How voting differs on the Apple Isle

28 June 2015

The State Parliament of Tasmania could be described as an upside-down version of Federal Parliament.  But rather than implying anything undemocratic, this means that when Tasmanians vote in state elections in the Apple Isle, as many people call it, you’d think of Federal Parliament being turned on its head.

Like Federal Parliament, the Tasmanian Parliament has two representative chambers.  These are called the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council.  Governments are formed in the Assembly, the Lower House of Parliament, just like in the House of Representatives, which the Lower House of Federal Parliament.  The difference is in how candidates are elected to either chamber.

State elections in Tasmania are for the Lower House only.  They usually happen every four years.  The Lower House has five electorates, with five seats apiece, hence a chamber of twenty-five seats.  Elections here are like elections for the Senate in Federal Parliament, with candidates elected when they win a minimum percentage of the vote in the electorate that they contest.  But the onus is on candidates rather than political parties or groups, as there’s no group voting, like in Senate elections – instead of just voting “1” for your choice of party like when voting for the Senate, Tasmanian Lower House elections require you to number all boxes on your ballot paper, starting with your preferred candidate and then every other candidate in whatever order you choose.

As for the Upper House of Parliament, which is the Legislative Council, it has fifteen single-seat electorates.  Members of the Legislative Council are elected therefore elected the same way that members of the House of Representatives in Federal Parliament are elected.

Therefore, Tasmania has Senate-style voting for its Lower House and voting for its Upper House is like voting for the House of Representatives.  This little illustration of how voting differs on the Apple Isle is where the idea of an upside-down version of Federal Parliament comes from!

But it doesn’t end there.  Tasmanian MLCs face a different election arrangement.  Every May, elections are held in a handful of Upper House seats, on a rotating basis.  Terms for MLCs usually last six years.

Last month, Upper House elections for this year took place in three seats, Derwent and Mersey and Windemere.  The sitting MLCs were all returned.  Craig Farrell of Labor won Derwent, while Independents Mike Gaffney and Ivan Dean won Mersey and Windermere respectively.

All three seats lie outside the state capital of Hobart.  Derwent is the closest to the capital, stretching from Bridgewater to Lake Pedder and then Lake St Clair.  Mersey takes in the northern coastal centre of Devonport.  Windemere runs along the eastern shoreline of the Tamar River north of Launceston.

The other interesting thing about Tasmanian MLCs is that most of them appear to be listed as Independents.  I don’t know whether they’re just free to state whether or not they’re affiliated with political parties.  I know of several MLCs who’ve been shown as Independents before or after running as candidates for political parties in other elections.  Notably, there appeared to be no Liberal candidates at this year’s Upper House elections.  Is this a sign of a lack of confidence in the Liberal Government of Tasmania, elected only last year?

This little illustration of voting on the Apple Isle presents a different way of how things are done in different parts.  Not everything can be identical across this country.