Given the Senate’s logic of providing equal representation to each state regardless of population, Tasmania is the state whose voters have the greatest bearing on its make-up, the ratio of senators to population being about 1:43,000, compared with roughly 1: 600,000 in New South Wales. Its effect over the past two election has been to tilt the Senate balance of power leftwards, with the state producing successive results of three Labor, two Liberal and one Greens: the only “four Left, two Right” results in any state at either election.

All the indications from opinion polling are that there is little chance of this happening again this time, with Labor facing big losses in the lower house and the Greens carrying baggage from being in coalition with Labor at state level, as well as having lost former leader Bob Brown.

The likelihood of a three-Left, three-Right result at the coming election makes it intuitively likely that the Liberals will elect a third candidate for the first time in 2004. However, the election’s explosion of preference-exchanging micro-parties also raises the possibility that the seat will instead be won by another party of the Right. The bar for such a result is raised somewhat in Tasmania because smaller fields of candidates and familiarity with the Hare-Clark system at state level results in a much higher take-up rate for below-the-line voting (20.2% compared with 3.9% nationally). However, the former factor has been diminished this time around by a bloated field of 54 candidates, smashing the state’s previous record of 32. While the Greens have a long way to fall if their hold on the third “Left” seat is to be imperilled, they will have few sources of preferences in a Labor-versus-Greens contest should they fall below a quota.

The candidates elected from the number two and number three positions in 2007 have each been promoted a spot following the mid-term retirement of the number one candidate, Nick Sherry. In first position is Carol Brown, a principal of the state’s Left faction who entered the Senate in August 2005 when she filled a vacancy created by the retirement of Sue Mackay. The second position is occupied by Right faction member Catryna Bilyk, a former official with the Australian Services Union who publicly declared her backing for Julia Gillard during Kevin Rudd’s successful leadership challenge in June 2013. Number three on the ticket is Lin Thorp, who filled the vacancy created by Sherry’s departure in May 2012.

The order of the ticket represents a factional arrangement in which the first and third positions go to the Left and the second to the Right. This was in danger of being disturbed by the merger between the Victorian and Tasmanian branches of the Australian Services Union, which had respectively been associated with their state parties’ Left and Right factions. The approach taken by the union in Tasmania was to delay its transfer to the Left for long enough to leave the existing factional deal undisturbed. Among those displeased by the arrangement was Kevin Harkins, who indicated that the Left should have moved against Bilyk due to her opposition to gay marriage.

The top two positions on the Liberal ticket preserve the order from 2007, being respectively occupied by Richard Colbeck and David Bushby. Colbeck first entered the Senate in February 2002 upon the retirement of Jocelyn Newman, Howard government minister and mother of the current Queensland Premier. The number three position has gone to trade and investment adviser Sally Chandler, and number four is occupied by vineyard owner Sarah Courtney.

Facing his first federal election for the Greens is Peter Whish-Wilson, who succeeded Bob Brown upon his retirement in June 2012. Whish-Wilson was described at the time by Sid Maher of The Australian as a “wine-growing, surf-riding economist”, and by Gemma Daley of The Australian Financial Review as having “worked in equity capital markets for Merrill Lynch in New York and Melbourne and for Deutsche Bank in Hong Kong, Melbourne and Sydney”.

Other minor party candidates include Family First’s Peter Madden, founder of Heal Our Land Ministries and candidate for the Christian Democratic Party against Clover Moore in the seat of Sydney at the NSW election in 2011; Katter’s Australian Party’s Geoff Herbert, an agribusinessman from the Central Highlands; and Jacqui Lambie, a former soldier who unsuccessfully sought Liberal preselection for Braddon.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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