Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Pembroke By-Election

This is my preview article for the by-election for the Legislative Council seat of Pembroke.  Incumbent Vanessa Goodwin resigned the seat today, Monday 2 October, and already we have two declared candidates, one possible candidate and at least one party likely to endorse a candidate.  The by-election will be held on Saturday November 4, with nominations closing on October 12 and announced the next day.  The winner will have the seat for just 18 months before they will need to defend it.  (I am unsure yet if I will have live coverage of this by-election on the night, as it clashes with a field trip.)

My most recent piece about the voting balance in the Legislative Council was here, but since that was written, Labor's Sarah Lovell unseated "independent liberal" Tony Mulder in Rumney.  As a result, three Labor MLCs and four left-wing independents now have a blocking majority in the Legislative Council.  Throw in a couple of relatively centrist MLCs who only vote with the government a shade more often than not, and the government is having great trouble getting its most contentious legislation through.  It's not all doom, gloom and obstruction for them though, with a bill to speed up the kunanyi/Mt Wellington cable car assessment process recently sailing through with only one vote against.  

As Pembroke is a government seat, the best the government can do is hold station here.  The outcome could take on greater significance after the next state election should Labor manage to form government.  A win in Pembroke by a Labor or left-leaning candidate would give Labor a working majority on whatever bills appealed to the left independents, while a conservative win would still mean Labor needed to work with the centre or the right to pass its program.  The impact of this result is probably less if the Hodgman government manages to continue, since it doesn't have the numbers without working with the left side anyway.

Seat Profile

Pembroke is a small suburban seat that falls entirely within the City of Clarence on Hobart's eastern shore.  Population growth has seen the electorate shrink in the recent redistribution, losing its reddest booth Risdon Vale to adjacent Rumney, but the by-election will be held on the old boundaries.  The electorate stretches from Tranmere in the south to Risdon Vale and Otago in the north, but in future the northern boundary will be at Geilston Bay.  The suburb of Tranmere is wealthy and Liberal-leaning, Warrane as well as Risdon Vale is blue-collar and good for Labor, and the rest is all middle suburbia, with fairly high Green votes in Bellerive and Montague Bay.  In booth voting at the 2014 state election the Liberals scored 49.1% in Pembroke (51.2% statewide), Labor 32.9% (27.3%) and the Greens 13.2% (13.8).  These figures do not include postal votes, which lean Liberal. So while Pembroke is still just a little bit Labor-leaning by Tasmanian standards, it's really quite close to the average.

As befits this, Pembroke has been a swinging seat in recent decades.  Formerly held only by (sometimes notional) independents, Pembroke became a Liberal seat in 1991 when long-serving incumbent Peter McKay joined the Liberal Party.  On his retirement in 1999 it was won by conservative mayor Cathy Edwards, but Edwards was beaten by Labor's Allison Ritchie amid concern about her continuing to also hold a mayoral position.  Ritchie was a young Labor star who easily defended the seat once, but then resigned mid-term following health issues and a nepotism scandal.  Ritchie's later adventures included running (but not running for) the short-lived and bizarre "Tasmanian Nationals" outfit, which was a spectacular flop at the 2014 state election.  The Liberals then recovered the seat as discussed below.

Incumbent

Dr Vanessa Goodwin MLC, a highly qualified criminologist, won Pembroke easily in the 2009 by-election, polling 38.6% in a field of eight (more than three times her nearest rival). She easily defended the seat in 2013 with 51.1% to 36% for Ritchie (as an independent) and 12.9% for the Greens.  

Goodwin served as Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Corrections and Minister for the Arts.  This combination of legal portfolios was sometimes considered to add up to a conflict of interest, but she was always one of the Government's most popular and capable and least controversial performers.  Not being up for election at the time, Goodwin also played a side-role in the government's 2014 campaign by helping expose the Palmer United Party in a sort of media tag-team with yours truly.  (We've never met.)

