Friday, April 20, 2018

How Could The Tasmanian Legislative Council Be Reformed?

In the leadup to Legislative Council elections for Prosser and Hobart, the fact that the current Legislative Council has a left-wing majority that seems likely to make life difficult for the re-elected Hodgman Liberal Government has been receiving some attention.  Since the balance of power in the LegCo is not likely to move much to the right this year at least, this raises the age-old questions of whether it is too easy for the Legislative Council to obstruct an elected Government, and if so what might be done to change it.

As I mention this is a very old debate, but the novelty in the present situation is having a left-wing LegCo overseeing a right wing government. Up until the late 1990s, malapportionment meant the other way round was much more common.  Discussion quickly turns to the unusual features of Tasmania's upper house system.  The system was designed to check perceived short-term democratic excesses and members are elected on a rotational basis with two or three of the fifteen seats coming up for their scheduled election every year.  There is no mechanism for a government that finds its legislation or even its budgets blocked to force the Legislative Council to an election, and the Legislative Council can never be dissolved all at the same time.  This makes it extremely powerful.

Tasmania, with its multi-member House of Assembly, is often described as having an "upside-down" system.  Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia all have a single-member-per-electorate system in the Lower House and a multi-member-per-electorate (or per the state as a whole) system in the Upper House.  This makes it easy to win majorities in the house of government, but these are then accountable to a more proportional view of the populace in the upper chamber.  (This is, however, blighted by some ludicrous malapportionment in WA and Group Ticket Voting in WA and Victoria.)

Having a multi-member Hare-Clark system in the Lower House gives Tasmania the great advantage of within-party contests for seats.  This keeps all MHAs on their toes and means that all voters have something to vote for, rather than having their votes rendered irrelevant to the outcome if they live in too safe a seat.  Assuming that we want to keep that for that reason, then it makes sense to elect the Legislative Council by a fundamentally different system to the Lower House.  The idea is that testing the will of the people as demonstrated in one system against the will of the people as demonstrated in another is a good protection against any democratic shortcomings of, or short-term effects in, either system.   Having two proportional representation systems, which would probably often get the same results as each other, would be silly.

Concerns About The Legislative Council

From the perspective of any government that wants to get things done, a hostile upper house is a serious problem.  Among the concerns governments will have include:

1. The Legislative Council can in theory block supply and force the government to an election without having to face one itself.

2. The Legislative Council mandate is slow to refresh.  If a government that finds its bills blocked seeks to persuade voters to elect MLCs who will support its views, it may take the government most of a term or longer to take control, even if its preferred candidates win the majority of contests.

3. The small enrolment base, low profile and spending and electoral law restrictions of Legislative Council elections all favour incumbents who can win by focusing on "parish pump" style local campaigning.

4. LegCo elections also provide a chance to send a by-election style message to a government, making it hard for government candidates, or candidates obviously connected to a government, to win.

Of these, I think that 3 is not the issue it was.  The rise of the internet has made it easier to generate and publish discussion of state issues during Legislative Council campaigns and to create a focus on state issues that is then picked up by the mainstream media.  However it is still very hard to argue that the Legislative Council has a mandate comparable to the House of Assembly's.

Recent unusual adventures in mandate theory by the Hodgman Government (eg on gun policy) have led to responses from some Legislative Councillors that the government's mandate is only to introduce the laws taken to the people, and not necessarily to have them passed.  In practice, voters should be entitled to accept that the core issues a government fights and wins a campaign on will be respected by the Legislative Council, but that does not mean the government has the same kind of mandate for poorly-framed niche culture-war positions that did not influence many votes.

Possible Solutions - General

In considering any possible solution it is worth remembering that unless a proposal to reform the Legislative Council actually passes the Legislative Council, it won't happen.  So there is no point canvassing solutions the Legislative Council simply won't accept with anything like its current makeup, including abolition (which I don't support anyway). 

I stress that I do not support all of the possible solutions discussed below (as should be clear from my comments about some of them.)  Even where I make positive comments, in some cases I'm still thinking about them.

Ditch the power to block supply

The Legislative Council last blocked (or, more accurately, put a time limit on) supply and forced a government to an election in 1948.  A few months earlier, the ALP Premier, Sir Robert Cosgrove, had stood down as Premier to fight criminal corruption charges but had been cleared of them and resumed his position.  Cosgrove won the election forced by the Legislative Council (although his party did drop back from 16 to 15 of the 30 seats) and the Legislative Council was seen as having been chastised by that outcome.

While the Legislative Council blocking supply might be seen as the red meat of Tasmanian political culture wars, the threat is made often enough.  The Liberal Opposition to the previous government was reported to be considering lobbying for such an action in 2012.

It may be argued that the ability to block supply need not be removed since it is not ever going to be used again anyway.  But if it is not going to be used it may as well be removed, and if it is going to be used, it probably shouldn't be used anyway.  I cannot see why the Upper House should retain the power to block supply while not facing an election itself (which is in turn not a good idea, see below).

More elections at the same time

This one is often argued along the lines that having more Legislative Council seats polled at once would increase the importance of the elections and hence the media focus on them.  Versions of the proposal include having all LegCo elections on at the same time as the Assembly elections, having them all on at the same time mid-term, and clustering the rotation more so that there are, say, five elections on a single day every two years, rather than two or three every year.

The last one might have something going for it though I think that the rise of electronic media has helped to address the problem with lack of media focus and discussion of state issues in campaigns anyway.  Holding all the Council elections on the same day would make the Council's makeup very prone to the political mood of the time, which would make the "obstruction" problem worse rather than better if the elections were held mid-term and tended to be influenced by a backlash against the incumbent government.

