Monday, March 26, 2018

Legislative Council 2018: Prosser

As noted in my Hobart preview, I'm getting busy early on my Legislative Council previews as there are quite a few declared candidates already.  There is one preview thread for each seat and I may have other threads should campaign issues warrant them.  I expect to have live comments on the evening of Saturday 5th May.  For more on Legislative Council voting patterns see my 2014-8 voting patterns thread.

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

Seat Profile

Prosser is a fairly large rural and satellite-town seat in the midlands, east and south-east of Tasmania (see map).  Its largest population centres are Brighton, Dodges Ferry and Sorell (all in the south) and other significant centres include Bagdad, Bicheno, Campbell Town, Swansea, Triabunna, Nubeena and Oatlands.  Industries include farming, fishing and what remains of forestry, but around Sorell there has been a rapid increase in young commuting families.

Prosser is a new seat created by the recent redistribution.  About 44% by population was previously in Rumney, 40% in Apsley and 16% (the Brighton area) in Derwent, and a lucky 26 voters also added from Western Tiers can consider themselves very special.

The very different histories of these component seats show it's hard to say what sort of political animal Prosser is going to be.  Apsley and its precursor seats have always been held by independents, usually conservative.  Derwent has been held by Labor for the past 39 years, while Rumney is a swing seat between Labor and conservatives.

At the 2018 state election, booths in Prosser returned votes of 46.1% Liberal, 37.7% Labor, 6.9% Green, 4.5% Lambie Network and 4.4% Shooters, Fishers and Farmers.  This places Prosser to the left of the 2018 Lyons average by about five points.  In the north of Prosser, the Liberals mostly exceeded 50% of the vote (see Ben Raue's maps of booth votes and swings), but they were outpolled by Labor at Dodges Ferry, Dunalley, Forcett, Nubeena, Primrose Sands and Taranna (all booths in the south-east, on or near the Tasman and Forestier Peninsulas).  The south-eastern corner saw modest swings against the government with an outlier of 15 points at Orford (probably caused by fish farming).  Elsewhere the government generally held steady or gained.

Voters in Prosser will be mostly well used to the sound of the LegCo trumpet by now.  Apsley voters went to the polls in 2016 and Rumney voters did so just last year.

Declared Candidates

Nominations closed on April 12 and will be announced on April 13.  Vacant seats often attract large fields.  This is the largest field since there were also 13 in Mersey 1990 and the equal second largest of all time.  Huon 1986 with fifteen is the all time record holder.  Only six of the 13 candidates are based within the electorate.

The field includes, at least:

* Three former state MPs and another six former state candidates
* Two current and four former local councillors and another two former council candidates

Major parties

Jane Howlett (state election party pageFacebook, Linkedin) is the endorsed Liberal candidate.  Howlett contested the seat of Lyons for the party in 2006, 2010 and 2018, increasing her vote each time.  She was reasonably close to election with 4497 votes in 2010, and in 2018 polled 5259 votes but was unable to beat any of the Liberal incumbents as their votes were too close together.  Howlett was also the party's candidate for Franklin at the 2010 federal election.  Howlett, who grew up in Richmond just outside the Prosser boundary, performed well in booths within Prosser at the state election, polling 23% of the Liberal vote within these booths compared to 15% for Lyons overall.  She did especially well in the south-west of Prosser where she polled over 30% of the Liberal vote at some booths. She was the highest-polling Liberal at Bagdad, Brighton, Campania and Kempton.

Howlett's Linkedin page lists her as a senior adviser to Lyons Liberal MP Guy Barnett, and also as a sales manager for Hair Care Australia.  She was formerly state business development manager for Proctor and Gamble and a director for Variety.  Little is known to me of Howlett's political views but her ACL response refers to "strong Christian values" and opposition to euthanasia. It does not appear Howlett currently lives within Prosser as the TEC listed her as being from Battery Point.

Janet Lambert (Facebook, candidacy announcement, state election party page) is the endorsed Labor candidate.  Lambert is another Lyons 2018 recyclee, having polled 1783 primaries on a Labor ticket dominated by leader Rebecca White. In the end Lambert missed out in a within-party contest with Jen Butler by 347 votes.  In general Lambert was at least the equal of Butler on primaries and preferences, but Butler outperformed her on the preferences of the two male Labor candidates.  Lambert polled a lower proportion of the Labor vote in Prosser than elsewhere in Lyons, but this is mostly explained by Rebecca White dominating the Labor vote in southern Lyons.  With the White factor removed, Lambert polled best in the northern midlands (including more than half the non-White Labor vote at Campbell Town), and also quite well in some coastal booths.

