Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Murchison

This is my second preview article for the three Legislative Council seats up for grabs next month.  Rumney has already been posted here and Launceston will follow. There will be a live coverage thread for all seats on the night of Saturday 6 May.  There may also be other threads on Murchison if a campaign issue warrants them.  For more about the current political makeup of the Legislative Council see my assessment of voting patterns.

This piece will be edited through the campaign from time to time for updates or changed assessments.

Seat Profile

Murchison is a large regional/rural/remote electorate on the west coast of Tasmania.  It contains the north-western centres of Smithton, Wynyard and Stanley, the West Coast mining towns of Queenstown, Rosebery and Zeehan and the tourism and fishing hub of Strahan.  It also includes King Island and the far western suburbs of the small city of Burnie.



The electorate of Murchison was formed in 1999, with the malapportioned west coast electorate of Gordon being abolished and the member for the also-abolished Russell, Tony Fletcher, taking over at the 1999 election.  Gordon had been sometimes held by the ALP but Russell was only ever held by independents - just six of them in 114 years.  Fletcher, who served as Leader in the Upper House for two Liberal Governments, retired in 2005 after having been re-elected three times, two of them unopposed.

At the last state election, dislike of the Labor-Green forestry peace deal (especially) propelled the Liberals to a massive 59.8% vote in Murchison.  Labor scored 21% and most of the rest was Palmer United with the Greens scoring just 6.7%.  Labor won only one booth (Waratah) and the Liberals more than doubled their vote at all bar two others.  At the federal election, however, the Liberals got only 44.1%, Labor 37.4% and the Greens 7.4%.  While Murchison was still about 2.5 points more conservative than the rest of Braddon, these state-to-federal shifts were fairly typical of Tasmania as a whole.  In general, Labor won the West Coast and the suburban Wynyard-Somerset booths and the Liberals won the rural and forestry centres.

Incumbent

Ruth Forrest (Facebook, Twitter) (independent) won the contest to replace Fletcher in 2005, narrowly leading on primaries with 29% in a field of five, and beating Kevin Hyland after preferences with 51.4% of the two-candidate vote.  Hyland had intended to run against Forrest in 2011 as an endorsed Labor candidate but withdrew and Forrest was re-elected unopposed, the last time a Legislative Councillor did not have to face a ballot.

Prior to politics, Forrest worked as a midwife, nurse and sexuality educator and has the advantage of having personally delivered a fair share of Murchison's voters.  Her professional experience has also been relevant to several Legislative Council debates.  Forrest is very highly regarded for her policy contributions and persistent nuisance value to politics-as-usual by the Tasmanian commentariat.

Forrest has no known links to any party, but my analysis of Legislative Council voting patterns (2013, 2017) has found that she has generally been one of the Council's more left-wing members.  She has become slightly more likely to vote with Labor, and significantly less likely to vote with the Liberals, since the change of government in 2014.  For more discussion of Forrest's voting record see the Campaign section.

In 2016 Forrest was involved in a dispute with Liberal Infrastructure Minister Rene Hidding after Hidding engaged in some pushy in-person lobbying, which he later admitted had been unacceptable.  Hidding at one stage threatened to sue Forrest claiming that her claims of bullying and a Code of Conduct breach about the incident had gone too far.  Eventually the matter was settled.

Forrest is pro-same-sex marriage and says she is cautious about euthanasia legislation.

Challenger(s)

Daryl Quilliam (announcement, Facebook) (independent) is the mayor of Circular Head Council.  Circular Head includes about a quarter of Murchison's voters.  Quilliam was elected to the council around 30 years ago and became Deputy Mayor in 2000, defeating former Labor state MP Michael Weldon.  He was re-elected twice and then won the mayoralty in 2007 with a 55.8% two-candidate result.  He was then twice returned unopposed, and won with 55.1% when finally opposed again in 2014. He also polled more than two quotas as an alderman that year.

In view of his attack on Forrest's voting record (see below) I thought it might be interesting to look at Quilliam's, but I was wrong, as CH council minutes aren't a goldmine of contested voting.  Save for a habitual dissenter who resigned in late 2015, Mayor Quilliam has usually but not always voted together with each other member of the Council on the few contested votes in the last couple of years - some more than others, but the sample size is very small.  I couldn't find any case in the last 18 months where he was on the losing side of any vote (though he was sometimes on the winning side of ties.)

Quilliam is a Dairy Business Development Officer at Roberts and has worked, according to a 2011 interview, in real estate, dairy and nutrition.

Quilliam was a member of the Liberal Party 30 years ago but says he has no current links to the party. However his online comments clearly indicate a pro-forestry, pro-4WD, pro-mining and anti-Greens view of politics that is typical of those Tasmanians who support majority government of either stripe over anything involving the Greens.  It does seem Quilliam's relations with his local Libs are friendly. He has given "family values", "economy" and "community" in that order as his intended yardsticks for measuring legislation.

Quilliam is a "traditionalist" on same-sex marriage and says he will consider euthanasia legislation on its merits.  According to a silly intervention by the Australian Christian Lobby, he opposes Tasmania's "liberal abortion laws".

