Malcolm Turnbull

Tasmania votes: The big issues in Australia's smallest state election


Tasmanians go to the polls on Saturday with the Liberals seeking a second term in power, while Labor is hoping its gamble on a hard line stance on poker machines pays off at the ballot box.

It may be the smallest state election in Australia, but there are plenty of big issues and even larger personalities to watch in Tasmania this weekend. 

Why this election matters

The Apple Isle's poll this Saturday is shaping up to be a close contest. The Liberals currently hold a three seat majority in the 25-seat lower house. A poll conducted in the second to last week of the campaign suggests the party is likely to lose two seats and possibly a third, creating a hung Parliament. While both the major parties have ruled out doing a deal with the Greens, they might not have a choice once the votes are counted.  

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull joined the campaign trail, touring Norsk Skogg in Hobart with Premier Will Hodgman (right).
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull joined the campaign trail, touring paper plant Norsk Skogg in Hobart with Premier Will Hodgman (right).

The election result could also determine if Tasmania becomes the first state to get rid of pokies from pubs and clubs, thereby setting a powerful national precedent. The Liberal's plan is to break the monopoly ownership and reduce the cap on numbers slightly, while Labor has promised to get rid of the 2,375 machines in pubs and clubs by 2023. Labor put a $55 million package on the table to assist affected venues however it prompted a vigorous “save our local” campaign from the gaming industry, which is desperate to preserve the status quo. Labor’s policy has attracted national attention but Saturday will reveal if it was a vote winner where it counts. 

Hobart based political analyst Doctor Richard Herr raises another reason as to why this election might be of particular interest to Federal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. He draws parallels between Mr Turnbull and Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman.

“Both have had centrist, inclusive type images that were seen as perhaps reducing some of the tribalism of politics... And yet, they’ve have been hampered by some of the right wing elements of their parties that have been forcing them away from the centre and creating division and a lack of effectiveness,” Dr Herr told SBS News.

The women to watch

Labor leader Rebecca White’s energy and political career has earned her comparisons with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Ms White has been in her party's top job for less than a year and with less baggage than her predecessor Bryan Green. Now she has put Labor within striking distance of a win on Saturday.  

Labor Leader Rebecca White
Labor Leader Rebecca White took over as leader less than a year ago.

“They’re both Labor leaders, they’re both young women who have young families, they have an outward going, rather inclusive approach to politics so there’s probably some parallels. In addition to which they’ve both had to struggle with the situation of dealing with the prospect of a minority government and how to manage it,” Dr Herr said.

For the Liberals, Hobart Lord Mayor Sue Hickey has done what few in the Liberal party could do - take on party powerbroker Eric Abetz in his home state and end up in a winnable position. Ms Hickey has openly criticised the influential conservative over preselection and the lack of female candidates. She looks likely to secure a seat in the southern electorate of Denison.

Hobart Lord Mayor Sue Hickey is a Liberal candidate in the 2018 Tasmanian election.
Hobart Lord Mayor Sue Hickey is a Liberal candidate in the 2018 Tasmanian election.

 But where is Jacqui Lambie?

Led by arguably the biggest personality in Tasmanian politics, the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) was positioned to hold the balance of power.

Jacqui Lambie on her last day in the Senate in November.
Jacqui Lambie on her last day in the Senate in November.

But internal disputes, including Ms Lambie’s decision to save money for her own Senate re-election, have weakened the new minor party’s chances.

Without their leader’s star power on the trail in the final week of the campaign - Ms Lambie is touring the country to promote her new book instead - JLN candidates are no longer considered a serious threat. 

 “This is the time when having the party leader, using her public support, her charisma, her willingness to get in the trenches and fight with the troops for the votes would have been very helpful,” Dr Herr said.

The fifth seat phenomenon

Tasmania has the most complicated system for electing its state parliamentarians in the country, if not the world. Under the Hare-Clark electoral system there are five electorates, with five people elected in each. That makes it similar to the Senate electoral process and it can take very few first preferences to claim that fifth position. Another quirk of the island-state’s rules is that how-to-vote cards are banned, adding to the unpredictability.

“People use that opportunity to vote for personalities, rather than stay strictly within the party system,” Dr Herr said.

History shows that the fifth seat in each of the five electorates can be a lotterly on election night, so the focus should be on how the preferences flow this Saturday.


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