite large towns (77% in Bridport and 76% in Scottsdale) was astonishing.  Overall the Liberals polled 59.2% (eight points above their state average), Labor 23.8% (3.5 below) and the Greens 11.0% (2.8 below) in Apsley booths.  Swings of over 20% to the Liberals were seen in several booths, especially timber booths, including a 29% swing at Fingal.

Apsley: Incumbent

Tania Rattray is the two-term incumbent in Apsley.  In 2004 she narrowly topped a diverse field of ten candidates with 16.7% of the primary vote, but pulled away on preferences for a 55.5% two-candidate result against her final opponent Brendan Thompson.  In 2010 she was re-elected unopposed.

In my earliest review of LegCo voting patterns on this site I found Rattray to be one of the most conservative independents, but in the last year especially she has been less predictable, causing me to change my assessment of her voting on the Council from "right" to "centre-right".  Her support for medicinal hemp trials was an example of this.  Offhand I cannot remember any example of Rattray being involved in any controversy extending beyond disagreements with her political views.

Apsley: Challengers

The declared Labor candidate is Darren Clark (TV ad). Clark is the CEO of the Tasmanian Police and Community Youth Clubs and is a local from the south of the electorate with a background in "hospitality, manufacturing and retail" and small business.  Clark was an endorsed Labor candidate for Lyons in 2014 and polled 1080 votes (6% of Labor's total); his share of Labor's tally was strongest at Triabunna where he grew up, and varied little elsewhere.

Oatlands farmer Brett Hall (Twitter) of the Tasmania Party is contesting.  The Tasmania Party is a populist rebadge of the "Tasmanian Nationals", a shortlived branch of the National Party that was soon disowned by the federal Nationals.  This outfit ran a strange campaign at the 2014 state election, averaging 1% in the four seats it contested, and the party is not currently registered at state level.  Hall holds several chairmanships in the beef cattle industry, is a local fire chief, and has recently been prominently involved in anti-gasfield/fracking campaigns.

The Greens candidate is Sophie Houghton who was a minor Greens Senate candidate in 2007.  Houghton describes herself as "self employed"; she appears to run a guest house and vineyard at Hawley Beach (which is well out of the electorate.)

Apsley: Campaign and Prospects

Apsley candidates can be heard here (interview starts 1 hr 12 mins in and goes til 1:30).  (Houghton was a no-show.)

Sign activity for both Rattray and Clark were detected as of the start of April.  Clark also (according to his Facebook page) has electorate offices in Swansea and Campbell Town and brochures out.  In early May signs for Rattray were the most common in the midlands and inner north-east, with some large Clark and Hall signs.  The Hall ones are quite modern and colourful while the Rattray ones are traditional with no candidate photo.  Clark claims to have seen a Liberal Party car putting up Rattray's signs, which Rattray strenuously denies; no hard evidence has been produced to my knowledge.

Clark is pitching his campaign especially as an attack on a 10.5% pay rise for MPs being put to the Legislative Council.  The Tasmanian Industrial Commission recommended this but all three Lower House parties have opposed the increase, effectively leaving the Legislative Council to make the decision by itself to the disgust of many MLCs.  While Clark states the election will be a referendum on the pay rise issue, I don't expect it will be.  Clark's TV advertisement also suggests that Labor is painting the incumbent as not hardworking enough.

The 2014 election results show that Labor suffered severe brand damage in this area.  Disgust about the Labor-Green forestry "peace deal" may have faded but isn't likely to have gone away and the task of rebuilding trust will be longer than two years.  Unless the incumbent does more or less nothing, or something really silly, I don't see how Labor would win, but a favourable state issues mix generally (energy crisis, Turnbull state tax proposal) may soften the margin.

Hall will be much more competitive in a smaller field that takes in his local area than he was at the state election.  He is unlikely to have the profile to be a serious threat but his credentials suggest he should poll reasonably if he campaigns well, and will have opportunities as a candidate to further push his anti-fracking message.  Examples of minor parties other than the Greens contesting LegCo positions are very thin on the ground so it is hard to say what impact his party status (which won't appear on the ballot paper) will have.

As the seat profile notes, Apsley is not rich pickings for the Greens and their result will mainly be useful as evidence of the party's rebuilding or lack thereof. Anything substantially into double figures would be a good result here.

Elwick: Profile

Elwick includes most of the Glenorchy City Council area in the northern suburbs of greater Hobart. It is an expanded version of the former electorate of Buckingham.  Since the Second World War, MLCs in this area have generally had Labor connections, but have varied as to whether they were formally endorsed.  The sole exception was Ken Lowrie, MLC from 1968 to 1986.  Lowrie was Mayor of Glenorchy when he won a famous contest against 26 year old rising star Doug Lowe by 110 votes.  Lowrie went on to become Leader for the Gray Government (although he did not formally join it) before the now ex-Premier Lowe fancied a rematch and defeated Lowrie with a massive 72.7% vote.  Lowe was followed by Labor Treasurer David Crean, then by popular Glenorchy Mayor Terry Martin, who was expelled from the Parliamentary Labor Party for his vote against the proposed Gunns Bell Bay pulp mill.  Martin retired after the side-effects of medication contributed to him being charged in a child-prostitution scandal, and Taylor, his successor as Mayor, replaced him at the 2010 election.  See the Tasmanian Times 2010 preview (co-written with Peter Tucker) for more electorate history.

Elwick is a working-class Labor stronghold.  Amid the 2014 state wipeout Labor still topped all its booths bar two (Moonah and Rosetta) and polled 45.8% (18.5 points above the state average) to the Liberals' 35.1% (16.1 below) and the Greens' 10.7% (3.1 below).  Despite this it is not so rusted-on as to be unable to vote for anyone else, as seen not only with Taylor's election but also when Andrew Wilkie had no trouble winning booths there at the 2013 federal poll.