Very sadly, Dr Goodwin suddenly became very ill earlier this year and was diagnosed with multiple brain tumours from which she is not expected to recover.  She has been on leave of absence for several months and has now resigned the seat following the Cabinet reshuffle forced by the sudden retirement announcement of Matthew Groom.

In answer to a reader question, I determined that Goodwin is at least the 11th MLC whose LegCo career both commenced and ended with a by-election.  Pembroke has had more of these than any other seat, and the most recent prior to her was indeed Peter McKay.  

Declared Candidates

Vacancies often attract larger fields.  This one has attracted seven, of whom four are party-endorsed and three are independent.

As candidate of the incumbent Liberal Party, James Walker (Facebook, Twitter, Council page) gets to go first here, but he's certainly the underdog.  After polling competitively in two unsuccessful runs for Clarence Council in 2009 and 2011, Walker was elected to the Council in 2012 on a recount when Tony Mulder resigned his Council seat after being elected to the Legislative Council.  Walker was then re-elected ninth out of 12 successful candidates at the 2014 election, his vote almost holding at its previous level despite the field being twice as strong under the new all-in-all-out system.

Walker, a podiatrist, is known to me as a fellow online politics junkie.  I've found him to be politically moderate and his preselection as a Liberal certainly flew under my radar, and that of many others trying to guess who the party might endorse.  He adopts distinctive personal branding (such as the shaping of the A in his name into a pair of legs, probably as a more interesting alternative to endless Phantom or Texas Ranger jokes).  I haven't examined Walker's Clarence voting record in detail.

The first candidate to declare was Doug Chipman (Facebook, Twitter, another Twitter accountCouncil page). Chipman was elected to Council at what I think was the first attempt in 2000.  After two unsuccessful runs for Mayor he unseated former state MP Martin McManus for the Deputy Mayoralty in 2007.  Since then his results have been as outstanding as they've been consistent: re-elected Deputy in 2009 (52.6% primary, field of 4), elected Mayor 2011 (53.5%, in field of 4), returned as Mayor 2014 (53.5% in field of 5).  As a councillor he polled over three quotas in his own right in 2014, five and a half times his Liberal opponent's tally.   

Chipman is a former Liberal Party State President, and current chairman of the Local Government Association of Tasmania.  However he has chosen to run as an "independent", saying he "would not enjoy being constrained by party policy" and that with the prospect of a hung parliament at the next state election the Council needed "a steadying independent voice".  (Aren't 10 independents out of 15 "steadying" enough?). Chipman is considered pro-development and has been outspoken in defence of a controversial accommodation proposal at Kangaroo Bay.  However he has also opposed the government's TasWater takeover.

The endorsed Labor candidate is Joanna Siejka (candidacy announcementTwitter, Facebook).  Siejka is the CEO of the Youth Network of Tasmania (on leave), Chair of the National Youth Coalition for Housing, and from July 2016 until very recently a board member of TasTAFE.  Siejka is has a reasonably high profile, having several media mentions in the past 18 months.  I am not aware of any past electoral form.

The endorsed Greens candidate is Bill Harvey (Twitter, Facebook ). Harvey is an alderman on the Hobart City Council, which means he is from the other side of the river (Pembrokers don't much care for western-shore ring-ins), though he has some links to the eastern shore including involvement in beach cleanups.  Harvey has been on Hobart council since 2007, except for an 18-month hiatus in 2014-6 between unexpectedly losing his seat to fellow Green Anna Reynolds and getting it back when Suzy Cooper resigned.  His voting record showed him to be more moderate than other Greens councillors, anecdotally ruffling some feathers among the purists.  Harvey was the Greens' #2 Denison candidate in 2014 polling over 1500 votes. He is an English teacher, formerly involved in a Malaysian/Chinese business college in Beijing and a courier business delivering boutique wine, bookcases and antiques.  He has also sometimes acted as a compere for Legislative Council candidate debates.

