Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Legislative Council 2017: Rumney

With about a month to go until the Legislative Council elections it's time to roll out some preview coverage of the three seats up for election.  I've decided to start with Rumney because it is the one where the Hodgman Government faces the biggest peril to its ability to get bills through the Upper House.  It's also the closest thing to a normal two-party contest and hence the one on which there is the most available data to crunch.  And, at this stage, it's the one with the most candidates.

There will be a live coverage thread for all seats on the night of Saturday 6 May.  There may also be other threads on Rumney 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.

Guides for Murchison and Launceston are also now up.



Seat Profile

Rumney is a mixed urban-rural electorate in the south-east of Tasmania.  It includes outer Clarence City suburbs such as Lauderdale, Rokeby and Clarendon Vale (the latter two being traditionally strong Labor areas), the town of Sorell, the Tasman and Forestier Peninsulas and South Arm, and a number of small coastal and rural towns.  Population is increasing in the area and the current redistribution proposal would see the electorate lose Sorell and the Peninsulas and take on more of the Clarence outskirts in the future.  That would make it a more obviously Labor seat; however, this election will be fought on the current boundaries.

In my 2011 profile I noted that the seat was not then the strong Labor area it had once been, but maybe it's becoming so again.  The Labor vote held up fairly well in Rumney at the 2014 state election.  At that election Labor polled 33.8% at booths in Rumney (6.5 points above the state average), the Liberals polled 46.1% (5.1 below) and the Greens polled 14.4% (0.6 above).  Labor won three booths (Clarendon Vale, Rokeby and Primrose Sands) and were only beaten by the Greens at one smallish booth (Copping).  In the 2016 federal election (where the Liberals polled poorly in Tasmania), Labor topped the primary count in all but four Rumney booths and won the two-party preferred in every booth, with results as high as 80:20 around Rokeby/Clarendon Vale.

Formerly Monmouth, Rumney was held by conservative independent Stephen Wilson for three terms until 1999. Labor's Lin Thorp beat him by 65 votes and was re-elected without going to preferences against fairly weak opposition in 2005.  By the 2011 election Thorp was embroiled in a child protection scandal and plagued by claims of junketing and incompetence, and was defeated by Tony Mulder.  Thorp in fact won the primary vote by 4.5 points, but was run down on preferences thanks to a 76:24 preference flow to her rival from independent Paul Mason - a dish served cold from the former state Children's Commissioner.

Incumbent

Tony Mulder (Facebook, Twitter) is seeking a second term in Rumney.

To start with his party status, Mulder is formally an Independent.  He campaigned at the 2011 election as an "independent liberal" (case-sensitive) and during his term was sometimes (at least during 2013) listed on the Parliament House website as "Independent Liberal" or "Ind. LP", but is now showing solely as "Independent".  During debate in mid-2016 Mulder confirmed that he was at that time a member of the Liberal Party, but a report during the campaign describes him as a former member.  In any case he is not an endorsed party candidate and hence not subject to party discipline in his voting in the Council.

Mulder, a former senior policeman, was a long-term Clarence councillor and stood as a Liberal in the 2010 state election for Franklin, with a pretty good result but without winning a seat.  He then defeated Thorp, polling 53.1% after preferences.

When I first measured Legislative Council voting patterns in 2013 I found Mulder to be very unpredictable.  Over time his voting patterns, while still not consistently following the party line, have moved more towards the Liberal Party and the more conservative independents.  So, for instance, the share of votes he agrees with Liberal Vanessa Goodwin on has increased from 46% to 73% over this time.

Mulder is a colourful and intellectual contrarian with a small-l liberal streak and a Leyonhjelm-like penchant for forthright, quirky if not bizarre, proudly politically incorrect and sometimes grumpy comments.  Of all the Legislative Councillors he is the one who on average least often agrees with any other. During the state-based same-sex marriage debate (where he voted for the state to lead the nation, arguing that gay marriage was better than unhappy marriage) Mulder was noted by one politico for his unique ability to deliver a speech that offended all sides of a debate at once.  For another example of this, see the Campaign section.

Challengers

Sarah Lovell (announcement, Facebook, Twitter) is a United Voice union campaigner and has also been a St Vincent de Paul volunteer.  Lovell, like Labor's new state leader Rebecca White (herself a Sorell local), is emblematic of the demographic shift towards young families in the south of the state electorate of Lyons that is making Rumney a juicier target for Labor.  White's first photo opportunity as leader was campaigining with Lovell in Sorell.  Lovell appears to be a first-time candidate with a relatively low profile (just the odd previous public statement, see here) but presents coherently enough in interviews and should not be underestimated.

