Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Legislative Council 2019: Montgomery

Montgomery (Lib vs IND 5.49% - pre-redistribution margin)
Incumbent: Leonie Hiscutt (Liberal)

Welcome to the third of my three Legislative Council guide pages this year.  The one for the most interesting-looking contest, the Nelson vacancy, has been doing business for some time, and Pembroke was posted a few days back.  I will be updating my voting patterns assessment as well but am waiting for the upcoming session to complete in view of the lack of data in the last 12 months so far, so I expect to do that update in the third week of April. [EDIT: I ran out of time to do this before the election!]

And there will be live coverage here of all three seats on the night of the election,  Saturday May 4th.

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

(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 amount of available/(in my view) interesting material.)

Seat Profile

Montgomery (see map) is a regional/rural electorate on the north-west coast.  Following a recent redistribution, it includes the Central Coast municipality with the large town of Ulverstone and the town of Penguin, the western side of Kentish municipality including the rural town of Sheffield, and the south-eastern suburbs of Burnie.  It also includes a large number of small rural and bush localities.

The redistribution, removing much of Burnie from the seat, has made the new Montgomery a very conservative electorate at state elections.  At the 2018 state election the Liberal Party recorded 55.6% of the primary vote, Labor 28.9%, the Jacqui Lambie Network 6.4%, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers 2.3% and the Greens a mere 3.9%.   The Liberals topped every single booth and failed to break 50% in just four (three of them in what of Burnie remains in the electorate).  This was despite some significant swings against the party on the primary vote in small hinterland booths.  However, in a sign of how Tasmanians separate state and federal elections, the seat wasn't especially conservative at its most recent federal outings.  The combined 2PP from the 2018 Braddon by-election (where there was basically no 2PP swing) and, for the two Lyons booths, 2016 was actually 51.9% to Labor - basically the Braddon average.

Montgomery has had only two representatives in its 20-year existence, the fairly conservative independent Sue Smith and now the Liberal incumbent.  It straddles parts of the former divisions of Meander and West Devon, which were both never won by party-endorsed candidates.  The independents who won them, however, included some who were so reactionary that they continued to oppose repealing Tasmania's ridiculous and appalling anti-gay laws of the time, even when most of the parliamentary Liberal Party was in favour of repealing said laws.

The Central Coast has changed greatly since those days, but it's still hardly a socialist's paradise.  Labor's campaign at the 2018 state election fell flat here in an area that will long be much more concerned about jobs, jobs, jobs than inner city preoccupations such as getting rid of poker machines.

Incumbent

Leonie Hiscutt (Liberal) (Facebook, parliament page, candidacy announcement) is defending the seat for the first time.  Hiscutt contested Braddon for the Liberals at the 2010 state election, polling a solid 2715 votes.  She was then preselected for Montgomery, a vacancy on the retirement of Sue Smith.  Hiscutt polled 45.9% in a field of four, and although preference flows quite strongly favoured her main opponent Cheryl Fuller, Hiscutt was much too far ahead to be caught.

Hiscutt had a background in farming and as a tourism operator and had been President of the Central Coast Chamber of Commerce before her election.  She is also a marriage celebrant.  In 2017 she became Leader for the Government and at least initially relied heavily on advisers, lacking her predecessor Vanessa Goodwin's legal background.  Hiscutt was much more conservative on social issues than Goodwin, and unabashedly describes her politics simply with the word "Conservative" on Facebook.  In material available online, Hiscutt runs heavily on her credentials and local connections with relatively few policy comments.  She has flagged support for small business and local jobs as priorities.

Differences of political opinion aside, some controversy involving Hiscutt in her first term has centred on complex road access disputes involving properties owned by the Hiscutt family.  One dispute, involving a long-term member of her own party, resulted in a complaint to the Integrity Commission.  The complaint was dismissed, but Labor has suggested the matter should be reopened.  Recently a second complaint was aired in local media.

The Hiscutt name is prominent in the area's politics.  Hiscutt's husband's uncle Hugh Hiscutt was MLC for West Devon 1983-1995.  He was succeeded by his brother Des Hiscutt from 1995-1999 (the last two years as MLC for the short-lived Emu Bay division).  Leonie Hiscutt lives at Howth, within the electorate.

Hiscutt has attracted some criticism from Labor for having a sign for independent federal election candidate Craig Brakey (an unsuccessful aspirant for Liberal preselection) on her property  as well as a sign for the official Liberal candidate.  According to Hiscutt, her husband arranged the sign for Brakey.

Challengers

Michelle Rippon (Labor) (candidacy announcement) is the first endorsed Labor candidate for this electorate.  Rippon has been a primary school teacher for around 30 years, currently teaching in Devonport just outside the electorate.  She is an Australian Education Union branch councillor who was named as delegate of the year last year.  Rippon is campaigning on a wide range of issues including teacher pay rises, cost of living pressures, jobs, health care, education and training, and community wellbeing.  Rippon's preselection was announced in December last year.  A quick impression from videos online is that Rippon is a very direct campaigner who doesn't mess about when it comes to attacking the Hodgman government, which she accuses of governing for some of the voters but not all of them.

I am unaware of Rippon having any previous electoral form.  Also, while she is a long-standing resident of the North-West Coast, I am not sure at this stage whether or not she lives within the electorate.