Campaign

On first announcing he intended to run, Quilliam talked about what he wanted to do and was paraphrased as not intending to attack the incumbent.  However, the gloves are off after the challenger seized on the voting record figures published here to declare that Ruth Forrest "would be more at home if she was living at Salamanca".  Such attacks are often used by the right (here's one from Braddon Liberal MP Joan Rylah) and when used by a north-west coaster carry a taint of parochialism on top of the usual hints of latte-sipping leftism.  There has been a flood of supportive messages on Forrest's Facebook page following the comments.  Quilliam has now claimed his comments were "in no way a personal attack".

(For those who have read both my piece and Forrest's comments, I can say that she is using a broader definition of "procedural motion" than I am - especially when it comes to motions to refer matters to committees rather than making a decision straight away.)

Forestry (as distinct from forrestry) - especially the Government's plan to open up deferred temporary reserves for logging two years earlier than intended - has been flagged as a campaign issue by both contenders.  Smithton especially is a prominent timber town in the area and has displayed large swings in response to forestry issues at elections in the past.  Quilliam supports Guy Barnett's plan to increase harvesting.  Forrest's position was incorrectly summarised in the article and I have reposted a Facebook post from her in comments.  A further Forrest statement has now been published in The Advocate (18 April).

Quilliam has stated he will run on agriculture, forestry, tourism and employment and training issues, while Forrest has recently pushed issues including health services (a major issue in the state at present), upgrading of the Bass Highway and King Island shipping.

The Advocate has also reported at length on the views of the candidates: Quilliam presenting a largely traditional pro-development position, Forrest looking for new technology and advances in education.

In the ABC radio debate on 26 April, Forrest particularly pushed more investment in early childhood education.  The candidates disagreed mainly on the government's forestry bill (see above).  As well as the traditional ABC debate there are three candidate forums.

Election signs for both candidates have been vandalised.

Prospects

Voting-record based attacks on LegCo incumbents have been commonplace in recent years (Kerry Finch and Mike Gaffney have faced them from the right, and Ivan Dean from the left).  However, there's not much evidence that such attacks actually work.  The election will more likely come down to personalities, campaign effort, and what voters think of each candidate, rather than ideology and partisan politics.

Local government figures have big advantages in Legislative Council elections, and this is especially true of mayors.  Quilliam fits the script of having a very long and successful career in local government, though his wins as mayor haven't been as dominant as those of some mayors who have gone on to an Upper House career.  Also given that his voter-base is not that large, he comes across as a very solid opponent for Forrest, but not an unstoppable one.

Few of its members are brazen enough to say so, but the Hodgman government views Forrest as a pest who they would dearly like to give the flick at this election. But provided that she has kept in touch with the whole of her electorate and campaigns sufficiently, I think that would be a win against the run of play, and the usual pattern that incumbents tend to be returned.  Among left-wing observers I have noticed some consider Forrest to be a shoo-in while others are seriously concerned that Quilliam may beat her.  As usual there has been no polling, and I have not been on the ground in Murchison during this campaign.  Comments about the level and quality of campaign activity are welcome.

Betting

A Sportsbet market has Forrest 1.72 Quilliam 2.00 as of 9 April.  As of 10 April Forrest 1.62 Quilliam 2.15.

1 comment:

  1. Ruth Forrest comment on forestry referred to above:

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    Yet again I need to turn to social media to clarify my comments on this matter.

    Please read and share.

    It seems the only thing of interest to some is the upcoming election is forestry - I would like to discuss education, health and employment (and will do so via social media if not through mainstream media in coming days/weeks).

    I am and continue to be a strong supporter of a sustainable forestry industry. I welcome the growth in the plantation sector and do not want to see unnecessary job losses as a result of a policy position that was announced late last year without any consultation with the timber industry as a distraction from other events at the time.

    I was asked if subsidies to Forestry Tasmania should continue - I said the evidence was clear that subsidies were needed through the transition period as identified by other experts. I would like to see these end of course but not at the expense of jobs in the sector and so much pressure on the industry that it cannot continue to operate as this would further threaten the forestry industry.

    Yes the subsidies to FT must cease - actions as proposed by the Government will not make FT's job any easier. My comments regarding the subsidies were based on other reports and FT's own financial position that is available for all to see. If the Government want to close them down and subsume them into the Department they should say so. The reality is FT are being supported (or subsidised) through money being transferred from other Government Businesses so the Government can pretend it isn't giving additional financial support. This is still financial support courtesy of tax payer money.

    The welcome growth in the forest industry has been in the plantation sector and I have spoken to major employers in Circular Head who operate in the native timber sector and they have told me they do not want these additional areas opened up at the moment and they do not need this timber. They also won't buy it. Other major timber employers around the State are saying the same thing!

    The Premier has said 'they don't have to but it!' so I ask why open up these areas if no-one is seeking it - are we just starting another forestry fight for the sake of it? I don't think anyone really wants to see this especially as it risks threatening jobs in our regions!

    The last thing I want to see is protesters interfering with forestry workers or operations going about their lawful business that threaten the viability of their business. This is a real concern raised with me by employers and workers in my electorate. Perhaps the mayor and Member for Braddon are not concerned for these jobs - I am - I have heard these concerns raised directly with me - not second hand - direct from those who would be impacted.

    As said above - I am and continue to be a strong supporter of a sustainable forestry industry. I welcome the growth in the plantation sector and do not want to see unnecessary job losses as a result of a policy position that was announced late last year without any consultation with the timber industry as a distraction from other events at the time.

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