If we know anything about Tasmanian politics it is that the federal
seat of Bass was held tenuously but tenaciously by Labor’s Michelle
O’Byrne on wafer thin (although improving) margins in 1997 and 2001,
then fell to the Liberals last year on a 4.7% swing.

Despite the loss, she was a popular local member. As a
“thirty-something young mum” she struck a cord in this largely blue
collar, regional electorate and is given credit for keeping the swing
within reason in the face of Mark Latham’s suicidal forestry policy.

Now O’Byrne has nominated for the state election due before September
2006. What does her candidacy do for the state seat of Bass (same
boundaries state and federal) under the Hare Clark proportional voting

The answer is that she has made the sitting members very nervous. The
table below shows the primary vote for the five elected candidates at
the 2002 poll.

2002 Tasmanian Election for Bass
(Source: Tasmanian Electoral Commission)

Member elected Party Primary votes received Party quota (all candidates)
Jim Cox Labor 10,252 2.9
Kathryn Hay Labor 9,918
Kim Booth Greens 6,726 1.0
Sue Napier Liberal 6,656 1.9
Peter Gutwein Liberal 5,332

All five, it is believed, are recontesting. With Ms O’Byrne’s
candidacy, that means something has to give: six does not go into five.

The first call I shall make is that Michelle O’Byrne will win a seat –
given her profile and popularity she should be a certainty. The next
call is that the Greens’ Kim Booth will also hold. His 6,700 primaries
in 2002 doubled his unsuccessful 1998 result of 3,160, so he is clearly
building a support base. Also, he is the only major party
candidate to oppose Gunns’ Tamar Valley pulp mill proposal, which will
boost his chances.

So that means Cox, Hay, Napier and Gutwein will play musical chairs for the other three seats.

On the Liberal side Peter Gutwein, on 2002 figures, looks the most
vulnerable, but he has worked hard to establish himself in the
electorate as a future leader. The veteran Napier, a past opposition
leader, topped the poll for all candidates in 1998, but her primary
vote halved in 2002. If the erosion continues she won’t make it
this time.

But if Gutwein and Napier do both hold, then one of Labor’s Cox or Hay
will miss out. Considering that they polled so highly in 2002 it would
be a cruel blow for either. No-one is going to give up their seat
without a fight. But that is the paradox of Hare Clark: you are
at threat as much from party colleagues, often more so, than you are
from your political opposition.

Bass is going to be one hell of a fight, both within and between the parties.

Peter Tucker is a Hobart based accountant and consultant planner,
and a PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania’s School of
Government. In the past he has been a staffer for the Tasmanian
Liberals both in government and opposition.