Holding Council elections on the same day as state elections would not only carry the risk of the same mood taking over both houses, but would also create messy problems with different styles of campaigning and different boundaries overlapping, not to mention the increased workload for the Electoral Commission.

Post-election joint sittings

Tasmania has no equivalent of the federal double-dissolution mechanism under which bills blocked by the Senate in a previous term can be taken by a re-elected government to a joint sitting in which the Government's numbers may dominate.  However even without a double-dissolution mechanism something like the following could be possible:

1. Where a House of Assembly bill is repeatedly rejected (or returned with amendments the Lower House does not agree with) over a certain time frame and with the last rejection sufficiently long before the election, the House of Assembly may choose to register it as a joint sitting bill for the time following the election.

2. Following the election, if the House of Assembly passes the registered bill again and the Legislative Council defeats it again, the House of Assembly could choose to take the bill to a joint sitting of all 40 MPs, with all MPs having a deliberative vote.

So, for instance, if a government has a bill lost 7-7 on casting vote in the Legislative Council, but the government then wins the next election by one seat, the government will get the bill through if the President of the Legislative Council now supports it.  If the government wins by two seats, then it only needs 7/15 MLCs to pass the Bill.  The requirement to register bills as joint sitting bills to make the option available would mean there would be plenty of debate about the bills during the state campaign.

Reforming the chairing conventions

Currently, the President of the Legislative Council has a casting vote, which by convention is cast so as to continue debate on a matter but ultimately so as to avoid disturbing the status quo.  So if there is a 7-7 split on the floor, a Bill will pass its second reading but be defeated at its third.

The problem with this is that the President effectively gives up their own power to be the eighth vote in favour of something, and Bills are sometimes defeated although 8/15 MLCs would agree with them if all MLCs had a deliberative vote.

While some points might be made in favour of this convention encouraging better debate, in my view such points are greatly outweighed by the distorting impact of the convention on democracy.  Because of the small size of the House, 6.7% of Tasmanians are effectively stripped of their indirect representation in order to maintain this convention.  The price of accepting the Presidency is this loss of ability to represent one's constituents.  The current President, Jim Wilkinson, represents a relatively pro-Liberal electorate.  Is it right that a policy his electorate would be expected to support, and that is the policy of the state government, can be defeated in the Upper House because of a casting vote convention even if the majority of MLCs support it?  I don't think it's right at all; I think it's absurd.

There are a few options here.  One is that the President could have a deliberative vote instead of a casting vote, with any tied motions automatically lost.  Another is that the President could retain the casting vote, but the conventions surrounding using it could be modified.  For instance the casting vote convention could allow for the President to use their casting vote in favour of the exercise of a government's mandate, if the President so desired.

Reforming the Electoral Act

A thorough review of the state's Electoral Act has been flagged by Attorney-General Elise Archer, and it's not before time either: this state election showed up several aspects of the Act as outdated, as have several other elections (notably the Nelson Legislative Council contest in 2014 with lobby groups exploiting a loophole to run super-PAC style campaigns outside of the funding restrictions, albeit ineffectively.)

Issues relevant to both houses will presumably come up in the review, such as:

- bans on reporting on the election in print media, but only print media, on polling day (Section 198)
- authorisation issues, especially in relation to space-sensitive social media forms such as Twitter (Section 191)
- restrictions on naming or depicting candidates without their consent in an arbitrary list of items that are somewhat difficult to define (Section 196).  In my view, this unnecessary restraint will be the first against the wall if the Act is ever challenged in the High Court.  Not only is the constraint it imposes on political communication not properly adapted to achieve any especially useful purpose but I think anyone trying to defend it would be flat out determining what its purpose even was.

However, there are some points specifically relevant to the Legislative Council.  Firstly, the campaign spending limit ($16,500 per candidate this year and rising by $500 every year) is rather low, and makes it harder to campaign against incumbents.  This limit can also be argued to disadvantage those candidates who are best suited to campaigning through advertising rather than intensive doorknocking or volunteer campaign teams.  I think the limit should be doubled.

Secondly the recycling of signs from other elections in practice disadvantages new candidates, who have to purchase their own signs out of their spending allowance.  While in theory the original cost of a sign might be deemed to be expenditure (see section 5 (1)(iii)) this is very unlikely to stick in court if a sign was originally purchased with a different election in mind, and would be easy to get around even if it did.

Suspensory Veto

In a suspensory veto system an Upper House cannot reject bills permanently but can only delay them for a period of time while they are further considered.  I understand this has been under consideration recently, though I don't know whether it was envisaged only in the context of supply bills or all bills.

I actually think that if the Legislative Council made all its blocking powers temporary, its ability to block truly terrible legislation (my example being the full scope of the previous government's hamfisted attack on free speech under the guise of anti-discrimination reforms) would be dangerously reduced.  I think it is good for the Upper House to at least be able to block bad laws until after a government has taken them to an election and been re-elected.

Human Rights Act (alongside other changes)

This might seem like a very left-field inclusion, but I think it's something worth mentioning.  It might be said that the argument for needing the LegCo to block bad Assembly bills would be less of a problem if Tasmania had a Human Rights Act, under which many of the worst government bills (from either side) would fall over.  However the form of Human Rights Act currently being campaigned for in the state is itself functionally another kind of suspensory veto.  Moreover, Human Rights Act type campaigns in Australia always seem to involve lists of claimed and often very nebulous "rights" that are as long as they are selective - when a list of rights has 31 items including even a right to "protection of the environment [..] from ecological degradation" (hang on, I thought this was about human rights!) but no direct reference to a right to do business and trade, there's a problem. 

I may add some more suggestions later - this piece is intended not as a final position but to stimulate discussion.  It's also intended to make the point that one can accept both that the Legislative Council does a fine job of blocking shocking legislation and that there is room for a little more acceptance of the will of the people as on display at state elections.