Steve Mav (independent) (Mercury profile - may be paywalled) had humble political beginnings at the Tasmania University Union, where he used to get about the average for Young Liberals back in those days, twenty votes (these days, the President is one!)  He also didn't make much impression in Denison for the Liberals at the 1998 state election, polling less than 500 votes.  (At his second attempt in 2002 he polled nearly 2000). However Mav struck political paydirt with a campaign to rid Glenorchy pensioners of an Argentine ant infestation, and was elected to Glenorchy council in 2000, fourth out of six with almost a quota in his own right.  A similar vote saw him returned third in 2005. He resigned from the council four months after contentiously starting to work outside the state in mid-2008.

That work was in Western Australia, where Mav attracted much controversy as Chief Executive Officer for the Gumala Aboriginal Corporation.  See here, here, here, here, here and many others.  Now he's back, and doorknocking, oh and taking a swing at the incumbent about prohibited signs.  This is actually not Steve Mav's first upper house tilt; he contested Apsley in 2004 where he placed a surprisingly strong third out of ten with 15% of the vote.  While in WA Mav also found time to run for office under his full name Mavrigiannakis, placing second in the 2015 mayoral contest for Victoria Park.  Mav lists himself as a "business services advisor" from Cambridge, which is at least within the electorate.

Mav has made a deliberate decision to run an "old-fashioned" campaign, hence his lack of an online presence.  He states that while in WA he supported the Labor Party.

Debra Thurley (linkedin, Twitter, detailed bio) (independent) is an academically well-qualified small business figure (experience in retail and human resources) who also has a public service background and is a current Clarence councillor.  After narrowly missing out in Clarence in 2011 when she polled 5.8%, Thurley was 11th of 12 elected at the 2014 election with a primary vote of 3.2% (the vote drop being down to the switch to all-in-all-out which meant there were a lot more incumbents running.)

A former Liberal Party member, Thurley contested Franklin for the Palmer United Party at the 2014 state election polling an unremarkable 579 votes (1.1%) and also contested Denison - where PUP were never getting any votes to speak of - for the same party at the 2013 federal election.  Like nearly everyone else involved, Thurley ended up quitting the party.  Some of Thurley's tweets suggest she's not an unabashed fan of the left-wing side of Australia's culture wars.

Cheryl Arnol (announcement, linkedin) (Shooters and Fishers - the state party has no "and Farmers") is the current Deputy Mayor of Glamorgan-Spring Bay council, the east coast council adjacent to Rumney to its north.  Arnol was first elected to the council in 1996 and immediately made Deputy Mayor by fellow Councillors.  In 1999 Arnol polled a massive 28% of the Councillor vote and fellow Councillors promoted her to Mayor.  Arnol was re-elected by voters with 56% against two opponents in 2000, and unopposed in 2002, before quitting Council in 2005 citing abuse from the public.  Arnol returned to Council at the 2007 elections and almost recaptured the mayoralty, losing to Bertrand Cadart by just two votes.  Unable to defeat Cadart in two more attempts, she contested the Deputy Mayoralty in 2014 and won, while Cadart was defeated by an off-Council challenge from Michael Kent.

Arnol has worked for engineering and outdoor equipment firms and is a current Director of the Forest Practices Authority*.  She also contested Apsley in 2004, coming sixth with 9.5%, and was lead candidate in the 2013 Senate race for the Country Alliance, which didn't much trouble the scorers.

Shelley Shay (Facebook, linkedin) (independent) is a CFMEU unionist who stood for the Recreational Fishers Party (headed by Kevin Harkins) in Lyons at the last election, polling 6.3%, and as much as 8% at Dunalley, a booth within Rumney.  The RFP is opposed to supertrawlers and otherwise resembles Labor in its policies.

Other candidates, if any, will be added when announced.  It is not clear whether the Greens are running but if so they don't seem to be making a serious effort.

Campaign

This one is for keeps.  It's possibly the nearest thing the LegCo has to a swing seat (Windermere and Pembroke would also be candidates for that title).  Expect no effort to be spared as the Mulder and ALP teams go all-out to win the seat, or as all-out as you can go when campaign spending is so restricted.  From what I hear, they already are.

As of early April, there was not much public engagement between the various campaigns (Mav's signage snipe doesn't really count) but that eventually changed.  Mulder largely stuck, from what I could see, to his own variant of the parish-pump style campaigning that is common in these elections (according to his Facebook he has walked 1300 km while doorknocking).  Lovell has pushed one such issue especially - traffic congestion, especially around the Hobart Airport.  Lovell suggests the lack of public transport in the area is a contributing factor.  Labor has also campaigned on issues including the government's plan to lower the school starting age, and penalty rates (the relevance of which to the LegCo I am not entirely sure about).

