TWO Legislative Council seats go to the polls on May 6th.

In the seat of Rowallan, Independent MLC Greg Hall faces only one opponent, Tasmanian Green Karen Cassidy. 

Hall was first elected in 2001, polling 31.9% in a six-way contest on primaries and subsequently defeating high-profile opponent Russell Anderson by just over 10% on preferences.  It seems this was impressive enough to convince potential challengers not to bother.  Hall, who enjoys strong bipartisan support, will be comfortably re-elected and the margin is of purely academic interest.  The most comparable case is Labor’s Michael Aird’s 2003 win in the seat of Derwent also against a lone Green, in which Aird polled 77.3% to Paul Smith’s 22.7%.  Hall has had slightly less time to establish himself, and also the Green vote in the area covered by Rowallan in the most recent state election (12.8%) was marginally higher than that in Derwent in the state election immediately preceding Aird’s win (12.1%), but neither of these factors will make much difference, and Hall’s independent status may even see him do better than Aird.  On this basis I am expecting a win for Hall by around three to one.  It could even be four or five to one and is extremely unlikely to be closer than two to one.

Wellington is less straightforward. 

Labor MLC Doug Parkinson is up against Green Marette Corby, Christian Democrat Michael Fracalossi, and independents Marti Zucco, Stephen Roomes and Paul Hiscutt.  Parkinson was first elected to the Legislative Council in the old seat of Hobart in 1994, finishing marginally behind incumbent Jean Moore then beating her on the preferences of former member Hank Petrusma and then-Green (now Liberal) Jeff Briscoe.  Following redistribution of Legislative Council boundaries to cut the number of seats, Parkinson won Wellington in 2000 with 46.3% of primaries to the Greens’ Trish Moran on 28.0% and endorsed Liberal Peter Thiessen on 25.7%.  On preferences Parkinson’s final margin over Moran was 59.5:40.5.  On this basis the Greens (assuming they come second) need a 9.5% swing to unseat him.

Public speculation about Wellington has included two claims about the Greens’ chances — firstly, that the Greens have a realistic chance of winning the seat, and secondly that the Greens would have had a realistic chance of winning the seat had they preselected somebody high-profile.  The basis for both claims is that the seat is already the greenest Legislative Council electorate, as proven by Moran’s record vote last time, and is becoming even more so.  I have seen a claim that the Greens are a serious threat on account of topping nine booths in Wellington in the 2006 state election. 

Green city?

It is indeed astonishing how high the Green vote is in parts of Wellington.  West Hobart 53%, Landsdowne Crescent 46%, Hobart (booth) 44%, etc show that the “green city” phenomenon trumpeted by The Mercury on the threadbare basis of a 200-vote EMRS sample, is actually real to some degree after all.  However, Wellington includes not only the middle-class inner-city suburbs but also traditional Labor areas like Moonah and Lutana where Labor still canes the Greens three or four to one and probably will for decades to come.  So even if the Greens can win more than half the booths in Wellington that will not be enough — the northern portions of the electorate will be too strongly pro-Labor.  If there was a single seat taking in all of Hobart’s inner-city suburbs as well as Ferntree the Greens would win it fairly easily, but they are unlucky that those suburbs are split between Wellington (which includes strong Labor areas towards the northern suburbs) and Nelson (which includes the rich Liberal stronghold of Lower Sandy Bay and the south’s nearest thing to a bible belt in Blackman’s Bay.)

In the 2002 state election, those booths that are within Wellington returned votes of 46.7% ALP, 31.1% Green, 20.0% Liberal (quite close to the votes for Parkinson, Moran and Thiessen in 2000), compared to Denison-wide results of 50.8-24.5-22.9.  In 2006 in Denison as a whole the swing was 3.9% away from Labor, 0.5% away from the Greens and 3.7% to the Liberals.  In the Wellington booths the swing was slightly more pronounced: 4.7% away from Labor, 0.9% to the Greens and 3.2% to the Liberals.  Assuming these swings (effectively 2.8% from Labor to the Greens) are repeated in Wellington at this Legislative Council election, Parkinson will still have a two-party-preferred advantage over the Greens of 56.7% to 43.3%. 

