Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Legislative Council 2022: Huon

HUON (Vacant, 2020 margin ALP vs IND 7.31%)

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This is my second seat guide to the Tasmanian Legislative Council for this year.  My guide to Elwick is up and a guide to McIntyre has been added now that Tania Rattray has opponents.    

I hope to find time to update my voting patterns analysis for the Council before the election as well, though that may be difficult given that there is a federal election impending.

I will be doing live coverage of the Legislative Council elections on this site on election night, Saturday May 7.  

For several years the Liberal government has had a difficult upper house to deal with.  The current numbers are four Liberal, two mildly right of centre independents, four Labor, four left independents, and one ex-Labor vacancy.  The good news for the government is that unless Rattray somehow loses to someone to the left of her, this year is a free swing, and the pressure is on Labor.

Huon is a by-election.  The winner will serve the remainder of Bastian Seidel's six-year term and face the voters again in 2026.  


Seat Profile

Huon (see map) includes the Huon Valley, the D'Entrecasteaux Channel, Bruny Island, part of Blackmans Bay and Huntingfield. In recent decades occupants have usually been conservative and have often had Liberal Party connections.  Past incumbents have included the Hodgman brothers Michael (Former Premier Will's father) and Peter, who won it as independents in their late 20s before going on to bigger things as Liberals.   Paul Harriss, whose LegCo career was bookended by Liberal runs, held the seat as a conservative independent for three terms from 1996, in which time nobody came close to unseating him.  When Harriss switched to the Lower House in 2014, Peter Hodgman tried to win his old seat back for the party, and was blown away on preferences by then Huon Valley mayor Robert Armstrong.  Armstrong was a very conservative independent whose voting behaviour almost never gave the Liberal Party any cause for concern.  In 2020 Armstrong in turn was heavily defeated by Bastian Seidel (Labor), the first time Labor had won the seat since the 1940s.

Huon is one of the greener Legislative Council electorates.  The Channel area including Bruny Island has a huge Green vote at Lower House elections, and the Greens topped the booths of Alonnah, Cygnet and Woodbridge in 2021.  Even in the party's worst booths in the seat (the old timber areas of Geeveston and Dover) the party still exceeds its state average.  The Blackmans Bay area, the only urban area in the division, is fairly socially conservative.  In 2021 Huon voters voted 39.7% Liberal, 29.2% Labor, 24.2% Green with 6.9% for others at booths within the electorate.  At federal elections Huon votes strongly Labor on a 2PP basis, as does the rest of Franklin generally.

Elections in Huon often see "favourite son" voting with strong local concentrations of support for candidates near where they live (the 2014 contest had a lot of this especially.)

Outgoing Incumbent

The outgoing incumbent is Dr Bastian Seidel, who won the seat by a large margin in a huge triumph for Labor in 2020.  Seidel's campaign especially focused on rural services including dangerous roads in the electorate. However following Labor's 2021 factional wars, Seidel announced in August 2021 that he would leave the ALP caucus immediately and resign the seat in the near future, citing toxic infighting, disillusionment with politics and self-interested leaking of stories to the media.  While I have not yet formally reviewed Seidel's voting patterns after that decision, I expect to find that from that point on he voted more like the left independents.  (In February 2021 Seidel had also been the subject of an article in The Australian concerning a dismissed medical sexual assault complaint against him, but it attracted little attention locally and there is no evidence known to me that it played a role in his departure.)

Seidel formally resigned on 7 January, allowing the by-election to take place alongside the regular elections for McIntyre and Elwick.  Among Seidel's achievements in his brief time in office was a significant role as a doctor in the passage of Mike Gaffney's voluntary assisted dying bill.  

Candidates (5)

(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. Any differences in the length of different candidate sections reflect differences in amount of available/(in my view) interesting material; candidate sections tend to be longer when candidates have past electoral form.)

Candidates are listed in order of announcement. Candidates have given their residence as in the electorate unless noted otherwise.

Pat Caplice (Local Party) (FacebookTwitter, candidacy announcementFacebook (personal)is best known as a prominent anti-pokies activist and founder of the Rein In The Pokies lobby group.  He has worked as "a labourer, a barman, a chef and small business owner" and "operated a statewide ITC business [and] production management company", and has himself been a professional blackjack player and gambling colleague of David Walsh of MONA fame.  Caplice is currently a "stay-at-home dad" (a doctor's husband, no less.)  His candidacy was announced in October 2021.  Caplice is a #politas Twitter regular who has been a keen supporter of my election coverage.

Toby Thorpe (Labor) (Instagram, linkedin, Twitter) was a candidate for Labor in the 2021 state election for Franklin.  On debut he polled 1753 votes (7.6% of Labor's Frankin total), but his share of Labor's total rose to 16.8% in booths within Huon and he was the highest-polling Labor candidate at four Huon booths: Huonville, Ranelagh, Geeveston, Franklin.  It is no surprise to find he is a  Huonville High School alumnus.  

