Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Another One's Gone: Rene Hidding Resignation And Replacement

Just another post to cover off on another Hare-Clark recount coming up for the Tasmanian House Of Assembly.

Former Opposition Leader Rene Hidding has resigned from parliament in dramatic circumstances. This comes days after Matthew Denholm in The Australian published reports that an unnamed woman had made historic sexual abuse claims and various related claims against an unnamed man (who could be identified by elimination, based on the details provided, as being Hidding).  Hidding has very strongly denied the accusations and has counter-claimed that his accuser has fabricated the claims in order to cause him damage as part of a family dispute.  He also says he intends to seek redress against The Australian, though the article did report that he had denied all aspects of the allegations.

Whatever the truth of these matters (a subject on which I have no information) Rene Hidding is entitled to be presumed innocent.  Having to fight these accusations is obviously a major distraction, and he was expected to retire from politics at the end of this term if not before anyway.  The claims also have a political dimension because Denholm reported the accuser as having claimed to have reported the matter to police in 2014, but Denholm also said the police had no record of this.  For much of 2014, the Police Minister was Rene Hidding - so had he remained in parliament it is likely the Opposition would have hammered the government about this aspect of the claims, and conspiracy theories would have flourished. [Update: The woman involved now says she first contacted police in 2013, when Labor's David O'Byrne was Police Minister.]

Anyway this recount will be extremely straightforward, providing that Break O'Day councillor and farmer John Tucker contests.  He recently had his hand up for Senate preselection (unsuccessfully), but has not yet confirmed his availability. [Update: He has now done so.]

The reason this one will be a snooze if Tucker runs, is that Tucker is the only Liberal remaining on the Lyons ballot.  Three of the five Liberal candidates were elected, and a fourth (Jane Howlett) was since elected to the Legislative Council seat of Prosser.

The votes to be used in the recount are those Rene Hidding had when he reached quota in the Lyons count.  Everything else about the original count, including Janet Lambert (ALP) missing out by a very small margin in a within-party contest, is irrelevant.

Hidding's votes (after his adjustment down to quota were):

* 8504 votes that were 1 Hidding
* 973 votes received from John Tucker (Lib) - these may in cases be 1 for a different candidate to Tucker
* 1135 votes received from Jane Howlett (Lib) (ditto)
* 426 votes received from the late Michael Kent (JLN) (ditto)
* 500 votes received from various other sources

Total 11538

Ignoring all the rest, Tucker only needs 68% of the 1 Hidding votes to reach him ahead of any non-Liberal candidate to alone ensure his victory, and he will get that easily.  The outcome should be known on the first day of counting, and though I initially had doubts about whether the recount could be finished in that time, I now think it should be.  The number of actual ballot papers in Hidding's recount shouldn't be that much larger than his quota, because only one candidate (White) was elected before him, and not that many of her ballot papers left the Labor ticket.

Deep Waters 

However, assuming Tucker does indeed nominate and win, the Liberals are now down to their last line of defence in Lyons for the term.  They will need all of Guy Barnett, Mark Shelton and Tucker to stay there for the rest of the term.  If any of these vacate their seats prematurely then there will be serious problems.  In that cases the Government's various unenviable options would include:

* using the never-used fallback provision in this circumstance: the vacating party that lacks willing candidates from the original election can cause a single-seat by-election to be held.  (I really hope I live to see one of those!)

* Jane Howlett could resign her Upper House seat in order to shore up the government's majority (but this would cause a by-election for Prosser which the government could lose)

* the Government could allow a recount anyway, thereby in theory losing its majority, but perhaps in practice making the replacement an offer too good to refuse to come on board as a Liberal.  A difficulty with this concept is that the most obvious contender (Kent) having died, it's as clear as mud who would win such a recount (I couldn't even rule out that it could be a Labor candidate.)

* depending on when it happened, they might ask for an early election.

Anyway, we'll cross that bridge if we come to it, and the government will be dearly hoping we don't.  This is a relevant issue in the 25 vs 35 seat debate - the 25 seat system creates this risk of a major party running out of candidates, that in the 35 seat system basically does not exist.