Lambert was elected to Northern Midlands council at the third attempt in 2011 and was re-elected fourth out of nine in 2014 with a quota in her own right (ahead of Michael Polley!) She is also a teacher with 25 years' experience and an electorate officer.  Lambert is also a prominent recreational fisher and has been involved in anti-supertrawler campaigns.  Like Howlett, Lambert also doesn't appear to currently live in Prosser, as the TEC listed her as being from Devon Hills near Launceston, but the electorate does include a large part of her Council area.

Well-known independents

Independent Tony Mulder (website, Facebook, Twitter) appears to be running for the seat for several months, based on various sightings of a car with Mulder branding in the electorate and other information.  Mulder was a Clarence councillor from 2005 and fairly narrowly unsuccessful as a state Liberal candidate for Franklin in 2010.  He then contested Rumney as an "independent liberal" (case sensitive); for more on the tangled history of Mulder's status vis-a-vis the Liberal Party see my Rumney preview from last year.   Mulder defeated Labor's trouble-plagued incumbent Lin Thorp in 2011 (53.1-46.9 after preferences) but was in turn unseated by Labor's Sarah Lovell after one term in 2017 (52.3-47.7).

A police commander prior to his political career, Mulder earned a reputation as a forthright and sometimes grumpy contrarian with small-l liberal tendencies (see his ACL questionnaire response) and a penchant for politically incorrect comments.  During the Rumney campaign, comments he had made about domestic violence were used against him (again see my Rumney article).  In recent times there have been on-and-off tensions between the Mulder camp and the Liberal Party, for instance over their fast decision to squeeze him out by endorsing James Walker for the by-election caused by the resignation of the late Vanessa Goodwin.  The endorsement of Howlett for this seat appears to be more of the same.  Mulder has denied that he wanted to be preselected by the Liberals, but would at least prefer to have had a clear run without competition from them.

Mulder appears to have been running an organised but little publicised campaign for this seat for much of the last year. The TEC gives his residence as Howrah, which is outside the electorate, however he has represented the Tasman Peninsula and Sorell-Dunalley areas in his time as member for Rumney.

Independent Doug Parkinson (candidacy announcement, parliament page) is the former Labor MLC for Hobart. Parkinson unseated conservative incumbent Jean Moore (who had held the seat for just two years following a by-election) with 52.3% of the two-candidate vote.  He then twice retained the seat with lopsided margins and the Greens as his main opposition before retiring in 2012.  He has not been a party member since retiring.  From 2006 he was Leader for the Government in the Legislative Council.  He has decided to contest Prosser citing concern about the government's gun laws and water issues on the east coast.  Parkinson's place of residence is given as North Hobart but he says he spends about half his time in Nubeena (which is within Prosser).  A Parkinson pamphlet includes the slogan "putting people first in Prosser"; "putting people first" having also been the Labor state election slogan.

Independent Jim Playsted (websiteFacebook) contested Lyons in 2010 for the Liberals, polling just over 4,000 primaries.   Recently however Playsted has appeared as an opponent of local fish-farming (more here) and has also disagreed with Liberal policies on pokies and the Taswater takeover.  He also cites social issues including same-sex marriage and euthanasia as causing him to feel "lonely" within the party, which he left in the last few years.  He describes himself as a "social democrat" and is campaigning with red signs.  Playsted lives within the electorate at Orford, and has extensive business experience in mining and industry equipment supplies. Playsted currently works for Hobart real estate firm Knight Frank.

Independent candidate Steve Mav (candidacy announcement - may be paywalled) contested Apsley in 2004 (placing third out of ten with 15% of the vote) and then scored another third place last year in Rumney with 18.6%, including a booth win at Primrose Sands.

Once a struggling Young Liberal student union and state Liberal candidate, Mav struck political paydirt with a campaign to rid Glenorchy pensioners of an Argentine ant infestation, and was elected to Glenorchy council in 2000, fourth out of six with almost a quota in his own right.  A similar vote saw him returned third in 2005. He resigned from the council four months after contentiously starting to work outside the state in mid-2008.

