One-fifth of Tasmanian voters will go to the polls tomorrow, the first Saturday in May being the usual date for its periodical Legislative Council elections. These are traditionally dull affairs owing to the chamber’s unique non-partisan composition: the current numbers there are Labor three, Liberal one and independents 11. Recently though, an ageing Labor government’s struggles to retain existing seats has brought a few recent contests to life. Most notable was the Pembroke by-election in August 2009 where Labor humiliatingly declined to offer a candidate to succeed their outgoing member, Allison Ritchie. The seat was won for the Liberals by Vanessa Goodwin, who became the first formal Liberal member in the chamber’s history. This time it’s a sitting member, Education, Children and Police Minister Lin Thorp, who is struggling to survive.
Members of the Legislative Council serve six-year terms, with the divisions organised into a cycle where two or three seats are up for election each year. However, this year the situation is complicated by the concurrence of what is actually a by-election for Derwent, which is being vacated by the retirement of Michael Aird, long-serving Labor member and former Treasurer Michael Aird. There will also be no election for one of the three seats being vacated, as no candidate has emerged to challenge incumbent Ruth Forrest in Murchison.
Rumney is based around Storm Bay about 25 kilometres east of Hobart and including Sorell, Richmond and Port Arthur. Lin Thorp did well to win the seat for Labor on its creation in 1999 at the expense of independent Steve Wilson, who had held the abolished division of Monmouth since 1980. Thorp’s re-election bid has been complicated by the independent candidacy of Paul Mason, a former Children’s Commissioner who has been critical of Thorp and the government over child protection issues, and to whom Thorp had to apologise for revealing confidential details about his job selection. Running as an “independent Liberal” is retired police commander Tony Mulder, who has enjoyed at least moral support from a Police Association campaign against the government over predicted cuts to police numbers. Rounding out the field are Penelope Ann for the Greens and two further independents, Cate Clark and John Forster. The ABC reports that “internal polling has Tony Mulder slightly ahead of Lin Thorp with voters, and the former children’s commissioner Paul Mason is said to be coming third”.
Covering the southern part and most of the centre of the city bearing its name, Launceston is being vacated by independent Don Wing, who has served here since 1982. Liberal and Labor have both stepped into the breach, their respective candidates being Sam McQuestin, the state party president, and Steve Bishop, a local lawyer. Informed Tasmanian observer Kevin Bonham talks of McQuestin running a “subtle as a brick” campaign involving “government-bashing of a kind typically seen in lower house elections”, together with an attempt to marshall anti-Oakeshott/Windsor sentiment against independents. The latter are two: Rosemary Armitage, a Launceston alderman and former deputy mayor, and Lou Clark (a woman), an executive officer of the Launceston Chamber of Commerce. The Greens have contentiously decided not to contest, despite traditionally polling in the high teens in the area. Kevin Bonham thinks Armitage the most likely winner, despite/because of McQuestin’s heavy-handed attacks on her as “a defacto Green candidate”.
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Derwent extends from Hobart outskirts for about 100 kilometres through the Derwent Valley. Labor’s nominee to succeed Michael Aird is Craig Farrell, Derwent Valley deputy mayor and electorate officer to federal Lyons MP Dick Adams. The Greens are fielding Phillip Bingley, a New Norkfolk environmental health officer. There are three independents: Jenny Branch, a Glenorchy councillor who ran as a Liberal candidate at the state election and as an independent when Aird was last up for election in 2009; Deirdre Flint, the mayor of Central Highlands; and local retailer Ray Williams. Aird’s vote fell from to 77.3 per cent to 51.6 per cent in 2009, and Labor is likely to fall further in his absence. Nonetheless, Kevin Bonham reckons Farrell should be able to do enough to win.
As always, tune in here tomorrow evening for live coverage of the count.