Further reading: here's a paper about the reform issue by Legislative Council staffer Nathan Fewkes from 2011.  And in this old LegCo submission document, near the bottom are the recommendations of the 1982 Beaumont Royal Commission.

Further listening: Some of these issues were canvassed in a recent debate between Ivan Dean and Ruth Forrest, independents at the opposite end of the LegCo's political spectrum.  I correct one point: my analysis (including voting back to 2010) has never shown Ruth Forrest as on the right. She was confusing mine with earlier analyses by William Bowe (example), which provided no left-right sort but which at one stage she says showed her voting with the then Labor government less than half the time.

During the 2010-14 Labor-Green coalition government, Forrest voted with the government most of the time, but I have not compiled similar stats for the Bacon-Lennon-Bartlett majority years.  It would be an interesting exercise and I may do it some day.  Also, my methods do not necessarily put the government of the day on either end, and would not automatically clump MLCs on the right if they often disagreed with Labor - it would depend on whether they disagreed on the same bills as the ultra-conservatives do, or different ones.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Disassociation From Tasmanian Times

Until yesterday there was an image link to this website in the sidebar of Tasmanian Times (which I ceased writing for in 2012).  Such as it was (I'm no graphic designer!), it looked like this:

However I have now decided to disassociate this site from Tasmanian Times to the maximum extent possible.

The nature of this decision is as follows:

1. It is no longer possible to reach this site via the sidebar on TT as the link has been removed at my request.

2. I have asked the TT editor to cease promoting and linking to my site on TT.

3. Barring a major improvement in TT moderation or other satisfactory solution, I will not post any more comments to TT in the future at all.  (Since leaving the site as a writer in 2012 I have only commented there rarely anyway.)

4. All future links to TT that I may post here in the course of my coverage or debate will be to a Wayback Machine version of the content only.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Newspoll Number 30: Rolling Comments

"The one thing that is clear about our current situation is the trajectory. We have lost 30 Newspolls in a row. It is clear that the people have made up their mind about Mr Abbott's leadership"

Normally I am now doing federal polling roundups every second Newspoll (here's the latest) but the event that is very likely to happen demands its own thread.  In polling history, this is something very novel - a Prime Minister who seems about to meet the same standard of polling failure that he used as a justification for removing his opponent.  Judge for yourself from the link above how central a justification it was, but I reckon it was more than an aside.

Once we have the Newspoll result I will update this article and there are likely to be comments on various claims that are made as a result.  One remarkably silly false claim circulating on social media is that Abbott's 30 Newspolls plus Turnbull's 30 Newspolls will equal 60 consecutive Newspoll losses.  Turnbull did not start losing every poll immediately; his losing streak commenced 21 polls in.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Poll Roundup: Number 29

2PP Aggregate: 53.3 to ALP (-0.3 since last week)
Labor would easily win election "held now"

This week's federal polling coverage was dominated by Malcolm Turnbull slipping another Newspoll closer to the dreaded number 30.  Although there may be minor signs of improvement, it would be highly surprising to see the Coalition's 2PP jump to 50% in two or three weeks' time.

Since the last poll roundup, we've had two Newspolls (both 53-47 for Labor), three Essentials (53-54-52 for Labor), and two ReachTELs, one in late February and one today.  The ReachTEL was 54-46 by respondent preferences, but I estimated 55.5-44.5 by last-election preferences, which made it the single worst poll of this government's term in my aggregate (though not by much).  The March ReachTEL was also 54-46 but in this case I got 54.2-45.8 as a last-election estimate.  Oh and there's also, to my great surprise, been a Morgan, and that gets a section of its own below.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Legislative Council 2018: Prosser

As noted in my Hobart preview, I'm getting busy early on my Legislative Council previews as there are quite a few declared candidates already.  There is one preview thread for each seat and I may have other threads should campaign issues warrant them.  I expect to have live comments on the evening of Saturday 5th May.  For more on Legislative Council voting patterns see my 2014-8 voting patterns thread.

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

Seat Profile

Prosser is a fairly large rural and satellite-town seat in the midlands, east and south-east of Tasmania (see map).  Its largest population centres are Brighton, Dodges Ferry and Sorell (all in the south) and other significant centres include Bagdad, Bicheno, Campbell Town, Swansea, Triabunna, Nubeena and Oatlands.  Industries include farming, fishing and what remains of forestry, but around Sorell there has been a rapid increase in young commuting families.

Prosser is a new seat created by the recent redistribution.  About 44% by population was previously in Rumney, 40% in Apsley and 16% (the Brighton area) in Derwent, and a lucky 26 voters also added from Western Tiers can consider themselves very special.

The very different histories of these component seats show it's hard to say what sort of political animal Prosser is going to be.  Apsley and its precursor seats have always been held by independents, usually conservative.  Derwent has been held by Labor for the past 39 years, while Rumney is a swing seat between Labor and conservatives.

At the 2018 state election, booths in Prosser returned votes of 46.1% Liberal, 37.7% Labor, 6.9% Green, 4.5% Lambie Network and 4.4% Shooters, Fishers and Farmers.  This places Prosser to the left of the 2018 Lyons average by about five points.  In the north of Prosser, the Liberals mostly exceeded 50% of the vote (see Ben Raue's maps of booth votes and swings), but they were outpolled by Labor at Dodges Ferry, Dunalley, Forcett, Nubeena, Primrose Sands and Taranna (all booths in the south-east, on or near the Tasman and Forestier Peninsulas).  The south-eastern corner saw modest swings against the government with an outlier of 15 points at Orford (probably caused by fish farming).  Elsewhere the government generally held steady or gained.

