Electoral Form Guide: Franklin
Margin: Labor 3.7%
Location: Eastern Hobart/Southern Regional, Tasmania
In a nutshell: Labor has held Franklin since their dark years in Tasmania came to an end in the early 1990s. Candidate troubles saw them under-perform at the 2007 election, when it was one of only four seats in the country to swing to the Liberals, so the seat is probably safer for them than the margin makes it appear.
Electorate analysis: Franklin includes the areas of Hobart on the eastern shore of the Derwent River, small towns south of the city and the unpopulated southern part of the World Heritage area to the west. The redistribution has added 1400 voters north-east of Hobart, around Richmond in the City of Clarence (previously in Lyons), while removing 4100 voters at Bridgewater and Gagebrook in Hobart’s outer north (to Lyons, which also gains an unpopulated area of Derwent Valley) and 1800 voters around Neika south of Mount Wellington (to Denison). According to Antony Green’s calculations, the loss of strongly Labor Bridgewater and Gagebrook has weakened Labor by 0.7 per cent.
Like all Tasmanian electorates, Franklin has an essentially unbroken history going back to the division of state into single-member electorates in 1903. Labor first won the seat at a by-election held two months after the election of Jim Scullin’s government, before losing it amid the debacle of the 1931 election and recovering it when Tasmania swung to Labor in 1934. It subsequently changed hands in 1946, 1969 and 1975, remaining in the Liberal fold through the first 10 years of the Hawke-Keating government. Labor finally won the seat when colourful Liberal member Bruce Goodluck retired at the 1993 election, which combined with the force of a statewide revolt against John Hewson’s proposed GST to give Harry Quick a resounding 9.5 per cent swing. Quick maintained the seat with only mild swings either way at subsequent elections, although there were occasional suggestions that he might be brought undone by internal party machinations. Moves were afoot ahead of the 2004 election to have Quick replaced by the Left’s Nicole Wells, but he was able to see off the threat partly by threatening to run as an independent.
After choosing his own time of departure at the 2007 election, Quick sought to keep the seat out of factional hands by promoting his staffer Roger Joseph at the preselection vote held last August. This was thwarted when the Left and Right struck a deal in which a candidate of the former would take Franklin, while Bass would go to the Right-backed Steve Reissig. Quick declared he would run as an independent if the nomination went as expected to Harkins, whom he described as a “right thuggish bastard”, “some dropkick who’s going to lose the seat”, “shifty, intimidatory, totally unreliable and untrustworthy”, and – worst of all – “a Victorian interloper”. The factional deal ultimately delivered Harkins a solid bloc of votes from state conference delegates, overcoming the support Quick and Joseph were able to muster in local branches (Reissig was similarly able to win the day in Bass despite local opposition, and he too later fell by the wayside).
Quick maintained the rage following Harkins’ win, first declaring he would vote for the Greens and later attending a community group meeting with Liberal candidate and now state member for Franklin Vanessa Goodwin (also attended by Joe Hockey). His attacks on Harkins began to draw blood as new leader Kevin Rudd sought to distance the party from unsavoury union associations, with Harkins carrying baggage from the 2003 report of the Cole royal commission into the building and construction industry. Harkins’ position ultimately became untenable in July 2007 when civil charges were brought against him by the Australian Building and Construction Commission. When he announced he was standing aside a fortnight later, Harkins’ selfless sacrifice was greeted with admiration in some circles and suspicion in others. The government seized on Labor sources quoted in the Mercury who said Harkins was offered “an elevated union position, increased salary and a future Senate seat”. He indeed won preselection for a Senate seat for the coming election, but was again rolled by the intervention of Kevin Rudd.
With Harkins gone, the party’s state executive referred the selection of a new candidate to the national executive, thereby avoiding another untimely preselection spat in the lead-up to an election. It evidently remained agreed that the candidate would come from the Left, with a number of reports naming human rights lawyer Gwynn MacCarrick as the likely nominee. However, the position ended up going to party state secretary Julie Collins, who polled a respectable 6.0 per cent as a candidate for Denison at the March 2006 state election. Quick meanwhile was indeed expelled from the party on August 20, officially because he owed the party $17,000 in unpaid dues and levies, and threatened to run against state Treasurer Michael Aird for the upper house seat of Derwent in 2009. The Labor turmoil combined with the loss of Quick’s personal vote resulted in Franklin recording a 3.1 per cent swing to the Liberals in 2007: one of only four Liberal swings in the country (along with Swan and Cowan in Perth, which were both Liberal gains, and Malcolm Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth), and the biggest of the four.
The Liberal candidate is Jane Howlett, a business development manager who polled a more than respectable 7.0 per cent as a Liberal candidate for Lyons at the state election.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.