The
scandal (or beat-up, if you prefer) of Paul Lennon’s accommodation
upgrade has thrown some attention on this year’s Tasmanian election.
This morning’s Herald Sun
headlines with “Poll loss feared on Lennon deal,” and quotes federal
Labor MP Harry Quick saying that it could cost Labor the election: “I
think majority government has disappeared down the toilet.”

Given
that Labor hasn’t lost a state election anywhere since 1997, that would
be pretty remarkable. But it’s a difficult claim to verify, for several
reasons.

Firstly, we don’t know when the election is going to be held. The last Tasmanian election
was on 20 July 2002, so this one isn’t due until the winter. It has
been widely believed that Lennon would go early, in February or March,
but if he really thinks the accommodation affair has hurt him then that
option will be dropped very quickly. By July, it’s hard to imagine that
anyone will still care about it.

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Secondly, because Tasmania is
so small the major pollsters tend to ignore it. Newspoll hasn’t done a
state poll there since 2002; AC Nielsen, as far as I can tell, doesn’t
do them at all. The most recent polls, both released last month, are
from Gary Morgan and from TasPoll in the Hobart Mercury. Their numbers are quite different, but both show a significant movement against Labor.

Thirdly,
proportional representation in Tasmania makes the relationship between
votes and seats different from the other states. Anywhere else, a Labor
Party with over 52% of the primary vote would win a huge majority, but
last time in Tasmania it gave the ALP only fourteen seats, as against
seven for the Liberals (with 27% of the vote) and four for the Greens
(18%). Only a three seat majority overall, but by Tasmanian standards
that’s a landslide.

Last month, a local expert at the Tasmanian Times
had a go at translating the latest Morgan poll into seats, and
concluded that it would produce the same numbers as the current
parliament. As he acknowledges, however, it’s all highly speculative.
Labor could certainly lose its absolute majority, but it is hard to
imagine the Liberals getting ahead of them, since they start 25
percentage points behind.

The Greens hope to improve their total
to six seats, and what will happen if they have the balance of power is
anyone’s guess. The Liberals have promised, repeatedly and vehemently,
not to govern with Greens support (as both they and Labor did at
different times in the 1990s), and have challenged Labor to do the
same. Paul Lennon is (to put it mildly) no friend of the Greens either.
So if the latest developments really do cost Labor its majority,
Tasmania could be in for a bumpy ride.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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