(An aside that may interest some readers: the swing in the Wellington booths at the 2006 Lower House poll was not uniform.  While there were swings of several percent from Labor to the Greens in many of the already Green-leaning booths, Labor held steady or even gained marginally on the Greens in its strongest booths in the north of the electorate.  While I do not consider Wellington within the Greens’ reach this time it may become so in the future.)

There is some reason to doubt that the swing from Labor to Green in Wellington will actually be as large as in the recent Lower House election, and indeed no certainty that there will be any swing from Doug Parkinson to the Greens at all.  Parkinson’s 2000 result was achieved before the bizarre performance of the Liberals in the leadup to the 2002 state election caused Labor’s state vote in Denison to increase considerably.  Labor’s losses of high-profile candidates (most notably Jim Bacon) also hurt its vote in Denison in 2006.  Neither of these factors apply to Doug Parkinson as he seeks re-election.  Indeed, Parkinson has now had twice as long to establish himself in the electorate. 

Marti Zucco had a rather strong tilt

Two of the remaining candidates are known electoral quantities.  Michael Fracalossi stood as the lead Christian Democrat candidate for Denison at the recent state election.  The Christian Democrats attracted a feeble 0.7% of the vote.  Fracalossi will do much better than that in a smaller field, and will probably attract some votes from Christians who traditionally vote Liberal, but I do not expect him to top 10%.

Marti Zucco, longstanding Hobart City Council alderman, had a rather strong tilt at the old seat of Newdegate in 1993, where he polled 25% to run third out of four behind incumbent Ross Ginn and Labor’s Mel Cooper on around 33% each.  (Cooper actually just outpolled Ginn but lost on preferences).  However, HCC results over the years suggest that Zucco’s best vote-gathering days are behind him.  In 1996 he polled 11% of the HCC aldermanic vote; by 2006 this was down to 7.1%.  Also, Zucco (probably because of the way he polarises the electorate) always attracts fewer preferences than his primary vote levels indicate.  I’ll be surprised if Zucco’s vote is anything much over 15% this time, but at least he might provide some entertainment for the spectators if his opening attacks on Parkinson are anything to go by.  The question is, though: even if the voters bought Zucco’s claim that Parkinson is a do-nothing, would they care?  It’s very difficult to work out what (if anything) voters really think about in terms of what they want from their candidate, when voting in the apathy-fest that is a Legislative Council election.

The other two are unknown quantities and I don’t want to say much about their likely votes until I’ve seen more of their campaigns.  However my trusty (well, not entirely) indicator of community profile (typing the candidate’s name plus “Tasmania” into Google) raises nary a blip beyond this election for either, so while there are plenty of loose Liberal votes out there to be had for anyone who can run a good enough campaign, I doubt either will cause Parkinson too much loss of sleep. 

There are a couple of scenarios I have in mind for this seat.  The first one is that none of the independents make any real impression and the Greens come a very clear second.  In this case Parkinson will most likely have well over 40% of primaries, possibly close to 50%, and will easily win on preferences for the reasons outlined above.  It is actually possible under this scenario that Parkinson will simply poll a primary vote over 50% and win the election without needing to go to preferences, although I think he is more likely to fall just short of that mark.

The second case is that one or more of the independents polls unexpectedly strongly and that Parkinson’s vote is cut back to the low 40s or high 30s (I cannot see him polling less than 35% under any circumstances).  It doesn’t then matter whether the Greens come second or an independent does so, because Parkinson both sits in the middle politically and has a high profile, and hence would win any preference fight even if he started on equal terms (and he is far more likely to start well ahead.)

In conclusion, while some think this seat could get interesting, I do not see it happening.  I predict Parkinson to retain his seat fairly to very easily, with a margin somewhere in the range 10%-30% over his nearest challenger, whoever that is.

Kevin Bonham  is a consultant in invertebrate ecology, electoral scrutineer and commentator, chess coach and internet troll.