That work was in Western Australia, where Mav attracted much controversy as Chief Executive Officer for the Gumala Aboriginal Corporation.  See herehereherehereherehere (mostly paywalled) and many others. Mav describes the accusations against him as "Fake News" on account of the discontinuation of proceedings against him.  While in WA Mav also found time to run for office under his full name Mavrigiannakis, placing second in the 2015 mayoral contest for Victoria Park.  He states that while in WA he supported Labor.

In 2017 Mav chose to run an old-fashioned grassroots-style and sign campaign without any online presence, and he seems to be doing the same thing again this time, complete with a lot of sign-waving at passing motorists around Sorell.  We won't get websites or Twitter or Facebook, but he gave a typically Trumpian all-caps performance at the ABC radio debate.  Mav's nomination gives his place of residence as Orford, within the electorate (after being listed as from Cambridge when running for Rumney last year.)

Mav states that he will be a "pro-government independent" and that he will aim to help the government fulfill their election mandate to get things happening, and will support "most" government legislation.  He has also picked up on my suggestion to reform the LegCo chairmanship conventions.

Independent John The Duke Of Avram is a former state MP and Sorell councilor. The Duke became famous as founder of his own micronation which had a tourism "bank" in Strahan. He was elected to the state parliament as a Liberal for a single term in 1989, with the result being widely attributed to the primitive nature of Robson Rotation at the time favouring him on the preferences of Robin Gray.  The Duke was defeated at the next state election but was later briefly Deputy Mayor of Sorell.  He has no recent party involvements. In 2002 he ran for the position of Mayor but was not even elected as a Councillor, and he has since made unsuccessful attempts to get his Sorell council seat back.

Other independents and minor parties

Independent Kim Peart (Twitter, candidacy announcement) contested (in a technical sense) Lyons at the state election, polling 158 votes of which 33 came within the electorate of Prosser.  In a smaller field he'll do a lot better this time, but that's not saying much.  Peart, a visual artist from Ross, was once included in a list of Tasmania's 200 movers and shakers by someone who had overestimated how many movers and shakers Tasmania has.  That was on account of his bushland conservation work in the Clarence area, despite which he finished second last at the 2007 Clarence council election.  Peart is a frequent contributor of some very odd material to Tasmanian Times including not one, but yes, two articles complaining about my five-word description of him in my Lyons guide.  At this election Peart is on unusually orthodox territory, focusing mainly on housing issues.

Independent Scott Wiggins (Facebook, Linkedin) is a former Southern Midlands councillor from  1996 until a narrow defeat in 2002.  He has worked as a vehicle fleet manager and driver for the state government (including the current Leader, I take it he means Leonie Hiscutt) and has also managed a livestock farm. Wiggins is listed as living in Howrah which is just outside the electorate.

Independent Kelly Spaulding (Facebook) is the Deputy Mayor of Tasman Council.  He was first elected to the Council in 2002 for a single term, then next contested in 2014 when he was elected Deputy from off the council.  He is a lifelong resident of the Highcroft area, which is within the electorate.  His Facebook page lists him as owner of Lucky Ducks Cafe, Nubeena.  He has also worked in agriculture, forestry, fishing and tourism.  He is attempting to campaign by word of mouth and without election signage or pamphlets on the grounds of voters being sick of election season.

Independent Jo Bain (Facebook, Twitter) has a background in heritage conservation, environmental planning and agriculture and has served in the Army Reserve and as a volunteer firefighter.  Bain states she has "only become politically engaged in the last four or five years" and has campaigned against fracking.  She was the endorsed Greens candidate for Southern Midlands council in 2014, polling 3.8% (11th out of 12) but her membership of the Greens lapsed eighteen months ago.  Her place of residence is listed as Parattah, which is within Prosser.

Colin Harriss, a rural and remote social worker from New Norfolk (outside the electorate), is a candidate for the Tasmanians 4 Tasmania Party (Facebook), which contested two seats at the state election with a spectacular lack of success. Harriss has worked widely across the country and within rural Tasmania. To the best of my knowledge he's the only candidate who has not previously run for elected office in Tasmania.

