18 February 2018
Tasmania hasn’t been kind to the Liberal Party in electoral terms. Since the party was founded in the 1940s, only six Tasmanian elections have gone its way, and the first of these didn’t come until 1969.
Of course, you’d be forgiven for doubting this, given that the most recent general election in Tasmania, in March 2014, resulted in a comfortable Liberal win.
But that Liberal win in 2014 was the first since the 1990s. Indeed the only Liberal wins in Tasmania have been in 1969, 1982, 1986, 1992, 1996, and 2014.
With the Labor Party having won most elections in Tasmania over many decades, and with the long periods between its time in and out of office, it’d be reasonable to consider Tasmania something of a natural Labor state.
However, in 2014 Labor suffered a big loss, and was out of office for the first time since 1998. It won a comfortable majority in 1998, and maintained it at elections in both 2002 and 2006, before losing that majority in 2010.
The loss of that majority left the parliamentary balance of power with the Greens, whose support enabled Labor to hold office. This was something of an awkward alliance, and countless Tasmanian voters didn’t like it, but somehow it held until time came for Tasmanians to go to the polls, in 2014.
The instability of the alliance between Labor and the Greens played into the hands of the Liberals, who won the 2014 election comfortably. Indeed over preceding years, in various parts of Australia, the Liberals and other non-Labor parties had used minority governments, as well as some bad Labor governments, to terrify voters into rejecting not just Labor but also Independents and minor parties, with a message being that only voting for the Liberals, or their equivalents, would bring majority governments and therefore stable governments.
Whatever the merits of the argument about majorities bringing stability, the tactic repeatedly worked for the Liberals and their equivalents at various election, and there was no exception in Tasmania.
With twenty-five seats up for grabs in Tasmania in 2014, the Liberals came away with a decent tally of fifteen. Labor won seven, and the Greens won three.
The seats were spread across five electorates, each with five seats. The Liberals won, on average, three of five seats available in each electorate. In fact they won four seats out of five in one rural electorate, Braddon, but they only won two out of five in the state’s most urban electorate, Denison, while coming away with three seats apiece in the other electorates, Bass and Franklin and Lyons.
Labor came away with two seats in both Denison and one rural electorate, Lyons, but could only manage one seat in each of the other three electorates. The Greens, who’d held one seat in each electorate before the election, ended up holding seats in Bass and Denison and Franklin.
Now Tasmania is due to go to the polls, and will do so next month. Already the Liberals, led by Will Hodgman, look like trying to scare voters into sticking with them at this coming election.
With fifteen seats, the Liberals can only afford to lose two seats. The loss of three seats or more will cost the Liberals their majority, and leave the balance of power in the hands of minor players, such as the Greens.
Already Hodgman has apparently made it clear that he won’t do deals with minor players to retain power. He’s suggesting that he won’t remain Premier if forced into dealing with crossbenchers.
Indeed one former Liberal leader, Ray Groom, had a majority going into a general election in 1996, but he lost it at that election. In the aftermath of this, he resigned as Liberal leader and therefore Premier, with Tony Rundle taking over. Hodgman and the Liberals will undoubtedly remember this.
Although Opposition Leader Rebecca White has said similar things to Hodgman regarding the possibility of dealing with minor players, I’m not so sure that her position will be so firm, because Labor and the Greens share a bit in common.
The prospect of a Liberal scare over stability looks inevitable at the election next month. The question remains as to whether or not Tasmanians will believe that scare. The few opinion polls taken in Tasmania of late point to a hung election result, so the scare might weigh on the minds of voters.