A problem the Government has right now is timing - the process for the recount requires a ten-day period for candidates to decide whether to nominate after the notice is published.  The recount will not be held until March 12th, the day on which Parliament resumes.  So it looks like the government could be down one member on that day, and could be briefly requiring a pair from the Opposition to avoid being repeatedly voted down or having to attempt to prorogue Parliament.

White Rules Out No-Confidence Motion: Labor is still considering whether to grant a pair for the vacancy, having not received a formal request for one yet.  Labor leader Rebecca White has indicated Labor will not take advantage of temporary numbers to pass a no-confidence motion.  In any case as the loss of confidence would be temporary, the Premier would be in a position to advise the Governor that he expected to regain confidence shortly and should not be decommissioned.  Anne Twomey here (PDF) is worth a read both on temporary loss of confidence issues and also on the Governor's discretion to refuse a prorogation request.

I have searched for precedents for pairing of vacancies in previous Tasmanian one-seat majority parliaments but it does not appear this situation arose in either the 1976-1979 or 1989-1992 parliaments, the last two such cases.  There was a government vacancy in each of these parliaments but neither vacancy (Bill Neilsen and Ken Wriedt respectively) appears to have overlapped sitting time in this way.  In the federal House of Representatives the Government did not receive pairs for the temporary vacancies in Bennelong and New England pending by-elections, and was reliant for numbers on the floor on Joyce winning his by-election in record time in order to return to parliament and vote.  In the Senate, however, pairs may be granted pending the filling of a vacancy by a joint sitting of state parliament.  The Senate situation is more similar to this one, as the outcome of the vacancy is a foregone conclusion based on experience of such recounts, while the outcome of a by-election is a matter of speculation.

The 1989-1992 parliament saw much bickering about pairing arrangements, especially involving the then Green Independents who supported the government.  The Liberal Opposition led by Robin Gray maintained that independents could not be paired (unless the government wanted to pair them of course) and said it would only pair them when it felt like it.  So at times the Greens did receive pairs for illness or to attend funerals.  But the Hansard of 27 April 1990 (pp 625-6) records discussion in which it appears that the House, originally to sit on the Tuesday of a given week, was postponed to the Thursday on account of the Opposition refusing to grant a pair to Bob Brown (surrounding overseas travel, though he was in any case back in the state by the time).  So it appears there is precedent for the Government unilaterally altering the sitting dates without needing to prorogue the House.

6:00 Tuesday: Will Hodgman has announced that the return of Parliament will be delayed by a week because of the situation. "An updated sitting schedule will be developed with no reduction in the number of sitting days."

Proroguing (Wednesday)

It turns out that parliament has been prorogued.  This involves the Governor shutting down parliamentary processes; there are ceremonial processes and re-introduction processes for business to be observed when parliament resumes on March 19th.

Parliament is prorogued before elections.  Aside from that it used to be routine on a roughly annual basis over the summer break; the last record of a routine prorogation I can find is 2008.  This practice was dispensed with.  Excluding what are or were routine prorogations, there was the famous Harry Holgate case in 1981-2 (after losing his majority, Holgate was able to convince the Governor to close the parliament for 3 1/2 months on account of the pending Dams referendum.  Upon parliament resuming, his government fell.)  Also in early 1990, Michael Field had parliament prorogued to avoid bringing it back earlier than intended to fill an Australian Democrats Senate vacancy (thanks to the source who advised me of this).  The sitting day change in 1990 mentioned above does not seem to have been a prorogation.  The possibility of an extra-normal prorogation was canvassed extensively late in 1991 with the government in the process of falling and resource security legislation being supported by both major parties, but as far as I can tell it didn't happen.


  1. there was a Denison by election I think in 1980s but this is contrary to the principles of having a pr system of election

    1. The Denison by-election 1980 was for all seats in Denison as a result of three elected Labor candidates at the original election being found to have exceeded spending limits. So it was a PR by-election.

  2. thanks hard to remember back to 1980