Less than a fortnight into the campaign, the 2021 Tasmanian state election already has voters astonished and bewildered with party infighting, candidate ticket instability, policy backflips amongst other features undermining public trust on full display. Of which are compounded by the blatant political opportunism in the timing of the election date which the Government has made no effort to deny.
EMRS polling helps to explain the opportunism. These show a sharp divergence between the two major parties starting in March 2020 when the Covid pandemic became a national issue. In the year since, the Liberal Party gained some 11% support while the ALP lost about 10% support. This separation was been steady for the past year. Going a year early, the Gutwein Government is hoping to capitalise on the Covid-19 incumbency that has worked so well in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
The EMRS polls also show greater support for the Liberal leader, Premier Peter Gutwein, than his for his party. Gutwein leads support for the Liberal Party by nearly 10 points. Labor leader, Bec White’s support as preferred premier has been basically on the same level as statewide support for the ALP. Presidential-style leadership appears also to be a gift to incumbency in Tasmania under Covid.
The haste to call an early election caught all parties unprepared. The Labor Party could not present a full candidates’ list for all electorates for more than a week and was embarrassed by factional infighting to complete its nominations. In its rush to field its team, the Liberal Party failed to do due diligence on one of its high-profile nominees who was forced to resign for public statements opposing the Premier’s Covid policy.
All in all, the snap election has not been the political coup the Government expected with both major parties being caught off-guard. The ALP suffered more than the Liberals and will need to recover momentum quickly to be competitive on May 1st.
Before turning to the electorate-by-electorate overview, it is worth making a few general observations on how different 2021 will be from the 2018 election. Both Will Hodgman and Scott Bacon, two big 2018 draws, have not been replaced with similar high-profile candidates in Franklin and Clark respectively for 2021. This will free up preferences under the State’s multi-member Hare-Clark electoral system in unpredictable ways.
Also, the Jacqui Lambert Network and the Palmer United Party will not contest any constituency in 2021 but the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party will have an expanded presence across the State.
Clark is the most problematic of the five electorates to assess. In 2018, this was the ALP’s best result statewide 41.9% (2.5 quotas) and 2 seats. The Liberals 37% (2 quotas) also won 2 seats and the Greens 17.5% (1quota) took 1 seat. The ALP is expected to struggle to hold its two seats without Scott Bacon leading the ticket. Madeleine Ogilvie’s stunning defection to the Liberals and the controversial exclusion of ALP State President, Ben McGregor, from the ticket have added to the party’s woes in Clark. Only Ella Haddad appears a fairly sure bet. Attorney General Elise Archer will hold her seat. If the party holds enough for 2 quotas it seems to be a choice between Simon Behrakis and former ALP backbencher, Madeleine Ogilvie. Assuming Cassy O’Connor retains her seat for the Greens, there seems too few votes for other candidates. Yet, two Independents are hard to write off. If either or both Speaker Sue Hickey and Mayor Kristie Johnston take a seat, it will be at the expense of a major party with profound consequences for the State’s party balance.
Franklin was a near miss for the Liberals in 2018. Will Hodgman’s very high personal vote lifted the party to 48.4% (2.9 quotas) and almost brought home 3 seats. The ALP’s 34.4% was its second highest statewide but was only just crossed the line for 2 quotas. The Greens barely held on to its 1 seat with 14.4% being well under a quota. The polls suggest that the Liberals Jacqui Petrusma will retain her seat but the certain second seat seems likely to be a raffle between Nic Street and Huon Mayor Bec Enders. The Liberal hope is that the Premier’s Covid-based popularity will more than fill the vacuum left by Hodgman to win a third seat. However, the ALP’s Dean Winter appeal to the Hodgman centrist vote could help guarantee the party retention of 2 seats. However, this might be at the expense of sitting Member Alison Standen. Rosalie Woodruff is not guaranteed to hold the Greens’ second parliamentary seat, but the less polarised field seems likely to improve her chances.
Lyons appears liable to return the same 3-2 split of seats as in 2018. While Bec White led the ALP to a 3-seat recovery across the State in 2018, her poll-leading popularity in Lyons only just secured 2 seats for the party there. The Liberals won 50.6% (3 quotas) against the ALP’s 33% (2 quotas). Polls suggest it would not surprise if all the sitting members were returned. However, the ALP’s Janet Lambert polled slight better on first preferences than eventual winner Jen Butler so this could again be a close intra-party contest again in 2021.
The 2018 Liberals’ Bass results of 58% (3.5 quotas) was the party’s best win statewide. This gave the Liberals 3 seats and inflicted the ALP’s worst overall result of 26.4% (1.6 quotas) for 2 seats. The Greens’ 9.3% (0.6 quotas) did not secure a seat. Nevertheless, this was the party’s only realistic chance for a third seat in 2018. With the Premier, Peter Gutwein, heading a Liberal ticket that includes Ministers Michael Ferguson and Sarah Courtney and strong poll support over the past year, the party can expect to retain all its seats. The ALP ticket has three well-profiled candidates, sitting members Michelle O’Byrne and Jennifer Houston and former mayor, Janie Finlay, but can only hope for enough support with preferences for 2 seats. One question throughout the campaign will whether the State Liberals hold against the turn against the party nationally. Another might be could the weakness of the ALP and the absence of a Jacqui Lambie Network candidate open the door for a Green candidate to sneak in.
Finally, Braddon could be a replay of 2018 when the Liberals’ results were 56.1% (3.4 quotas) was the party’s second-best win statewide and returned 3 seats. The ALP limped to 26.4% first preferences (1.6 quotas) barely holding onto 2 seats. The Greens (3.6%) were beaten by the JLN (5.9%) and hardly in front of the Shooter, Fishers and Farmers (2.5%). However, with a rejuvenated Adm Brookes on the ticket, the Liberal Party could hope for a 2014 result when the Liberals swept 4 of the 5 seats. Deputy Premier Jeremy Rockliff and Brooks pulled more than 2 quotas together in 2018 while neither the winning ALP candidates, Shane Broad and Anita Dow managed a half quote in their own right.
Turning to the Legislative Council elections, it came as a great surprise that, for the first time in 120 years, both houses are going to the polls concurrently. The reason for this tactic has been as controversial as it has been unexplained. The 2004 Electoral Act prohibits party expenditure on Legislative Council candidates. The prize of one additional Liberal seat in the Legislative Council seems too small to risk the LC results going to the Supreme Court for Electoral Act violations on spending and party influence violations. The longer-term objective appears to get the numbers to eliminate the upper house by legislating for a unicameral parliament. Whether there will be a voter backlash probably will depend on personal ties with the electorate.
The ALP endorsed Legislative Council President, Craig Farrell, enjoyed broad support within the chamber when he was elected to the chair and he seems to have community respect in Derwent, an electorate that has historically leaned Labor. While Legislative Council seats are rarely polled, incumbency and a favourable record appear to give Farrell the inside track in Derwent. In Windermere, the Liberals have endorsed well-known television personality, Nick Duigan, in expectation of repeating the win by another prominent TV identity, Jo Palmer, in Rosevears the previous year. However, Palmer only just scraped in against Janie Finlay (now standing for the ALP in Bass) and the controversy over the concurrent elections may make this outcome too close to call.