Voters in Prosser will be mostly well used to the sound of the LegCo trumpet by now.  Apsley voters went to the polls in 2016 and Rumney voters did so just last year.

Declared Candidates

Nominations closed on April 12 and will be announced on April 13.  Vacant seats often attract large fields.  This is the largest field since there were also 13 in Mersey 1990 and the equal second largest of all time.  Huon 1986 with fifteen is the all time record holder.  Only six of the 13 candidates are based within the electorate.

Major parties

Jane Howlett (state election party pageFacebook, Linkedin) is the endorsed Liberal candidate.  Howlett contested the seat of Lyons for the party in 2006, 2010 and 2018, increasing her vote each time.  She was reasonably close to election with 4497 votes in 2010, and in 2018 polled 5259 votes but was unable to beat any of the Liberal incumbents as their votes were too close together.  Howlett was also the party's candidate for Franklin at the 2010 federal election.  Howlett, who grew up in Richmond just outside the Prosser boundary, performed well in booths within Prosser at the state election, polling 23% of the Liberal vote within these booths compared to 15% for Lyons overall.  She did especially well in the south-west of Prosser where she polled over 30% of the Liberal vote at some booths. She was the highest-polling Liberal at Bagdad, Brighton, Campania and Kempton.

Howlett's Linkedin page lists her as a senior adviser to Lyons Liberal MP Guy Barnett, and also as a sales manager for Hair Care Australia.  She was formerly state business development manager for Proctor and Gamble and a director for Variety.  Little is known to me of Howlett's political views but her ACL response refers to "strong Christian values" and opposition to euthanasia. It does not appear Howlett currently lives within Prosser as the TEC listed her as being from Battery Point.

Janet Lambert (Facebook, candidacy announcement, state election party page) is the endorsed Labor candidate.  Lambert is another Lyons 2018 recyclee, having polled 1783 primaries on a Labor ticket dominated by leader Rebecca White. In the end Lambert missed out in a within-party contest with Jen Butler by 347 votes.  In general Lambert was at least the equal of Butler on primaries and preferences, but Butler outperformed her on the preferences of the two male Labor candidates.  Lambert polled a lower proportion of the Labor vote in Prosser than elsewhere in Lyons, but this is mostly explained by Rebecca White dominating the Labor vote in southern Lyons.  With the White factor removed, Lambert polled best in the northern midlands (including more than half the non-White Labor vote at Campbell Town), and also quite well in some coastal booths.

Lambert was elected to Northern Midlands council at the third attempt in 2011 and was re-elected fourth out of nine in 2014 with a quota in her own right (ahead of Michael Polley!) She is also a teacher with 25 years' experience and an electorate officer.  Lambert is also a prominent recreational fisher and has been involved in anti-supertrawler campaigns.  Like Howlett, Lambert also doesn't appear to currently live in Prosser, as the TEC listed her as being from Devon Hills near Launceston, but the electorate does include a large part of her Council area.

Well-known independents

Independent Tony Mulder (website, Facebook, Twitter) appears to be running for the seat for several months, based on various sightings of a car with Mulder branding in the electorate and other information.  Mulder was a Clarence councillor from 2005 and fairly narrowly unsuccessful as a state Liberal candidate for Franklin in 2010.  He then contested Rumney as an "independent liberal" (case sensitive); for more on the tangled history of Mulder's status vis-a-vis the Liberal Party see my Rumney preview from last year.   Mulder defeated Labor's trouble-plagued incumbent Lin Thorp in 2011 (53.1-46.9 after preferences) but was in turn unseated by Labor's Sarah Lovell after one term in 2017 (52.3-47.7).

A police commander prior to his political career, Mulder earned a reputation as a forthright and sometimes grumpy contrarian with small-l liberal tendencies and a penchant for politically incorrect comments.  During the Rumney campaign, comments he had made about domestic violence were used against him (again see my Rumney article).  In recent times there have been on-and-off tensions between the Mulder camp and the Liberal Party, for instance over their fast decision to squeeze him out by endorsing James Walker for the by-election caused by the resignation of the late Vanessa Goodwin.  The endorsement of Howlett for this seat appears to be more of the same.

Mulder appears to have been running an organised but little publicised campaign for this seat for much of the last year. The TEC gives his residence as Howrah, which is outside the electorate, however he has represented the Tasman Peninsula and Sorell-Dunalley areas in his time as member for Rumney.

Independent Doug Parkinson (candidacy announcement, parliament page) is the former Labor MLC for Hobart. Parkinson unseated conservative incumbent Jean Moore (who had held the seat for just two years following a by-election) with 52.3% of the two-candidate vote.  He then twice retained the seat with lopsided margins and the Greens as his main opposition before retiring in 2012.  From 2006 he was Leader for the Government in the Legislative Council.  He has decided to contest Prosser citing concern about the government's gun laws and water issues on the east coast.  Parkinson's place of residence is given as North Hobart.

Independent Jim Playsted (websiteFacebook) contested Lyons in 2010 for the Liberals, polling just over 4,000 primaries.   Recently however Playsted has appeared as an opponent of local fish-farming (more here) and has also disagreed with Liberal policies on pokies and the Taswater takeover.  Playsted lives within the electorate at Orford, and has extensive business experience in mining and industry equipment supplies. Playsted currently works for Hobart real estate firm Knight Frank.

Independent candidate Steve Mav (candidacy announcement - may be paywalled) contested Apsley in 2004 (placing third out of ten with 15% of the vote) and then scored another third place last year in Rumney with 18.6%, including a booth win at Primrose Sands.