Lorraine Bennett (announcement, SFF state election page) is the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate.  Bennett is a former recruitment consultant and Human Resources and recruitment manager.  Bennett is the party's state secretary and recently contested Denison at the state election, polling 1.8% in an electorate the party always polls badly in.  At that election her place of residence was given as Granton, which is slightly outside Prosser.

Campaign and Issues

Population growth in the Sorell area in southern Prosser has created traffic and transport issues which were effectively canvassed by Sarah Lovell in winning Rumney.  The Liberal government covered off on these, announcing a series of upgrades and reconstructions in the leadup to the state election, but it was not enough to stop a swing against it in the area.

Concern about fish farms was much hyped in the state election leadup but proved to be a total fizzer in issues polling and outside of directly affected booths.  Overall, the state election found the Liberals' employment, economy and majority government message resonating across most of Prosser.  Howlett has stated that if elected she sees her role to be helping the government deliver its mandate, a contrast to the typical concept of the Legislative Council as the house of review.

With both major parties contesting, the question of party members in the Legislative Council  has come under scrutiny.  The Liberals are claiming that Lambert would be just another Labor blocker while Labor will portray Howlett as just a rubber stamp.  Mulder, Mav, or any other effective independent, may well argue both of these things (Mulder with the neat line that "you can't mark your own homework", and Mulder has even been saying that "the conservatives" are more dangerous than Labor, though his own voting pattern has been conservative at times in the past.  Windermere MLC Ivan Dean, who I currently consider to be marginally to the right of the Liberal Party, has said it would be "a tragedy" if Labor won another seat.  Parkinson - in another of the strange adventures in mandate theory we've seen in Tasmania in the last few months - has claimed that the government has no mandate for its policies on poker machines on account of it having a one-seat majority.

Gun regulation is an issue in an electorate which includes farmers keen to control browsing wildlife, but also includes the sites of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.  The day before the state election, the government was revealed to have made undertakings to firearms groups concerning relaxation of some restrictions, but not to have made this public policy.  Opponents of the policy allege the proposed relaxation is dangerous while supporters maintain that the current restrictions are unnecessarily strict.  Tony Mulder supports the government's push to relax the laws, as does Mav who attacked "trendies in Hobart" over the issue.

In addressing criticism over the gun policy, the government stated that it had a large number of policies that had been disclosed to interest groups but not published.  (In political circles this is being referred to as their "200 secret policies" though one account suggested there were actually 170).  Labor have correctly said that full details of these "policies" have still not been released (what has been released is a list of questionnaires and similar requests to which the government responded, and also a list of projects funded).  Labor leader Rebecca White has said Labor wants to make sure the Upper House "isn't a rubber stamp" for policies that were not taken to the election.  My view is that the "200 secret policies" matter is of interest to politics junkies only and is unlikely to influence the result.

In early April, corflutes for Howlett, Lambert, Mulder and Mav were seen along the Midlands Highway, with Howlett's by far the commonest.  This doesn't necessarily mean anything, as Liberal corflutes outnumbered Labor's heavily at the 2016 federal election in the same area but the Liberals' result in that one was poor.  There have been reports of Mav waving signs on causeways around Sorell.

There has been some sparring between Mulder and Mav with Mulder calling Mav a "maverick" and highlighting Mav's Gumala issues, while Mav has called Mulder a "fake independent".  Mav has also described Playsted's views on fish farming as "Greens policies".

The government's proposed takeover of TasWater was supported by Mulder, Mav and (obviously) Howlett and opposed by Lambert and Playsted. This plan has now been shelved.

Howlett raised my eyebrows at least by being absent from the ABC Mornings radio debate on 26 April, as were Bennett and Spaulding. I have still seen no explanation for Howlett's absence.  17 minutes after the debate concluded, Howlett's Facebook page was updated with a call for mandatory sentencing for "paedophiles" (complete with petition), though it is unknown to me whether she posted it or someone else.

It is hard to say how the surprising events involving Sue Hickey being elected Speaker will impact on Prosser.  They are possibly very damaging for the government but on the other hand there could be a desire in the north to reject what some have seen as a Hobart power grab and show support for the government.

Overall, should the government fail to win the seat themselves, they could probably work with Mav or (after sufficient fence-mending) Mulder, but a win by Lambert or Parkinson would be a disaster for the government and they would also have major concerns about Playsted.


