THOSE in two of Tasmania’s fifteen Legislative Council seats who actually remember to vote (habitually, rather a large number don’t) will go to the polls on 5 May to decide whether to reappoint Labor MLC Allison Ritchie (Pembroke) and Liberal-leaning independent MLC Jim Wilkinson (Nelson).  Both Ritchie and Wilkinson will be re-elected easily.

A third seat, Montgomery, was to have been contested, but sitting MLC Sue Smith has been returned unopposed.  Smith was first elected to the now abolished seat of Leven in a 1997 by-election, polling 37.9% in a field of five and winning on preferences.  In the 2002 election for the new seat of Montgomery, Smith polled 51.7% on primaries against three challengers and this result has rightly convinced potential opponents that Smith is quite unbeatable.  Even the Greens have not bothered needlessly sending voters to the polls (as they did in an unremarkable result when challenging Greg Hall in nearby Rowallan last year). 

In Pembroke, Labor Left MLC Allison Ritchie defends her Hobart eastern shore seat for the first time after spectacularly winning it from incumbent (and then Clarence Mayor) Cathy Edwards in a two-candidate race in 2001. Ritchie’s margin of nearly 54:46 reversed the two-candidate-preferred margin by which Edwards had defeated Lara Giddings in the 1999 by-election, and represented a seat-winning 7.6% swing to the ALP.  This swing in what had previously been a Liberal-leaning seat is generally attributed to very strong campaigning by Ritchie and controversy over Edwards’ ability to hold the positions of MLC and Mayor of Clarence at the same time. Notably, Ritchie was, at the time of her election, the youngest ever MLC at age 26.

This time Ritchie faces five challengers, of whom at least four appear to be running to boost their profiles for local government.  These four are Clarence aldermen Richard James and John Peers and former Clarence alderman David Jackson, and Hobart alderman Marti Zucco (who resides within the electorate).  The remaining candidate is the Greens’ Neil Smith. 

James has run in so many elections (variously as a Liberal, Democrat or independent) that it would take several pages to attempt to list them all.  He ran for this seat in 1989 (polling 30.5% out of four candidates), 1995 (32.6% of 3), and 1999 (13.26% of 5) but not in 2001.  In the 2002 Clarence aldermanic election he polled 9.8% (compare Edwards’ 38.9% even following her defeat as an MLC), a significant drop from the 12.8% he polled in 1999, when he was second elected.  Running for Deputy Mayor of Clarence in 2005 he polled 29.63% (of 4) and was narrowly defeated by ex-Liberal MHA Martin McManus on preferences.

Peers has not previously run for Pembroke.  In the 1999 Clarence aldermanic election he was elected, polling 6.9% and in the 2002 poll ditto with 6.7%.  Peers also ran for Deputy Mayor of Clarence in 2005 when he came third, polling 22.45%.

Jackson has most recently run for Clarence in 2002 (last of 13 with just 289 votes), 2005 (15th of 19 with 293 votes) and Pembroke in 1999 (a remarkably poor 3.3% in a field of just five).  However he did have a brief spell on Clarence City Council in 2004-5 when comfortably elected among four candidates for the vacancy created by the resignation of Ald Bill Ryan (indeed he polled more recount preferences than his three recount opponents combined).  I am unable to access the 2000 results and determine how this could have happened, but incumbency via recount evidently did nothing whatsoever for his 2005 election chances. 

Greens candidate Neil Smith (better known as tree-sitting protestor “Hector the Protector”) has sometimes stood as a minor Greens candidate in state elections, while the colourful adventures of Zucco were discussed in last year’s LC profiles at http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php/weblog/comments/why-the-greens-wont-win-wellington/

It’s pretty easy to explain why Ritchie will win this seat by miles.  Despite her having five opponents, none can be taken seriously from a psephelogical viewpoint.  Ritchie beat Cathy Edwards last time and James, Peers and especially Jackson are all local government minnows by comparison to Edwards.  Zucco couldn’t poll 15% running for a Legislative Council seat based around his Hobart City Council voter base and isn’t going to do any better in Pembroke where he lacks that profile, and the little-known fact of him residing there won’t make much difference to that. The Greens have not yet all that seriously threatened to win any Legislative Council seat and if they can’t get closer than a 40.5% two-candidate preferred result in the greenest of the lot (Wellington) with a good candidate they certainly won’t be winning this with a rather low-profile one. 