Once a struggling Young Liberal student union and state Liberal candidate, Mav struck political paydirt with a campaign to rid Glenorchy pensioners of an Argentine ant infestation, and was elected to Glenorchy council in 2000, fourth out of six with almost a quota in his own right.  A similar vote saw him returned third in 2005. He resigned from the council four months after contentiously starting to work outside the state in mid-2008.

That work was in Western Australia, where Mav attracted much controversy as Chief Executive Officer for the Gumala Aboriginal Corporation.  See hereherehereherehere and many others. While in WA Mav also found time to run for office under his full name Mavrigiannakis, placing second in the 2015 mayoral contest for Victoria Park.  He states that while in WA he supported Labor.

In 2017 Mav chose to run an old-fashioned grassroots-style and sign campaign without any online presence, and he seems to be doing the same thing again this time.  We won't get websites or Twitter or Facebook, but keep an ear out for him at the ABC radio debate.  Mav's nomination gives his place of residence as Orford, within the electorate (after being listed as from Cambridge when running for Rumney last year.)

Independent John The Duke Of Avram is a former state MP and Sorell councilor. The Duke became famous as founder of his own micronation which had a tourism "bank" in Strahan. He was elected to the state parliament as a Liberal for a single term in 1989, with the result being widely attributed to the primitive nature of Robson Rotation at the time favouring him on the preferences of Robin Gray.  The Duke was defeated at the next state election but was later briefly Deputy Mayor of Sorell. In 2002 he ran for the position of Mayor but was not even elected as a Councillor, and he has since made unsuccessful attempts to get his Sorell council seat back.

Other independents and minor parties

Independent Kim Peart (Twitter, candidacy announcement) contested (in a technical sense) Lyons at the state election, polling 158 votes of which 33 came within the electorate of Prosser.  In a smaller field he'll do a lot better this time, but that's not saying much.  Peart, a visual artist from Ross, was once included in a list of Tasmania's 200 movers and shakers by someone who had overestimated how many movers and shakers Tasmania has.  That was on account of his bushland conservation work in the Clarence area, despite which he finished second last at the 2007 Clarence council election.  Peart is a frequent contributor of some very odd material to Tasmanian Times including not one, but yes, two articles complaining about my five-word description of him in my Lyons guide.

Independent Scott Wiggins (Facebook, Linkedin) is a former Southern Midlands councillor from  1996 until a narrow defeat in 2002.  He has worked as a vehicle fleet manager and driver for the state government (including the current Leader, I take it he means Leonie Hiscutt) and has also managed a livestock farm. Wiggins is listed as living in Howrah which is just outside the electorate.

Independent Kelly Spaulding (Facebook) is the Deputy Mayor of Tasman Council.  He was first elected to the Council in 2002 for a single term, then next contested in 2014 when he was elected Deputy from off the council.  He is a lifelong resident of the Highcroft area, which is within the electorate.  His Facebook page lists him as owner of Lucky Ducks Cafe, Nubeena.  He has also worked in agriculture, forestry, fishing and tourism.  He is attempting to campaign by word of mouth and without election signage or pamphlets on the grounds of voters being sick of election season.

Independent Jo Bain (Facebook, Twitter) has a background in heritage conservation, environmental planning and agriculture and has served in the Army Reserve and as a volunteer firefighter.  Bain states she has "only become politically engaged in the last four or five years".  She was the endorsed Greens candidate for Southern Midlands council in 2014, polling 3.8% (11th out of 12).  At that election her place of residence was listed as Parattah, which is also within Prosser.

Colin Harriss, a social worker from New Norfolk (outside the electorate), is a candidate for the Tasmanians 4 Tasmania Party (Facebook), which contested two seats at the state election with a spectacular lack of success. 

Lorraine Bennett (announcement, SFF state election page) is the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate.  Bennett is a former recruitment consultant and Human Resources and recruitment manager.  Bennett is the party's state secretary and recently contested Denison at the state election, polling 1.8% in an electorate the party always polls badly in.  At that election her place of residence was given as Granton, which is slightly outside Prosser.

Campaign and Issues

Population growth in the Sorell area in southern Prosser has created traffic and transport issues which were effectively canvassed by Sarah Lovell in winning Rumney.  The Liberal government covered off on these, announcing a series of upgrades and reconstructions in the leadup to the state election, but it was not enough to stop a swing against it in the area.

Concern about fish farms was much hyped in the state election leadup but proved to be a total fizzer in issues polling and outside of directly affected booths.  Overall, the state election found the Liberals' employment, economy and majority government message resonating across most of Prosser.  Howlett has stated that if elected she sees her role to be helping the government deliver its mandate, a contrast to the typical concept of the Legislative Council as the house of review.

With both major parties contesting, the question of party members in the Legislative Council is likely to come under scrutiny.  The Liberals are already saying that Lambert would be just another Labor blocker while Labor will portray Howlett as just a rubber stamp.  Mulder, Mav, or any other effective independent, may well argue both of these things, and Mulder has even been saying that "the conservatives" are more dangerous than Labor, though his own voting pattern has been conservative at times in the past.  Windermere MLC Ivan Dean, who I currently consider to be marginally to the right of the Liberal Party, has said it would be "a tragedy" if Labor won another seat.

Gun regulation is an issue in an electorate which includes farmers keen to control browsing wildlife, but also includes the sites of the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.  The day before the state election, the government was revealed to have made undertakings to firearms groups concerning relaxation of some restrictions, but not to have made this public policy.  Opponents of the policy allege the proposed relaxation is dangerous while supporters maintain that the current restrictions are unnecessarily strict.  Tony Mulder supports the government's push to relax the laws.