The fifth candidate (there has to be a fifth candidate, so that votes can exhaust, and we can talk about votes exhausting being a thing) is independent Hans Willink (Facebook, Twitter, Tasmanian Times article).  This is Willink's ninth election according to the Mercury (mostly as an independent except for a Liberal run in the distant past and an unsuccessful Senate run with the Science Party).  In these he has got near winning once, in the 2014 Clarence Council race when he was 13th in the race for 12 seats. His most interesting tilt was for the LegCo seat of Nelson where he aroused the ire of his former party and was threatened by the same Sam McQuestin who this week implied the Liberals were being "bullied" over their pub closure claims.  A later Denison run with Wilkie-like branding attracted a slightly (but not much) less frosty reaction. A former army bomb disposal officer who has also worked for the police, the public service and the HEC, Willink was more recently Tasmania's first Uber driver. Willink's politics are fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

Two more candidates were revealed when nominations were announced.  Clarence councillor Richard James (Council page) has run in a lot more elections than Willink.  This is his sixth (!) tilt for the Pembroke seat in its last eight elections alone.  James finished second in 1989 and 1995, a distant third in 1999 when up against Lara Giddings and Cathy Edwards, and a distant second in 2007 and 2009 (in the latter case overtaking the Greens from third on primaries).  James was first elected to Clarence council from 1984 til 1989 and then from 1994 to the present day, and was in the extremely distant past a Liberal and a Democrat (I think in that order).  At the 2014 Clarence election James was second elected, polling a quota in his own right, but was no match for Chipman in the mayoral ballot getting just 17%.

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers have endorsed council employee Carlo di Falco (announcement).  Di Falco hails from Forcett in the adjacent electorate of Rumney and his special subject, I'm sure you'll be surprised to learn, is guns.  He is a target shooter, hunter and gun collector.  His bio says he has "been involved in the State National Service Rifle discipline for 6 years hosting a National event in the position of discipline chair in 2013." He has written op eds in the Mercury arguing against gun control and to raise concerns about restrictions being placed on gun owners because of thefts.  He has also appeared on Tasmania Talks.


Not Running

As of 9 October, Tony Mulder, recently defeated MLC for the adjacent seat of Rumney and former Clarence City Councillor, announced he would not be running.  Previously there had been speculation, including by Mulder, that he might run either as an endorsed Liberal or as an independent, but the very speedy endorsement of James Walker cut the former off at the pass.  My view is that Mulder would probably have polled reasonably but would not have got close to winning.  Mulder has said he endorses the Liberal candidate "100%".

Allison Ritchie also said she wasn't running, and endorsed Chipman.

Campaign

Notes will be added on the campaign as time permits.

Campaign "issues" are things that candidates and observers talk about during the campaign.  It is often assumed that they impact on the result, but they don't necessarily do so.

The Government's proposed TasWater takeover is already a major issue - so much so that the by-election has delayed an Upper House vote on the issue.

On the second day of the campaign, the Liberals started labelling Chipman as the "TasWater candidate" and said he had "been embarrassingly forced to admit that water prices will be lower under the Liberal plan to take control of TasWater".  This claim was ambitiously based on a Chipman quote that started "What the Government's intending to do, is lower the price ..." and collapsed completely ("Pembroke Liberal candidate James Walker fires election shot over Doug Chipman's TasWater 'quote'") when it was revealed that the full quote had said the plan would lead to an increase.   The net result was an opportunity for Chipman to distance himself from the government, and a rap over the knuckles for the Liberals from the Electoral Commission.

Walker has since challenged Chipman to a 1-on-1 debate over TasWater to which Chipman responded "I am looking forward to debating the real issues for people in Pembroke on Mornings With @LeonCompton with all candidates".  We can take that as a no.

Poker machines are an issue, largely because Labor is still to release a settled policy on the issue going into the next state election.  Siejka has been critical of the ready availability of poker machines in her YNOT role.   The Liberals have claimed as a result that several hotels in the electorate will close if Labor wins, but this received a roasting in comments on Facebook and was disputed by one of the hoteliers.  That said, it does seem to be the view of hoteliers that withdrawing pokies from the electorate would have an impact, even if it is one that the Liberal campaign is exaggerating.