All that leaves is to have a stab at the size of Ritchie’s vote and the order of the rest.  The Greens polled around 15.8% at these booths in the recent state election. In the absence of a declared Liberal candidate but given that Neil Smith is no Nick McKim I’ll assume they get around that here.  James polled 13.3% in 1999 but was overshadowed by the ALP and Cathy Edwards.  He is even more overshadowed by a sitting Labor MLC but Edwards is not in the mix — I think the latter means more than the former so I’ll cut him some slack and assume second place with, say, 17%.  Peers seems to get about 65-75% of James’ vote lately, so I’ll give him, say, 12%.  Zucco will be struggling to make double figures outside his home political turf and Jackson will barely trouble the scorers (say 9% and 3% respectively).  All of which leaves 43% for Ritchie.  Actually I think she will get a bit more than that — my suspicion is that my estimates for Smith, James and Peers will prove too high in at least one case and that Ritchie will get around 46%, which seems to be the standard vote level for an ALP MLC running for re-election against a collection of no-hopers.  I will not even be all that surprised if she obtains an outright majority.  Issues?  Sorry, but there are none.  Anti-government backlash?  An exaggerated view based largely on dodgy EMRS polls that, for whatever reason, overestimate the undecided vote.  Pulp mill? This is the south, hardly anybody cares.

Even more assured of an easy win is Nelson MLC Jim Wilkinson.  Wilkinson was first elected to the vaguely equivalent old seat of Queenborough in 1995, polling 33.3% to easily win in a colourful field of nine candidates.  He then won the new seat of Nelson in 2001, polling 48.8% on primaries in a field of four to defeat then Hobart alderman Pru Bonham, who ran as an independent but was endorsed by then Labor premier Jim Bacon.  Wilkinson’s two-candidate margin over Bonham was slightly over 58:42, and Wilkinson topped the primaries in every booth except Fern Tree topped by the Greens’ Trish Moran.

When the Greens’ Tom Nilsson commenced visibly running for Nelson 2007 well out from the election he would probably not have envisaged being Wilkinson’s sole opponent, but he is.  —  Nilsson (perhaps best known as an anti-population-growth activist) is a backroom boy rather than an ideal or high profile candidate, while Wilkinson is firmly entrenched in the electorate’s many old boy nets and, while sometimes viewed as a closet Liberal, is sufficiently uncontentious in the apathetic Legislative Council electorate to pull support from Labor, Liberal and possibly even independent soft green voters.  The Greens have polled some good results in this area — in 1995 retiring Franklin Green MHA Gerry Bates managed 22.4% in the previously mentioned Queenborough field of nine, while in 2001 Trish Moran polled 17.9% in coming a fairly strong third.  However Nilsson has none of the profile of these two and his campaign pitch, with a focus on keeping an eye on the Lennon regime over the pulp mill, has had whatever wind probably wasn’t in its sails anyway removed by Wilkinson doing the same thing and voting against the recent pulp mill bill. 

As with Wellington last year, there are always a few signs to keep the most optimistic Greens hopeful of going close in this seat.  After all, did they not win six of the fourteen booths in the 2006 state election, securing swings of 9% in Cascades and 7% in Fern Tree where they polled a state-high 64%?  Sure, but big swings to the Greens in areas they already polled strongly in were offset by moderate swings against them in larger booths where their base vote was much lower — in particular Kingston (-2.6%), Kingston Beach (-1.9%) and Lower Sandy Bay (-3.4%), three very large anti-progressive booths without which the 2001 Wilkinson-Bonham contest would have been very much closer (although Wilkinson would still have won).  In fact in the booths that make up Nelson overall, the Green House of Assembly vote declined from 31.2% in 2002 to 30.1% in 2006. 

In the two Legislative Council seats where the Greens finished second last year, their two-candidate preferred vote was around five to six points higher than their 2006 state election primary.  Sticking with that one might predict a vote of 35-36% for Tom Nilsson.  But bearing in mind that Wilkinson is even less likely to alienate green-leaning but uncommitted voters than a Labor MLC like Doug Parkinson or a pro-resource-industry independent like Greg Hall, I am expecting that Nilsson won’t match this 5-6 point pickup.  I’ll be surprised if Wilkinson gets significantly over three to one or significantly less than two to one; for a guess at the margin I’ll try 69:31.

It’s disappointing that two seats that were both fiercely contested in the last two elections have now become relative snoozefests attracting only token opposition, while yet another MLC has been returned without having to face the voters in even a token contest.  But this highlights just how easy it is for an incumbent to become entrenched to the point of invincibility if they play their cards right in these relatively small seats.

Kevin Bonham thinks the posters for recently concluded Osaka prefecturals look much more interesting than Tasmania’s dinosaur-house nonsense, even if he cannot actually read them beyond the candidates’ body language.  As always all views expressed in this piece are his alone and not necessarily those of any of his many and varied employers, past, present, or future — or of any candidate mentioned!

Kevin Bonham

Ritchie will get around 46%, which seems to be the standard vote level for an ALP MLC running for re-election against a collection of no-hopers.  I will not even be all that surprised if she obtains an outright majority.  Issues?  Sorry, but there are none.  Anti-government backlash?  An exaggerated view based largely on dodgy EMRS polls that, for whatever reason, overestimate the undecided vote.  Pulp mill? This is the south, hardly anybody cares.