In addressing criticism over the gun policy, the government stated that it had a large number of policies that had been disclosed to interest groups but not published.  (In political circles this is being referred to as their "200 secret policies" though one account suggested there were actually 170).  Labor have correctly said that full details of these "policies" have still not been released (what has been released is a list of questionnaires and similar requests to which the government responded, and also a list of projects funded).  Labor leader Rebecca White has said Labor wants to make sure the Upper House "isn't a rubber stamp" for policies that were not taken to the election.  My view is that the "200 secret policies" matter is of interest to politics junkies only and is unlikely to influence the result.

In early April, corflutes for Howlett, Lambert, Mulder and Mav were seen along the Midlands Highway, with Howlett's by far the commonest.  This doesn't necessarily mean anything, as Liberal corflutes outnumbered Labor's heavily at the 2016 federal election in the same area but the Liberals' result in that one was poor.  There have been reports of Mav waving signs on causeways around Sorell.

There has been some sparring between Mulder and Mav with Mulder calling Mav a "maverick" and highlighting Mav's Gumala issues, while Mav has called Mulder a "fake independent".

More notes on the campaign and issues will be added as the campaign develops.


If the 2018 state election results were repeated, the Liberals would narrowly win after preferences, but majority government won't be a factor in an Upper House contest.  There is also the aversion of some voters for voting for party candidates in the Legislative Council at all, though that hasn't really been on display in the south of this electorate recently.

In 2014 the Liberals sought to turn the honeymoon effect from their win from Opposition into Legislative Council seats, as Jim Bacon's ALP had done before them, but they got a very rude surprise.  They failed to win the vacant seat of Huon or make a contest of it with Kerry Finch in Rosevears.  Was there anything systematic in the voters' rejections of the Liberal candidates, or were these results were really down to the nature of the specific contests?  Was Finch too entrenched for a relatively low-profile Liberal opponent to beat, and was Peter Hodgman coming out of long retirement to join his nephew's team a bridge too far for Huon voters?  In this case we know Howlett has polled well in this electorate this year, so if she doesn't win we can assume the anti-party or at least anti-government backlash in LegCo voting is too strong for a Liberal candidate to win in this electorate.

With the new electorate being neither especially right- or left-wing it seems to be an ideal stage for a high-profile populist or conservative independent.   Of the two long-standing prominent contenders, Mulder has the edge in profile from having served nearly half the electorate's voters as an MLC.  Mav is also known to these electors as a recent candidate who polled reasonably well, but the question will be his success level at building his profile across the electorate.  Both Mulder and Mav are controversial personalities, but Mulder at least has been campaigning for a very long time.

Playsted is less controversial and is quite well known within the electorate (indeed he is the most prominent contender who lives in it!), the question being whether he can build enough primary vote support in a four-week campaign. He is certainly trying.  With a similarly late announcement I am not sure whether Parkinson is still high-profile enough to pose a threat (especially having formerly been an MP for an entirely different electorate), but it will be interesting to see how the pro-Labor vote splits between him and the endorsed Labor candidate Lambert.  The remaining independents and minor party candidates don't have much profile between them and I doubt any of the remainder will break 10%.  Spaulding deserves a mention here because at least he can actually win his local council seat (unlike a few of the others), but that said his council is a small one.

It would be a really odd result if Labor were to win Prosser after being trounced in the state election, but it shouldn't be dismissed too readily.  Prosser is more Labor-friendly than Pembroke, which Labor won in 2017, and Labor may be suited by the campaign spending limits (which favour volunteer ground campaigns) and by the majority government issue no longer being in play. 

With a very large field of candidates there will be large swings "against" the major parties compared to the state election, and probably a long preference distribution to establish the winner as it is unlikely anyone will poll anything remotely near 50% on primaries. If either major party is eliminated their preferences will flow to whatever independents remain in the race over the other major party, which might allow a lead of, say, 10% for the other major party to be closed down, but if it ends up being Labor-vs-Liberal then preferences might not do all that much.

This is the most open LegCo race in many years in terms of the number of candidates who are capable, if they campaign well and things go right for them, of winning.  However perhaps it is too open for the indies - the sheer number of them should make it hard for any of them to poll a decent primary vote.  This matters because while there will be some pooling of preferences between the indies, preference flows in the LegCo these days are not terribly strong. Also, since voters are only required to number three boxes there will be a significant exhaust rate.  Probably, the winning candidate will only need to reach a total vote of around 43% after preferences to be sure of crossing the line.

(A historical note here: Robert Armstrong's victory in Huon in 2014, overturning a Liberal Party lead of 5.7% on primaries, was the largest lead overturned since 1966.  However early in the 20th century there were several cases of double-digit leads being overturned on preferences.)

Readers of this site have Howlett favourite and I think they should be right - she has a good chance of polling a primary vote that is ahead of Lambert and too far ahead of the indies for any of them to catch her. 

Also see

Tally Room guide

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Legislative Council 2018: Hobart

I'm getting in a bit earlier than usual with the Legislative Council guides this year as there are quite a few declared candidates already.  I will have one preview thread for each seat and I expect to have live comments on Saturday 5th May.  There may also be other threads if any campaign issue warrants them.  For more on Legislative Council voting patterns see my 2014-8 voting patterns article.

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

Seat Profile

As its name suggests Hobart is mostly inner-city Hobart.  It falls entirely within the state electorate just contested under the name Denison (henceforth to be Clark at both state and federal levels.)  It includes most of the Hobart City Council area with the exceptions of the relatively wealthy Sandy Bay and Mt Nelson areas in the south, and some parts of the far north of New Town and Lenah Valley.  At the recent redistribution Hobart lost the latter areas to Elwick, but gained Tolmans Hill, Ridgeway, Fern Tree and a small part of Dynnyrne from Nelson.