Thorpe was 2021 Tasmanian Young Australian of the Year and is a public speaker and climate and community advocate and consultant with a long list of recent youth, climate and education engagements.  He is currently an Economics and Arts student at the University of Tasmania. Several reviews reached me of Thorpe's campaigning skills during the 2021 election and they were about three parts 'really impressive ... major future Labor star' to one part 'he is in the wrong party' (the suggestion being he would fit well in the Greens.)  

Gideon Cordover (Greens) (party page, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube) has been a Kingborough Councillor since 2019 when he was elected on a casual vacancy recount on the resignation of fellow Green Richard Atkinson.  He was the party's candidate in the 2021 mayoral by-election, finishing third.  He was also the party's #2 candidate in Franklin at the 2021 state election, but was slightly outpolled by the other minor Greens (polling 606 primary votes) and was the first Green excluded.  Cordover is a NIDA graduate, is a board director for not-for-profits including Gymnastics Tasmania, and has worked for the Heart Foundation and Anglicare and in "small business, building tiny houses".  

Aldo Antolli (Liberal) (linkedin, candidacy announcement, Instagram) is the CEO of Pathways Tasmania, a charity which works to improve the lives of homeless people and people experiencing drug and alcohol addictions and mental health issues, and is involved in running a long-term alcohol and drug treatment facility.  Antolli has also worked within the disability sector for the NSW government and the not-for-profit sector.  He has a degree in psychology and has also worked in early EFTPOS processing, in recruitment for the banking and finance sectors, in the airline industry and in IT and business team-building,  He moved to Tasmania in 2015.  I believe that Antolli lives at Kingston Beach, slightly outside the Huon boundary.  There are some indicators that Antolli may be socially conservative - eg he signed a 2018 petition against Dark Mofo's inverted crosses, and is described as "wonderful" by Senator Eric Abetz.  Indeed Abetz (facing his own major electoral challenge in a few weeks) has been campaigning with him.  

Dean Harriss (Independent) (candidacy announcement) is a Huonville builder and project manager and the son of former MLC and MLA Paul Harriss (who held the seat from 1996 to 2014).  He is also a third-generation A-grade cricketer.  During the 2020 campaign Harriss cast himself as a generational change alternative to the then incumbent Armstrong, but with similar positions including support for the forestry and aquaculture industries.  He stated in-principle support for dying with dignity legislation.  Harriss was fourth on primaries with 16.1% but after preferences was third, only 1.1% behind Armstrong who was a very distant second to Seidel.  Other issues canvassed by Harriss have included affordable housing, "red tape" affecting housing developments and traffic.   Harris's campaign this time around is endorsed by Armstrong.  

Others (if any) will be added when known.  

Issues

Pokies:  The presence of Caplice on the ballot guarantees that pokies will be talked about in this campaign, though Huon is not as central to the debate as Elwick (which has more pokies and a recontesting ALP incumbent.)  Harriss has also supported Seidel's stance on harm minimisation during the debate.  Thorpe came off badly in the ABC Mornings episode and had to resort to defending Labor as working as a team (and not always making decisions he would like).  For more info see Elwick guide.  

ALP Malaise: Huon saw a lot of Labor's 2021 omnishambles - the initial senseless blocking of Dean Winter's preselection, the fleeting rise and squalid fall of David O'Byrne as party leader and the resignation of Seidel.  Harriss in particular has already attacked Labor as "sidetracked on internal matters".  But will voters judge Labor for this or has the caravan moved on?

Liberal Chaos: That said the Government is not in great shape at present either, having lost a Premier and two Ministers in two months, with the resignations of Ministers Courtney and Howlett both sparking some controversy.  The party also declined an opportunity for gender or geographic balance in its leadership team.  This will be the first electoral test for the party under new Premier Rockliff following these events.

COVID: Huon is the only seat so far with a Labor/Liberal contest (I believe the first time it has had one) and hence it is a chance for voters to speak their mind about the current spread of COVID in Tasmania following reopening and how the government has handled it.  The government was whacked, most likely on account of this, in the opening EMRS poll of this year, but still had a substantial primary vote lead over Labor.   

Housing: Huon looms as more part of the solution than the problem in Tasmania's ongoing housing affordability problems, with ongoing discussion of land releases around Huntingfield for example. 

Independence: The Legislative Council used to be primarily independent but in recent years party candidates have been more and more successful, reaching a record nine MLCs (60%) after the Liberal Party's victory in Windermere in 2021.  With a Labor seat vacant, here is a chance for voters to roll the clock back by one seat, but will they take it?  (Harriss countered Labor over the issue last time but to no avail.)  Antolli has claimed that the left independents all had left/green involvements prior to politics; in the case of Ruth Forrest I am not aware of any. 