Cheryl Fuller (Independent) (candidacy announcement, council page) was the main challenger to Hiscutt in 2013. Fuller was a Central Coast councillor from 2007-2014 including as Deputy Mayor from 2011-2014.  She works in a small manufacturing business.  In 2018 she returned to the Council running second on the councillor ballot and a narrow second on the mayoral ballot, defeated 48-52 by former federal Liberal candidate Garry Carpenter.  Fuller is also a former Cradle Coast Advisory Chair and at one time a staffer for Jacqui Lambie.  She has no known current party links but at one stage joined the Palmer United Party (prior to its split with Lambie).

As of the 2013 election, Fuller self-described as "somewhere in the middle" politically.  At that election she supported state-based same-sex marriage and the forestry peace deal, and was attacked by the Liberals during the campaign over these stances.  Fuller is running on the independence of the Legislative Council, but is also suggesting it needs to become more interventionist, for instance in the current public sector wages dispute.  She has also promoted more scrutiny of government business enterprises and environmental issues including waste management and water use. Fuller lives at West Ulverstone, within the electorate.

Brenton Jones (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers) (candidacy announcement, linkedin) was also a Shooters candidate for Braddon at the state election, polling 330 votes; the party as a whole polled 2.5% in Braddon.  He is a launch master and marine engineer who currently works transporting people on Lake St Clair and has previously worked in similar jobs on the west coast and overseas.  He holds various relevant Australian Maritime College qualifications.  Jones' campaign announcement runs a basically populist line against inequalities of power and influence, and also argues that tourism should be able to co-exist with industries such as forestry and fish-farming without conflict.  Jones hails from Melrose, just outside the electorate.

Issues

You can hear the candidates debate each other on ABC Radio here.

Issues being raised in the campaign will be noted here as I become aware of them.

Public service pay:  A Labor campaign in this seat with an AEU candidate ensures that the current issue of public service pay is on the agenda for Montgomery.  Stop-work meetings have been called in various sectors of the public service (including schools in this area in early April) as part of a campaign for greater pay rises.  The AEU is seeking a 3% pay rise per year for teachers for the next three years while the government has offered 2%, 2.5% and 2.5% for the three years, an offer which has been rejected.

Mt Roland Cableway: The proposed cableway and bike track development for Mt Roland is much less controversial than its kunanyi/Mt Wellington cousin, but it still has a modest collection of opponents anyway.  These have been slammed by Hiscutt who rarely misses an opportunity to get stuck into forces that she considers to be anti-development.

(Hiscutt has also tried to link Labor to Greens positions on the environment and other matters more generally, but the Greens were not impressed, accusing Labor of being AWOL on the environment.)

Health: Health has become prominent in the last week of the campaign against the backdrop of a no-confidence motion against Health Minister Michael Ferguson.  Hiscutt's and Rippon's responses predictably fall along party lines while Fuller is critical both of the government's management of health and of time spent on parliamentary theatre surrounding it instead of solving the problems.

Campaign

Notes on the campaign will be added here if I become aware of anything worth mentioning - though I don't expect to be in this electorate during the election (unlike the other two).  The election is likely to be overshadowed by the federal election. For this reason, among others, Labor's decision to preselect and start running well out from the election makes sense.  Labor doorknocking teams including various MPs both state and federal have been out and about for some time, while Hiscutt has done some doorknocking around parliamentary commitments.

Rippon and Labor more generally jumped on Hiscutt saying she "can't put her finger on anything in particular" as a specific achievement after six years in the Legislative Council.

Prospects

My first thought in looking at the state results for this seat was that one could just about call it off the redistribution, but it isn't quite that simple.

The lopsided result in the redistributed seat at the state election suggests Hiscutt should hold Montgomery easily unless Labor can succeed in fundamentally changing the nature of the contest.  Federal results show the seat isn't beyond hope for Labor, but Tasmanians normally strongly separate federal and state issues.  Unless they stop doing so, or unless there is a massive by-election style backlash against the Liberals, then Hiscutt will retain.  And indeed, incumbents usually do retain in these elections, though a few have been kicked out in recent years.

Labor do have factors in their favour.  Firstly, unlike in 2013, Hiscutt no longer has the advantage of tilting against a Labor-Green state government that was greatly disliked in the region.  Secondly, unlike at the 2018 state election, Labor has abandoned its poker machines policy, so we may get to see what a Labor campaign free of that distraction (and the third-party spending against them that came with it) looks like.  Thirdly, if there was ever an opportunity to transfuse federal issues into a Legislative Council campaign this would have to be it.  But there are plenty of Tasmanian voters who are very capable of voting Liberal one week (or fortnight) in one election, and Labor at the next. And it is likely that Hiscutt's 2013 result would have been even stronger (probably over 60:40) had her main opposition been Labor rather than an independent.

Fuller's candidacy - announced only on the day nominations close - will be an interesting test of how those voters who did not vote for the Liberals last time see the issue of independence in the Legislative Council.  Rippon has been running prominently for months so even a close battle for second would have to give Labor cause for concern (should that occur).  Fuller is well established in the area's politics and shouldn't be taken lightly but may struggle to get traction with less than a month's campaign amid the noise of the federal election.

I'm expecting Hiscutt to retain.  If the margin is about the same as last time and Labor is second, then there's nothing to see here.  If it "swings" substantially to either party, that's a pretty good result for the party that it swings to - but not too much should be read into it unless it falls or is seriously close, or on the other hand is over say 58-42.  (Or, in Labor's case, if they don't make the final two at all.)

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