Hobart (my home electorate) is mostly left-wing middle suburbia, with two relatively affluent suburbs (Battery Point and Tolmans Hill) and the very Green areas of Fern Tree and Ridgeway on the fringes of Wellington Park.  However in recent years, the nature of its leftness has been fluid.  Once one of the Greenest areas in the country, Hobart was the centre of Andrew Wilkie's Denison win as a left-wing independent in the 2010 federal election.  At the 2016 election it was the centre of the successful below-the-line campaign to save left-wing Labor Senator Lisa Singh from an otherwise unwinnable ticket position.  Finally at the 2018 state election, Hobart booths saw swings of 10 to 19 points to Labor and 3 to 11 points against the Greens, as Hobart voters responded strongly to Labor's more left-wing campaign and display of social conscience over poker machines.

At the state election, Labor won 41.4% of the primary vote at booths within Hobart, compared to 28.5% for the Liberals and 28.4% for the Greens.  In the process Labor topped all booths in the electorate except for Battery Point (Liberals) and Fern Tree and Cascades (Greens).  My own booth, South Hobart, was among the most extreme with an 18-point swing to the ALP and a 10-point swing against the Greens.  (If you want to play around with booth swings, Ben Raue has a great page here.)

From the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries there was a larger seat of Hobart which returned three MLCs in a bizarre rotation of single-seat elections for the same seat.  This seat was then split in three in 1946, creating the modern seat, which has had various boundary changes since.  From 1952 until 2012 the modern seat was usually owned by Labor, except for an interruption from 1982-1994.  During that interruption it was held firstly by Hank Petrusma (uncle of Jacquie's husband), a somewhat populist independent and high-profile real-estate agent, and then briefly by conservative independent Jean Moore after Petrusma's attempt to enter the Lower House with his Advance Tasmania party failed dismally.


Rob Valentine (website election page, Twitter) won the contest to replace Doug Parkinson (ALP) on his retirement in 2012.  In a field of six, Valentine polled a primary vote of 37% to 22.6% for Penelope Ann (Greens) and 19.2% for Labor's Dean Winter (now a Kingborough councillor).  After preferences Valentine defeated Ann 62.5-37.5.  Ann's performance was not bad given that she lived well outside the electorate, but following the election the Greens were found to have illegally advertised in The Mercury on polling day.  For far too much detail on the 2012 results see my writeup on Tasmanian Times.

Valentine's voting on particular motions can be quite individual and he doesn't have a very strong tendency to agree with any other specific MLC.  Overall, however, he has always been among the more left-wing Legislative Councillors (indeed he has been ranked the most left-wing in all my reviews of the Council's voting patterns until this year.)  His politics as an MLC therefore bear some broad comparisons to Wilkie's, but his style is less combative and more conversational. Prior to winning the seat in 2012, Valentine was Hobart's longest-serving Lord Mayor.  An alderman since 1992, initially elected on one of a series of residents'-group tickets of the time, he became Lord Mayor in 1999 when he narrowly defeated one-term incumbent John Freeman.  He then retained the position four times by very large margins. Valentine has no known current or remotely recent party connections, but did contest the 1992 state election as a minor Green Independent (without being a party member).

Political disagreements of opinion aside, Valentine's first term as an MLC has been without any controversy, and has even been praised by a formerly harsh critic, the Mercury's Greg Barns.

Declared Challengers

Of the declared challengers only Behrakis and Griggs live within the electorate. 

Simon Behrakis (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin) is the endorsed Liberal candidate for Hobart.  Behrakis has a degree in economics and is a federal Small Business Outreach Officer and parliamentary researcher.  He is also assistant manager of Hobart grocery chain Salamanca Fresh.

Behrakis was an endorsed Liberal candidate for Denison, polling a reasonable 2317 votes on a ticket dominated by Elise Archer and Sue Hickey.  His best booths both in terms of raw total and his share of the Liberal vote were mostly the wealthier booths, of which only Battery Point falls within the Hobart seat.  Behrakis appears to be a keen culture warrior and in his Australian Christian Lobby questionnaire did his best to collect the full set by attacking progressive history, Safe Schools, gender theory and Change The Date (all in his "top two priorities" section!)

Richard Griggs (independent) (website, Facebook, Twitter) is a lawyer and board member of the Hobart Community Law Service.  He is state Director of Civil Liberties Australia and a former state public service advisor and policy officer.  He was fairly briefly head of office for Greens Leader Cassy O'Connor in 2015-6 and is also a former advisor to the ACT Greens' Shane Rattenbury. He is not currently a member of the Greens but clearly enjoys support from many Greens (eg based on poster sites). 

Griggs is a prominent campaigner for a state Human Rights Act, a proposal which is supported by Labor and the Greens but rejected by the current Liberal government.  He has stated that if elected he intends to assess legislation based on "evidence, human rights benchmarks and the interests of future generations".  Griggs was also highly critical of the government's failed attempts to revise the Anti-Discrimination Act, and has stated that he supports a Tarkine National Park.  Griggs' campaign is authorised by his father, land surveyor and property developer Nick Griggs, who ran for Hobart City Council in 2014 on a campaign endorsed by Legislative Council president Jim Wilkinson, but I'm not inclined to read anything political into that indirect connection.

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate Brendon Hext (SFF state website) is an armoured truck operator and gun owner from Rokeby (outside the electorate).  Hext polled 2.9% of the vote in Franklin at the recent state election but this vote was doubtless bolstered by being the only candidate in Franklin outside of Liberal, Labor and Green.  The otherwise mysterious candidate became a household name to Hare-Clark junkies as his preferences became very significant to the contest there, lifting Liberal Nic Street well ahead of the Greens' Rosalie Woodruff before Street went on to be defeated anyway.