Elwick: Incumbent

Prior to winning the seat of Elwick, Adriana Taylor (Facebook link) was Mayor of Glenorchy.  After a fairly close initial win in 2005, Taylor was re-elected by massive margins in 2007 and 2009.  A former ALP member, Taylor had allowed her membership to lapse prior to contesting the 2010 election for the LegCo seat.  She ran in more or less Labor colours but was opposed by endorsed Labor candidate, unionist Tim Jacobson, running in yellow and blue.  Taylor polled 48.9% in a field of three which became a 56:44 margin over Labor after preferences.  She is now one of six ex-Mayors in the Council, and one of ten MLCs with a former local government background.

In her six years in the Council, Taylor has consistently placed in the centre of the Council based on voting patterns.  Apart from often voting with Nelson MLC Jim Wilkinson, she has not strongly tended to agree or disagree with any other MLC.  Her voting tends to be religiously conservative on "moral issues" (she was by far the most strident opponent of proposed state-based same-sex marriage) and moderately left-wing but individual on other issues.  Early in her career she agreed with Liberal MLCs Goodwin and Hiscutt on only 44% and 39% of contested divisions respectively; this has now increased to 48% and 47% but she is hardly a reliable vote for the Government.

Taylor has sometimes attracted social-media criticism, as well as mine, for daffy arguments on religious morality issues.  In the state-based same-sex marriage debate she was criticised for, effectively, arguing that because her son was bullied for having red hair, allowing same-sex marriage would make no difference to sexuality-based discrimination.

Such issues aside, Taylor has been a powerful and fairly high-profile MLC whose vote is often decisive and closely watched on the more closely contested matters.  Taylor announced she was recontesting late last year.

Elwick: Challengers

After rumours of all sorts of high-profile contenders, the actual endorsed Labor candidate is Josh Willie, a primary school teacher.  I had not heard of Willie before this campaign and have found little about him online so far but there is quite a buzz about him in the party as a young star of the future.

Serial Greens candidate Penelope Ann is again the endorsed Green candidate.  This is at least Ann's ninth run for the Greens since 2010 and her third LegCo run for a third different seat, all in the Greater Hobart area.  In 2011 she came fourth out of six with a 13.4% primary in Rumney and in 2012 second out of six with a 22.6% primary in the ultra-green seat of Hobart.  This Hobart result appeared to be a good showing given that the competition included former long-term Hobart Lord Mayor Rob Valentine (who won easily) but Ann did obtain a small unfair advantage through an advertisement for her being illegally published on election day.  Ann, a heritage accommodation owner, has also contested State and Senate elections as a minor Greens candidate and polled just 1.6% as a Greens candidate for Clarence City Council in 2014.

Other challengers will be added as they are declared.

Elwick: Campaign and Prospects

Candidates for Elwick can be heard here (starts 45 mins in, goes to 1:13).

Willie is presented as a "new voice" with "new energy" and Labor is calling for renewal (and also reform) of the Legislative Council.  The LegCo, sometimes derided as a "Boomer house", has an average age of 61 with only one member under fifty. Taylor, who will turn 70 later this year, is the second-oldest.  However age has been no barrier in Tasmanian politics in recent years, with Ivan Dean easily re-elected at 70 and David Llewellyn returning to the House of Assembly at 71.  On the other hand, it has been very rare for candidates under age 35 to win Upper House seats in recent decades.  Taylor's age is unlikely to count against her after just one term and in an electorate with a high proportion of pensioners.

As noted above, the general issues mix (energy crisis, health, Turnbull states tax proposal) is highly friendly to Labor at the moment.  However it will be difficult to turn this into any kind of attack on an opponent who has no connections to the state government.   Labor is very energised about this contest and making an especially serious effort, with Willie doorknocking a vast number of houses in six weeks of unpaid leave.  My perception is that while Taylor has not campaigned as much, she hasn't been invisible and has done enough to not give any real credence to any Labor attack.  While this is well worth watching on election night to see what impact Labor's young contender makes, it is hard to see an objective case why Taylor should actually lose.

One local issue Willie is running on is the recent change to Metro bus services. Metro carried out a radical timetable revamp (probably more good than bad in my own area, by the way) that has received blowback from disadvantaged residents, partly because a reduction in "route variations" has resulted in some side-routes being discontinued while other trips have become longer.  There are comments by Willie and Taylor in the ABC audio link above on this.

Labor is also running on the 10.5% pay rise issue in this electorate (see Apsley above) claiming that both incumbents would vote the pay rise through.

The Greens won't be winning this seat any decade soon but their result will shed some light on how the party's rebuilding effort is really going.  They polled 13.2% in 2010, which was closely in line with their 2010 state result.

On 6 April the Mercury reported that a pamphlet for Josh Willie was under investigation by the Electoral Commission for allegedly offering to donate a salary rise to charity if elected.  This rookie error has a history with Ivan Dean having even been charged with bribery (though the charge was ultimately dropped) after making a similar promise when running for Mayor of Launceston.  Past experience is that this sort of controversy tends not to affect candidate votes to any detectable degree.


  1. Hey there,

    I know this is likely the entirely wrong place to be asking this question, so I sincerely apologise for that but I'm unsure where else to ask this:

    Will you be doing any minor election coverage for the Presidential race? Like you had done with the UK election last year? I am very interested in your thoughts on the US system and would love to see an article or two on it.

    Once again I apologise for putting this up in the wrong place but hope to hear a reply about it.


    1. This may happen eventually but is very unlikely to happen in at least the next six weeks. As it is, I do not even have time to cover all the Australian politics and electoral related matters that I would like to cover, and I could probably write an article on Australian stuff every day if time permitted, but it doesn't.


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