Peter Tucker and Dr Kevin Bonham
THIS is the first part of a two-part commentary on the Legislative Council elections for the divisions of Derwent, Windermere and Mersey, to be held on Saturday 2 May 2009. This part will give a general background on the candidates, while the second part, which we will release in the week leading up to polling day, will deal with each election in more detail, and make some predictions and observations. We did a similar exercise last year for Huon and Rosevears: Part 1 and Part 2.
In beginning, there is no need to repeat the summary of the electoral process for the Legislative Council that we did last time as you can read it in the Part 1 link above. We will just make the point again that, generally, incumbents are favoured because of campaign spending limits (just over $10,000), the fact the Leg Council elections are held outside the dominant election cycle that elects governments, and because independents have traditionally been preferred by voters. If you want to know more, the Tasmanian Parliamentary Library has a backgrounder on the electoral system here.
The Tasmanian Electoral Commission has released the list of candidates for the election, and ABC election guru Antony Green has a little more on each on his blog and promises more here soon and on election night. Political blogger Ben Raue has created Google Maps of all the divisions so you can have a look at the terrain covered.
OK, let’s have a look at the candidates for each division.
This electorate extends along the Derwent Valley from the northern part of Claremont, taking in Austins Ferry, Bridgewater, Granton, up the Derwent River to Bridgewater, and further afield to the country towns of Pontville, Ouse, Hamilton, Gretna and Derwent Bridge.
Current state treasurer, Michael Aird, is the sitting member. He first won the seat at a by-election in 1995 caused by the retirement of long-time incumbent and one-time leader of the government in the upper house, Charles Batt. Aird won that by-election, and successive elections in 1997 and 2003 with absolute majorities, stamping himself as a very popular local representative. As a member of the ALP, Michael Aird is one of four members of the 15-person Leg Council that is not an independent.
Prior to his Legislative Council career, Aird had a long vocation as a member of the lower house, the House of Assembly. He was first elected to Franklin in 1979 at the age of 30, winning Labor’s fourth seat and knocking out a sitting member, Bill McKinnon. He was successful again in 1982, just, but his luck ran out and he lost his seat in 1986 when Labor were hammered everywhere, gaining only 35% of the primaries statewide, and picking up just two of the seven seats in Franklin. Undeterred he buttered up in 1989 and, although Labor did poorly again, Aird grabbed the seventh and last seat. Labor managed to form government under the “Labor-Green Accord” with Aird serving as Education Minister. He prevailed again at the 1992 election, at which Labor were vote punished by the electorate for their joint venture with the Greens and scored just 29% of the vote. He was then persuaded to resign before the 1996 election to contest Derwent, where he has been ever since. All that makes eight elections for Michael Aird, and he has won seven of them. We think he deserves the title of “veteran” for that effort.
That record of electoral popularity, combined with the profile as a senior minister, should make Michael Aird a shoo-in come 2 May. Should, but Aird has reasons to be just a little nervous. First, the government isn’t travelling that well at the moment, and it has been up to Aird as treasurer to be tough guy in the media and relay the bad news of falling revenue and public service job cuts. It’s not often ministers come up for election in the Leg Council so, when it does happen, it has the effect of a by-election, and we know from mainland experience that governments often get punished in by-elections. He hasn’t handled recent stories such as the sale of Tote Tasmania and sewerage and water privatisation particularly well, so could there be some voter backlash? A few weeks ago, the maverick Harry Quick, recently retired Labor (and for a short time Independent) federal member for Franklin, nominated then withdrew his candidacy as a Green candidate for the seat; reportedly reportedly Aird was “apoplectic” at the thought of having to take on Quick.
The two candidates that are having a crack at Aird don’t quite have Quick’s reputation or electoral cache, but would give themselves some chance of polling strongly in the circumstances.
Aird’s main opponent is Teacher’s assistant Jenny Branch who is quite a well known face in the community gaining valuable media exposure as President of the Tasmanian Parents and Friends Association, and is involved in many community organisations, particularly in education. She is following the well-trodden path of political hopefuls in Tasmania by taking the local government route first – she was fifth of six candidates elected to the Glenorchy City Council in 2007, polling just 4% of the primary vote but performing well on preferences. Branch is running as an independent, but is a member of the Liberal Party. We tried to find a web page for her campaign, but Google yielded nothing.
The Greens are standing Susan Gunter who Antony Green describes as “a former principal lawyer with the Tasmanian Environmental Defenders Office” although her current occupation is shearer around the New Norfolk/Derwent Valley area. On her website she gives her bio of “having worked in the fields of law, health, agriculture and education, and as a small business owner” As far as we can tell, this is her first foray into politics.
Windermere is located on the north eastern banks of the Tamar Valley and includes George Town and surrounds and several eastern Launceston suburbs. The sitting member Ivan Dean is re-contesting and he does tend to polarise voters and weigh into controversy. But there is little doubt he is popular and well-known, after previous lives as a district police commander and Launceston city mayor. At the 2003 Windemere election he ran against the incumbent, Sylvia Smith. He was expected to do well, given his profile, but surprised even his supporters by scoring 50% of the primaries, romping in without the need for a preference distribution.
Dean, therefore, carried on an accepted tradition in Tasmania of combining local government and Legislative Council careers. In 2005 he decided to have a crack at the Launceston mayor, Janie Dickenson (now Finlay), who had been carried to office as the youngest mayor in Australian history on a wave of popular support in 2002. Although Dean trailed Dickenson on primaries 28%-38%, he overhauled her on the preferences of the two other candidates. So Dean found himself both Mayor of Launceston and a Legislative Councillor, and had to field the inevitable criticisms over juggling both jobs. In fact, the DPP charged him with bribery under the Local Government Act, after saying during the campaign that if successful he would donate his mayoral salary to charity. The (rather silly) charges were eventually dropped, but he could have done without the publicity.