Christopher Simcox (Animal Justice Party) is the first AJP candidate to contest a state election for the party in Tasmania.  Simcox has frequently appeared in media as a spokesman for Animals Tasmania and its precursor Against Animal Cruelty Tasmania.

Alan Barnett (Tasmanians 4 Tasmania) is a "Consultant, semi-retired" (unsure in what yet), who ran for alderman in the recent Glenorchy election polling 113 votes (<1%) and then also for Denison polling 347 votes (c. 0.5%).  This was consistent with a general lack of success for this new party.

Not Running

Labor has announced that it will not endorse a candidate

Socially conservative one-term Labor MHA Madeleine Ogilvie was considering whether to run as an independent or not.  (There is, incidentally, nothing to prevent independents from running as "Independent Labor", with or without tacit party approval.)  Ogilvie, who lives in the electorate, was unseated by within-party challenger Ella Haddad this month, the only MP unseated in this way at the 2018 state election.  Ogilvie's performances within Hobart were typical of her results across Denison as a whole.  Matt Lyons in comments refers to a Facebook post March 21 where Ogilvie has said she is not running (I haven't seen this post.)  Ogilvie confirms in comments below (April 11) that she isn't running.

Campaign and issues

Legislative Council elections used to be dominated by parish-pump style local campaigning but in recent years there has been more focus on state issues in Legislative Council campaigns.

The Hobart electorate is significantly affected (by Tasmanian standards) by traffic congestion.  Griggs has called for free Metro buses in peak hour, leading to some Twitter debate about costings.

The proposed Mt Wellington cable car could appear on the campaign trail.  Polling suggests the proposal is supported by Tasmanian voters generally, but that within the Hobart electorate opinion is probably about evenly divided.  Valentine's was the lone dissent on the Cable Car Facilitation Bill 2017 (on the grounds of claimed bypassing of normal planning process rather than necessarily opposition to the project); Griggs has stated he is "skeptical" about the cable car.

Housing affordability/availability and any possible link to Airbnb expansion was an issue during the state election campaign in this area, although it was difficult to detect any impact of it on the result.  Valentine has supported a call from Rosemary Armitage MLC for an inquiry into the matter.  Griggs is lobbying for 10% of the housing built at Macquarie Point to be affordable housing.

Further notes on the campaign and issues will be added as it develops.


Incumbent Legislative Councillors are returned about 80% of the time and had a dream run from 2004-15 with only one incumbent losing in all that time. However two incumbent losses in the last two years, and a rather close call for a third, will have all recontesting MLCs on their toes.  Overall though Valentine is a good fit for his electorate and should be very hard for any opponent to beat provided that he campaigns sufficiently. 

In my view Behrakis and Griggs are the only challengers likely to poll substantial votes; I will be surprised if any of the others are close to double figures.  The seat is simply too left-wing for the Liberals to be likely to win and if they can finish second (breaking the run of three progressive vs Green results) then that will be a respectable outcome provided that they poll above, say, 20%.  Griggs as a Greens-like candidate running as an independent, and making quite an effort, is a more intriguing prospect and it will be interesting to see how he goes, however he is at a large profile disadvantage compared to Valentine.

For the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers this is another very unsuitable seat.  They polled below 1.5% at every booth at the state election and below 1% at all bar three.  They should do better than that in a smaller field but with the state election over, it's surprising that they're running.

Also see

Tally Room guide

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Legislative Council Voting Patterns 2014-8

Advance summary:

1. This article presents a revised analysis of voting patterns in the Legislative Council (the upper house of Tasmanian Parliament) based on contested divisions involving the current MLCs in the last four years.

2. Although there is a degree of independence in all Legislative Council voting, the Council continues to have a fairly clearly defined "left wing" consisting of the four Labor Party MLCs, and independents Mike Gaffney, Ruth Forrest, Kerry Finch and Rob Valentine.

3. Excepting Rosemary Armitage and Tania Rattray (and Jim Wilkinson, who does not vote) the remaining MLCs (independents Ivan Dean, Robert Armstrong, Greg Hall, and Liberal Leonie Hiscutt) can all be clearly placed in a strongly-defined right-wing cluster.

4. A possible left-to-right sort of the Council is Forrest, Valentine, the four Labor MLCs (Farrell, Lovell, Siejka and Willie in no particular order), Gaffney, Finch, Armitage, Rattray, Hall, Armstrong, Hiscutt (Liberal), Dean.  However some of the exact positions in this list are debatable.

5. Going into the 2018 elections, the left holds an absolute majority in the current Legislative Council, although the fact that four of the left MLCs are independents means it will not necessarily be realised on every specific issue.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Batman Bits And Pieces

There are a few points of interest I thought were worth commenting on quickly following Labor's drubbing of the Greens in the Batman by-election.

The 34% swing that wasn't

It has been widely reported that the Northcote West booth swung to Labor by 34 points.  This is incorrect; the actual two-party swing in that booth was 9%, which was still one of the largest in the electorate.  It was quite obvious based on the primary votes that the AEC had accidentally transposed the Labor and Green 2PP figures during data entry.  This kind of thing happens now and then and it is best to check cases where one booth says something off the scale before commenting further.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tasmania 2018: How Woodruff Won Franklin

It's been a hideous few weeks for the Greens - they lost votes and a seat in Tasmania, were thumped in the Batman by-election and were remarkably anonymous in South Australia.  The party is now facing serious internal recriminations over these poor results.

However there was one rather nifty save amid all this, and before I move on to the other house of the Tasmanian parliament (there are two Upper House seat contests coming up in May) I want to post the instructive Hare-Clark details of how Rosalie Woodruff (Green) managed to retain her seat in a very close contest with Nic Street (Liberal).  This article is naturally rather mathsy and has been rated Wonk Factor 4/5.