Tasmania wraps up

Tasmania’s state election, held on 1 May, was finalised yesterday with completion of the distribution of preferences in all electorates (see my earlier report here). The government of premier Peter Gutwein has retained its majority, and becomes the first Liberal government in the state’s history to win a third term.

The Liberals held all of their 13 seats: two in each of the two Hobart-based electorates (Clark and Franklin), and three in each of the other three (Bass, Braddon and Lyons). The only one that was at all close was their second seat in Clark, where there seemed a slight chance on the night that independent Sue Hickey (formerly a Liberal) could get up instead. But Hickey missed out, although another independent, Kristie Johnston, defeated the second Labor candidate.

With its use of proportional representation, albeit only by five-member electorate rather than statewide, Tasmania does a much better job than other states of producing fair results. Here are the totals, showing the proportion of seats won (official figures here):

PartyVotesSeats% seats
Liberal48.7%1352%
ALP28.2%936%
Greens12.4%28%
Independents6.2%14%
Others4.5%00%

Those lower down in the table are still disadvantaged, but not by nearly as much as elsewhere. Readers will remember the March election in Western Australia, for example, where the Greens won 6.9% of the vote but no seats out of 59.

Since the declaration of the result there has been some additional drama with the foreshadowed resignation of one of the Liberals elected in Braddon – former MP Adam Brooks, who after a chequered recent history has been charged with various offences in Queensland and apparently told Gutwein last night that he would not be taking his seat. But a countback will elect another Liberal in his place.

Labor also had its candidate issues, with Dean Winter, who topped the poll for it in Franklin, having originally been refused endorsement by the state party. It took federal intervention for him to be placed on the ticket, suggesting that the party machine is a little out of touch with what its voters want.

In all it’s a remarkable reversal of fortunes over the last two decades. Tasmania has traditionally been the Liberals’ worst-performing state division (with the occasional exception of Queensland); in 2002 its vote fell as low as 27.4% and there was serious talk that it could be overtaken by the Greens. Instead, within 12 years Labor had fallen to the same level (actually 27.3%) and the Liberals had more than half the vote. Two elections later they still look unassailable.

Labor has also dragged the Greens down with it, although their vote ticked upward a bit this time (by 2.1%). In 2010 they had 21.6% of the vote and seemed to be creating a genuine three-party system. But they were never able to win more than a single seat in any electorate, and without that they were unable to get voters to take them seriously as an alternative government. Tasmania remains their best state, but it is no longer distinctive.

Election day also saw two periodical elections for Tasmania’s rather unusual upper house. Derwent was retained by its Labor member, while Windermere was won by the Liberals on the retirement of a conservative independent. That brings the numbers in the Council to five Labor, four Liberal and six independents; the independents tend to break four-two in Labor’s favor, giving it an effective majority and therefore putting some constraint on the Gutwein government.

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