On Saturday March 15, Tasmania went to the polls, with a Liberal win contributing to the party’s strongest position nationally since the Whitlam Era. The southern isle is the best represented of the Australian states, and has a state electoral system that never fails to entertain.
The state’s lower house electorates are linked to the federal boundaries, with each electorate seating five MPs. Thus the seat of Franklin, in the state’s south, has the rare honour of hosting the leaders of each of the three major parties: leader of the Greens, Nic McKim, outgoing Labor premier Lara Giddings and new Liberal premier Will Hodgman – all represent Franklin. Will Hodgman achieved a remarkably high personal vote, reaching more than two quotas guaranteeing three Liberal representatives for Franklin.
The forest state uses a variation of the Hare-Clark system, with optional preferential voting, and Robson rotating ballots. From the perspective of a campaigner, this is a nightmare. The result is that candidates from the same party compete against one another, and a large part of the campaign is devoted to delivering the “vote only 1 to 5” message. From the perspective of the voters however, it arguably leads to better representation, and undeniably benefits the Greens and other minor parties, to the detriment of both major parties, particularly Labor, in competition with the Greens for the left of centre vote.
Rather oddly, the upper house, or legislative council, in the Tasmanian parliament not only exists, but is single member preferential. The council has fifteen electorates, three of which are up for election every year, with legislative councillors serving six-year terms. Many legislative councillors are former mayors, and are able to effectively run as independent due to upper house seats tending to coincide with city council boundaries.
Denison and Franklin are located in the south with electors primarily located in Hobart, and its satellite towns. Denison is known for being among the ‘greenest’ electorates in the country, and could eventually put another green in the federal House of Representatives. The two candidates winning the most number 1 votes for Denison, were Scott Bacon, son of former Labor Premier Jim Bacon, and Matthew Groom, son of former Liberal Premier Ray Groom. This is indicative of the kind of localism inherent in Tasmanian state politics.
From 1992 to 1996, the Tasmanian parliament had two Hodgmans (the father and uncle of the current premier), and two Grooms, including then-Premier Ray. Political families like the Hodgmans, the Grooms and the O’Byrnes are not hegemonic, but are just very popular. It is also not uncommon for Tasmanian politicians to be married, Greens Leader Nic McKim is the husband of number three candidate for Denison, Cassie O’Connor, and two more “couples” are Greens candidates in Lyons, including incumbent Tim Morris.
Lyons, the former state seat of Christine Milne, is the largest electorate in Tasmania, and until 2013 was a safe Labor seat in federal parliament, when it fell with a 11% primary vote swing to the Liberal Party. The seat is also the least multicultural in the country, based on the low number of residents with English as a second language. The seat also suffers from extreme economic disadvantage, is mostly rural and has few, if any, year 11 and 12 colleges. Measures to remedy this educational and economic inequity, as well as with Tasmania generally were central to the campaign promises of the Liberal Party.
Premier Hodgman now has a huge job ahead turning around the lagging economy of Australia’s most governed state.