More issues will be added as time permits.  

Campaign

The Feelgood Factor: In an election where a gambling-addiction activist was the first announced candidate, all the other parties so far running have selected candidates with a record of community work and strong social good credentials.  The Liberals have even advertised Antolli with the slogan "service not self-interest" though if they are implying their competitors are self-interest I am not sure what target that is hitting.  I'm not expecting too much spicy stuff from party candidates this election (though Harriss has already shown a willingness to sink the boot in).  

What On Earth Is The Local Party? The Local Party, which endorsed its first candidate for this election, may be a source of some confusion.  While being a formally registered party that endorses candidates at both state and federal elections, it also claims (and completely fails to convince me) that its candidates are independents.  A Local Party video early in the campaign was modified slightly; Caplice says a Liberal staffer said that presenting candidates as independents breached the Tasmanian Electoral Act. As best I know this has not been tested under law, but it's plausible depending on context that some cases of claiming an endorsed party candidate was an "independent" would fall foul.   

The Local Party prides itself on giving anyone it ever gets elected a conscience vote on everything, but this is really not much different to the status of Liberal backbenchers (it is Labor that is the odd one out in this regard).  For those unfamiliar with the Local Party, it is generally left-populist in its policy focus but has a few distinctive trimmings.  Candidates must live in their electorates, with existing community involvements, and must commit to holding citizens' juries to inform their decision-making.  There are obvious tensions between the party's expectations that candidates will be evidence-based and committed to certain issue stances (implying deselection for future elections if not) and the claim that MPs will not be told how to vote.  Nonetheless it will be interesting in coming elections to see if the novelty value of this outfit which has some experienced campaigners behind it has any traction (especially among voters for Greens or greenish independents.)

More campaign notes may be added later.  

Prospects

Huon 2022 is an interesting contest.  It's so easy to make a case that all the candidates will lose.  Harriss seems to be the media favourite but the mechanics of getting him into the top two are not simple.

Labor won Huon comfortably in 2020 and if voters vote similarly they will win it again off the back of Green and Local Party preferences.  Labor's electoral record in southern Tasmanian LegCo elections in recent years has been excellent.  However Seidel may have been an exceptional candidate (we have seen similar examples of Labor local doctor power such as Mike Freelander in Macarthur and Michael Holland in Bega) and there is the question of how much damage the party's brand may have suffered.  Thorpe has already run for parliament once with reasonable results, is locally based, and does seem capable of winning if things go well for the party.  If elected he would be the youngest MLC ever by several years (Michael Hodgman and Peter McKay were 27), something opponents will be bound to (subtly) use against him.

Antolli for the Liberals is well-credentialed but not so well-known, having arrived in the state in 2015.   The Liberal party vote tends to be significantly lower in the upper house than the lower house and it is hence not certain whether Antolli will hold enough of the diminished state election Liberal vote to finish in the final two.  Even if he does, it seems challenging for him to get enough lead to hold off likely adverse preference flows.  He seems a good fit for the urban fringe of the electorate; it will be interesting to see how he plays in the rest of it.  

If Harriss makes the final two he could expect a stronger flow of whichever major party is excluded's preferences than the other way around.  Indeed if it is Harriss vs Antolli, Antolli will probably need a double-digit lead to survive.  This plus a decent first-up showing in 2020 suggests that Harriss, if he campaigns strongly enough, is a contender.  But we have also seen that when both major parties are running it can be challenging for independents to make it to the final two (as seen with Will Smith in Windermere last year, albeit against higher-profile opposition).  There are also doubts about whether Harris's campaign is on the same scale as Thorpe's and Antolli's.

On the left, Caplice and Cordover will compete to at least a moderate degree for the same votes, and Cordover is a recently elected Councillor whose state election vote suggests he is still rather low-profile.  Thus I suspect the Green vote will be substantially lower than the state election Green vote for the seat (matching their 17.5% from 2020 would be a decent showing).  While Caplice's vote is harder to predict, I will be surprised if either threatens Labor's place in the final two.  Should Caplice poll well, I would tend to view it more as a personal/issue-based vote than a federal election predictor for the Local Party, as minor parties often do much better in small contests than the Senate.  

1 comment:

  1. Hiya Dr Bonham
    Could you just add one link on my profile
    Candidate FB page https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100075904917788
    Keep my personal one too but note it as Personal FB page.
    Ta
    Pat

    Imagine how different Tassie would be if I hadn't had a good run in the clubs in South Africa back in the nineties. No Mona. (LOL) And it was a hell of a lot more than $20k

    ReplyDelete