On 18 April I visited Rumney, passing through Cambridge, Midway Point, Sorell and Dodges Ferry.  I saw the following numbers of candidate sign locations: Mulder 15 (including electorate office), Mav 11, Lovell 11 (including electorate office and car), Shay 3 (including one on a trailer, and plus one in Rosny out of electorate), Arnol 2 (sort-of; these are recycled Senate signs that show just the party logo and name), Thurley 0.  If I went to Rokeby and Clarendon Vale instead I would expect to see a lot more red.

Mulder has flagged the independence of the Legislative Council as an issue while campaigning, though his Liberal links make it difficult for him to make too much noise about that issue in public debate. He has described himself as "fiercely independent" and said that party politics in the upper house is a recipe for either rubber-stamping or obstruction.  Lovell in countering this has said that if elected as a Labor MP she will have the power to directly influence policy that is put by her party room in the lower house, something an upper house independent cannot do.

Mav is also campaigning on traffic congestion as well as lower electricity prices and local government rates.

A robust ABC radio debate on 1 May saw Mav attacking Mulder's proposed solutions to traffic congestion and regional health issues while Mulder in return dismissed Mav's comments as "talk".  Mav has proposed a reduction in the number of Tasmanian hospitals from four to two.  Aside from this exchange, Mulder avoided controversy.

Salmon farms have been an issue as an area affected by them (Okehampton Bay) is not far outside the electorate.  Tony Mulder opposes further sea-based farming calling for the use of land-based tank farming instead.

Mulder Domestic Violence Comments:

On 13 April Mulder was targeted on social media by Greens Senator for Queensland (!) Larissa Waters and Greens candidate for Launceston (!) Emma Anglesey regarding comments he made in a debate about domestic violence last August.  A video has been circulated of Mulder making the following comments:

"It is about time we had a pro-arrest policy for both parties - the party that breached the order and the party that connived at the order - because some of these victims have to understand that they have put themselves in this position."  [This wording is from Hansard - "connived at" sounds like "connives" to me.]

Mulder states he was taken out of context.  Mulder's comments were specific to situations in which a victim of domestic violence resumes living with the subject of a domestic violence order who is supposed to stay away from (usually) her.  Even in that context though, the comments are typically controversial and do appear to blame victims for some domestic violence situations.  I have uploaded a full Hansard transcript so readers and voters can judge for themselves.  (Mulder's comment that none of his colleagues took exception to his point is clearly incorrect - Josh Willie did.)  The issue generated some mainstream reporting but doesn't seem to have stuck around long on social media.

Prospects

My initial impression was that this seat was between Mulder and Lovell.  I still think this is the case, but Mav is clearly making a big effort.  Maybe if Mulder's primary vote collapses, Mav could overtake him, but I don't think this is especially likely.  Mav is a bit of a smokey because despite his long absence from the state and unclear connection to the electorate he does have a lot of experience and an electoral history of pretty strong performances out of nowhere.   The remaining three don't appear to be serious threats.

The election will be seen as a big test for Labor's decision to change leaders, whatever the result and whatever its actual causes.  The party's results in recent elections (Elwick and the federal wins last year) have been so good that expectations are bound to be high, especially with a honeymoon effect for Rebecca White likely to be factored in.  We might ask whether Lovell is high-profile enough but a lack of profile did not stop Josh Willie winning Elwick last year, so the same blueprint might mean the same result.

Mulder's personality and performance is also an important factor.  He won't win too many congeniality prizes, but is he also well regarded for doing the work, connecting with communities and getting stuff done?  Enough for voters to put that first and ignore everything else?  This may be the central question as to whether he can beat the ALP army. His win in 2011 was by no means big enough to give him a stranglehold on the seat, achieved as it was at the expense of an embattled incumbent from a fading Labor government.  Now the tide seems to be flowing the other way, as do the demographics, and a new Labor leader from the same electorate was probably the last thing this incumbent needed.

Predicting Upper House elections is difficult as there is usually no polling to speak of, and transplanting results from other elections is difficult.  But I think the incumbent has a really serious fight on his hands.  If Mulder can retain by any margin at all, it will be an impressive achievement.

A Sportsbet market had Mulder 1.50 Lovell 2.50 Mav and Arnol 21.00 as of 9 April.  As of 10 April Mulder out to 1.80 Mav into 7.00. As of 11 April Lovell out to 2.95 Mav into 4.00. As of 13 April Mulder 1.90 Lovell 2.20 Mav 5.50 Arnol 26.

* Disclosure: the author sometimes works on contract for FPA.

2 comments:

  1. Great analysis and as a local the campaign in Rumney has noticeably cranked up a few gears over recent days. Mulder should have an incumbent advantage but there seems to be a very strong anyone but him vibe; this will hurt him on preferences.

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  2. It's interesting to see that all the 'independents' are current or recent members of political parties. While they may not be endorsed by their respective parties, I don't think that matches the community expectations of someone who promotes themselves as an independent.

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