Walker has distanced himself from the creation of some of the Liberals' more contentious online meme creation attempts.

The Greens support banning pokies and are claiming that both the major parties are useless on the issue.  The established pattern of the campaign on this issue so far seems to be that Labor will be wedged senseless by the Liberals and Greens while Chipman's position will get far less scrutiny.

Siejka will seek to raise issues including health, housing affordability and education.  Both Labor and the Liberals have engaged in fast ferry politics, although Chipman has suggested ferries alone will not fix traffic congestion.  One advantage that parties have in a LegCo seat in the leadup to a state election is that they can porkbarrel, with Labor's promise to build a new child and family centre for the Warrane/Mornington area another example.

Generational factors may also be at play: Chipman at 71 is not that far short of the combined ages of Walker and Siejka combined, but has been keen to stress his experience and that he has the energy for the role.  If Chipman wins he will narrowly take Ivan Dean's record as the oldest candidate elected to the LegCo in the last 50 years, but that record exists mainly because older MLCs have tended to retire rather than seek re-election.

Some other possible factors include the general performance of the Hodgman Government going into an election and any possible blowback from the Kangaroo Bay development as a magnet for Green or anti-Chipman votes.  (The Greens may have some trouble telling a coherent story there because their alderman voted to approve the development - only Richard James voted against.)  Because of the overlap with Clarence City Council, the by-election is likely to have a municipal feel.  Chipman has raised traffic congestion, especially the Mornington roundabout (a staple of Pembroke elections past) as a concern.

Issues raised by Willink thus far have included protection for older workers, reducing poker machines and supporting small business.

Siejka's involvement with TasTAFE has attracted attention from some Liberals as the organisation is currently facing a nepotism and expenses scandal, in which Siejka is not personally involved. However, Siejka attracted praise from the government upon appointment to that role and states she was brought in to help bring about change.

The Liberals' preselection of Walker rather than Mulder is significant in itself as the preselection was announced at warp speed, reportedly without the usual formal process. My suspicion is that aside from the very tight timeframe for the by-election, the Government would have been keen to avoid a possible Mulder candidacy under the Liberal banner, or protracted discussion of it.  Mulder is a loose cannon anyway*, and is still smarting from the Rumney loss as shown for instance by his claim that running would be about "making sure Labor does not steal Pembroke, like it did in Rumney, on 34 per cent of the vote."  Mr Mulder himself won Rumney in 2011 with just 28% of the primary vote!  Mulder would be running on emotion given the sad circumstances of Goodwin's forced resignation, but the voters of Pembroke were brutally unsentimental when Honey Bacon tried to continue Jim Bacon's legacy in the seat in 2009.   This is to say nothing of any possible disdain for "recycled politicians".

(*He denies this.)

Early in the campaign Walker has the most (indeed the only) corflute visibility around the Tasman Bridge and Rosny Park, but I am yet to explore the full electorate.  Labor has had doorknocking teams out in force and both Labor and Chipman have corflutes up in various places based on social media.

Prospects

There are seven candidates, but I think that only Chipman, Siejka and Walker can actually win, and of these Walker is at pretty long odds.

Chipman is going to be a hard candidate to beat.  Local mayors who have dominated council elections, as he has done, are frequently elected as Legislative Councillors (sometimes causing the chamber to be derided as a boomer Mayor retirement home).  Chipman's choice to run as an "independent" and thereby escape blowback directed at the Hodgman Government is likely to prove a shrewd one, and his TasWater stance provides him with a plausible defence to being a "closet Liberal".  However it has forced him to take a position on an election issue, which is not a burden faced by most mayors who run for Legislative Council. An advantage Chipman may enjoy is that he probably only needs to be second or perhaps even third on primaries.  On preferences he would be likely to beat either the Liberal or Labor candidates on the preferences of the other.