If the 2018 state election results were repeated, the Liberals would narrowly win after preferences, but majority government won't be a factor in an Upper House contest.  There is also the aversion of some voters for voting for party candidates in the Legislative Council at all, though that hasn't really been on display in the south of this electorate recently.

In 2014 the Liberals sought to turn the honeymoon effect from their win from Opposition into Legislative Council seats, as Jim Bacon's ALP had done before them, but they got a very rude surprise.  They failed to win the vacant seat of Huon or make a contest of it with Kerry Finch in Rosevears.  Was there anything systematic in the voters' rejections of the Liberal candidates, or were these results were really down to the nature of the specific contests?  Was Finch too entrenched for a relatively low-profile Liberal opponent to beat, and was Peter Hodgman coming out of long retirement to join his nephew's team a bridge too far for Huon voters?  In this case we know Howlett has polled well in this electorate this year, so if she doesn't win we can assume the anti-party or at least anti-government backlash in LegCo voting is too strong for a Liberal candidate to win in this electorate.

With the new electorate being neither especially right- or left-wing it seems to be an ideal stage for a high-profile populist or conservative independent.   Of the two long-standing prominent contenders, Mulder has the edge in profile from having served nearly half the electorate's voters as an MLC.  Mav is also known to these electors as a recent candidate who polled reasonably well, but the question will be his success level at building his profile across the electorate.  Both Mulder and Mav are controversial personalities, but Mulder at least has been campaigning for a very long time.

Playsted is less personally controversial and is quite well known within the electorate (indeed he is the most prominent contender who lives in it!), one question being whether he can build enough primary vote support in a four-week campaign. He is certainly trying.  Another question with Playsted is what voters will make of the change in his issues positions since the former Liberal now opposes the Government across a wide range of issues likely to come before the Council.

With a similarly late announcement I am not sure whether Parkinson is still high-profile enough to pose a threat (especially having formerly been an MP for an entirely different electorate), but it will be interesting to see how the pro-Labor vote splits between him and the endorsed ALP candidate Lambert.  The remaining independents and minor party candidates don't have much profile between them and I doubt any of the remainder will break 10%.  Spaulding deserves a brief mention here because at least he can actually win his local council seat (unlike a few of the others), but that said his council is a small one.

It would be a really odd result if Labor were to win Prosser after being trounced in the state election, but it shouldn't be dismissed too readily.  Prosser is more Labor-friendly than Pembroke, which Labor won in 2017, and Labor may be suited by the campaign spending limits (which favour volunteer ground campaigns) and by the majority government issue no longer being in play. 

With a very large field of candidates there will be large swings "against" the major parties compared to the state election, and probably a long preference distribution to establish the winner as it is unlikely anyone will poll anything remotely near 50% on primaries. If either major party is eliminated their preferences will flow to whatever independents remain in the race over the other major party, which might allow a lead of, say, 10% for the other major party to be closed down, but if it ends up being Labor-vs-Liberal then preferences might not do all that much.

This is the most open LegCo race in many years in terms of the number of candidates who are capable, if they campaign well and things go right for them, of winning.  However perhaps it is too open for the indies - the sheer number of them could make it hard for any of them to poll a big enough primary vote to win.  This matters because while there will be some pooling of preferences between the indies, preference flows in the LegCo these days are not terribly strong. Also, since voters are only required to number three boxes there will be a significant exhaust rate.  Probably, the winning candidate will only need to reach a total vote of around 43% after preferences to be sure of crossing the line.

(A historical note here: Robert Armstrong's victory in Huon in 2014, overturning a Liberal Party lead of 5.7% on primaries, was the largest lead overturned since 1966.  However early in the 20th century there were several cases of double-digit leads being overturned on preferences.)

Readers of this site have Howlett favourite, strongly. She has a good chance of polling a primary vote that is ahead of Lambert and too far ahead of the indies for any of them to catch her. It's conceivable that Howlett will bolt in, but it's also conceivable that enough voters will plump for independence, her primary won't be that high and there will be a long and very messy cutup to determine the last one standing.

Also see

Tally Room guide
ABC Mornings Prosser debate (candidates start at 39:40)



  2. "Was there was anything systematic..."

    thanks for all your work, Kevin

  3. A good thirty years ago, Peart was, I believe, running The Viking Society of Tasmania. He made swords and chainmail I recall.


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