That publicity was tested in 2007 at local government elections. It was Dean’s turn to face the Launceston voters for the mayoralship, and this time Albert Van Zetten did to him what he did to Dickenson. Dean outscored Van Zetten in the primary count but the preferences of the other candidate, anti-pulp-miller, Ted Sands, broke Van Zetten’s way to hand him victory. So it could be argued that Dean’s star is not as bright as it was when first elected six years ago. A high-profile candidate would surely cause him some worry.
And a high-profile candidate is what we have got. Former Labor MHA for Bass, Kathryn Hay, is having a tilt and she clearly has a chance. She is running as an “independent Labor” candidate, which allows her to claim independence – something that appears to help rather than hinder upper house candidates, and deflect one avenue of attack from Dean – while still being able to draw on the resources of the Labor party (in terms of campaign volunteers, poster sites, strategy, and so on). And if she does get elected, there is nothing stopping her becoming a member of the Parliamentary Labor Party and the cabinet, in time.
Hay has only contested one parliamentary election, for the lower house seat of Bass in 2002, but managed the highest vote ever for a first-timer, nearly 10,000 primaries, and was easily elected. She became, it was reported, something of a Jim Bacon protégé and quickly became a cabinet secretary, but for whatever reasons (Bacon’s departure and/or her marriage were mentioned) she did not recontest in 2006 and left the state with her husband. But now she is back. Can she parlay that 2002 support and topple Ivan Dean? As a young, Aboriginal woman with a Labor background she represents a different demographic to the conservative, middle-aged Dean.
One other consideration around a Hay tilt for Windemere is that it could be part of an overall strategy by her (and Labor) to re-enter parliament. She could win Windemere, which would certainly be welcomed by Labor, or even if she loses she can use the campaign to re-establish herself with the Launceston community. She could then contest on the Labor ticket for Bass in March 2010 with some rejuvenated political capital in her pocket. With the retirement of Jim Cox, Labor desperately need a big vote puller to maximize their chances of three seats (or save a seat if there is really a massive swing against the government).
The other candidates are ex-international banker and current lecturer and wine grower, Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson, who is standing for the Greens. Given the pulp mill issue, he will poll well and where his preferences end up will be important to the outcome. Rounding out the field are Peter Kaye, a retired radio announcer, and Ted Sands, a Launceston City Councillor like Dean, and who has in the past tried for ALP pre-selection. Like Whish-Wilson, Sands will be strongly supported by anti-pulp-mill voters, and there should be a strong preference flow from whichever is excluded first to the other.
The Devonport-based seat of Mersey also shapes as being an interesting contest. The slightly eccentric (the Mercury called her “Quixotic”) and extremely likable Norma Jamieson has decided to retire after just one term. Like Ivan Dean, she broke convention by defeating a sitting member (Geoff Squibb) in 2003, but her win was much narrower. There was just a fag paper separating her and Squibb on primaries (32 vs 31.5), but Jamieson hung on in the cut-up to scrape in.
The two candidates expected to fight out the seat are teacher and Latrobe Mayor Mike Gaffney and Devonport Mayor Lynn Laycock. Both are very popular mayors – Gaffney being elected unopposed for Latrobe in 2005 and 2007, and Laycock in Devonport scored an absolute majority on the primaries in 2005 and 2007. Laycock’s advantage is that all of Devonport city is within the boundaries of Mersey, while for Gaffney only part of Latrobe falls within, albeit the most populous part (see boundary here). And Devonport is much bigger than Latrobe.
Gaffney is often touted as a future Labor minister and ran for state Labor in Braddon at the 2002 election, scoring a respectable 5720 primaries, 1200 more than the Libs’ Brett Whiteley who did get a seat. But he was swamped by his three sitting Labor colleagues and could not stay in the preference count. At this election both Gaffney and Laycock are running as independents, but Gaffney, like Hay, would be a chance of a ministry in a future Labor government – he certainly would take it if offered. Laycock has organisational links to the Liberal Party, and has worked as the electoral assistant to state deputy leader MHA Jeremy Rockliff for several years. We think she would probably fancy herself as ministerial or upper house leadership material too if the Liberals ever formed government.
Mersey Hospital crusader and restaurateur Steve Martin is having another crack at this seat. In 2003 he ran fourth out of five candidates with 2875 votes (Jamieson and Squibb both polled 6,000+). He also ran as an independent for Braddon in the lower house in 2006 scoring 1,001 primaries. He contested the Senate as Tasmania’s Sunrise “Vote For Me” segment candidate in 2004 polling just 1106 votes statewide, and tried again in 2007 polling just 764.
Rounding out the field is Carolynn Jamieson, the daughter of retiring Norma. As far as we are aware, this is her first foray into politics above campus level. There is a tradition in Tasmania of Legislative Council seats being “passed” down a family line, prominent examples including the Hodgmans and the Rattrays. Her website describes her as an owner-manager of businesses in metal fabrication and motorcycle freight, with experience in “retail, tourism, agriculture, forestry and aquaculture” and the Army and lists past experience in government service and community groups.
So, three very interesting Legislative Council elections this year. We will have a closer look at each battle and make some predictions in the second part to this item next week.