Walker is well and truly up against it with such an opponent and given the frequent distrust of party politics upstairs (admittedly more of a thing in the north of the state than in the south), but will find the election to be a useful profile-booster for the future.  The by-election atmosphere and also the federal drag factor (which I think even affects LegCo elections) don't make this easy for the Liberals.

Labor must be considered a chance after displacing incumbents in Elwick and Rumney, and given their past history of pretty good performances in this seat.  I expect Siejka to at least make the final two, and especially given that she is the only female candidate (out of seven!) she may well top the poll on primary votes.  But I think this one is harder for Labor than Elwick and Rumney.  Three main reasons - (i) the party does not have the advantage of the long ground-game build-up it enjoyed in those two seats (indeed this is a very short campaign) (ii) the electorate is not quite as ALP-friendly as Rumney and much less so than Elwick (iii) both those victories were achieved against somewhat eccentric incumbents and taking on a currently serving mayor (for the whole electorate) is probably more difficult.

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party polled abysmally in Pembroke booths at the Senate election breaking 1% at only three of them.  They only managed 7% in adjacent Rumney with a higher profile candidate and won't be hitting a lot of targets here.  However they are well organised for the state election compared to other similar parties and this is probably more about more publicity for the party statewide.

The Greens won't win this seat and tend to struggle in large fields full of independents.  Especially with a candidate from outside the electorate, I'm not sure they will break 10% here.

Of the minor indies, Richard James will struggle to compete on the same footing as mayor Chipman, but could still get into double figures.  Willink is unlikely (in this large field) to match his 8% in Nelson in 2013.  This is probably a profile run for him with a view to finally crossing the line when Clarence goes to the polls next year.

Mostly this election will serve as a testing ground for the major parties going into the next state election.  The Chipman factor will make it challenging to read too much into the results.

Irrelevant Footnote: Who Stole Rumney?

I should post Tony Mulder's tweeted reply to my tweeted comments re Rumney-theft (which were similar to my written comments above):


Exhaust can occur in Legislative Council elections when there are five or more candidates, because voters only have to vote 1 to 3.  However, it's extremely rare for exhaust to decide a seat through vote-splitting between similar candidates, or even at all.  In Rumney in 2011, 318 votes exhausted but the margin was 1278.  In 2017, 387 votes exhausted but the margin was 1004.  In neither case did exhaust determine the result. 

3 comments:

  1. Thank you Dr Kevin Bonham, but most particularly the commentary regarding Tony Mulder.
    I had previously enjoyed a favourable correspondence relationship with Tony Mulder (my once being a pro-Mulder advocate) however that died in the backside because of his ridiculous pro-logging stance.
    Fascinating to read how his former colleagues have shied away from this former same party as a now practiced MLC.
    Seems that his next role in life is to buy himself some chooks and to fuss over them in his now no longer public office capacity of latent retirement mode.

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  2. What are your thoughts should Labor declare an anti Pokies, Pokies out of pubs, policy?

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    1. Do you mean what would be their best approach tactically or what would I personally like them to do?

      The latter question is the easier one for me: I personally strongly dislike pokies because they do not give the player any opportunity to make money through skill. They are also addictive for some players and this addiction causes broader social harm. As one who generally errs on the side of liberty, I think that if a person who is not addicted wants to play the pokies they should be allowed to and if a business wants to offer that service, including in a section of a pub, it should be allowed to. But that right should come with appropriate protections, such that someone should not even be able to start playing one of the things - anywhere - without having made it clear that they know they are in the long run losing money, that they know that the game is random except for having a house bias that causes them to lose money, and that there is no way in the long run to beat the machine. This information needs to be readily on hand in gaming venues at all times.

      On the former, I haven't studied the politics of this issue that closely, so don't have a clear view on what is the best option tactically. It is one of those things where polling can't necessarily be taken as a reliable guide to the political impact of a decision on the party making it. I do think that continuing to not have a clear policy will become damaging if it drags on for too long.



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