Political Chronicles 349
July to December 2017
Institute for the Study of Social Change, University of Tasmania
While a final date had not been set, Liberal Premier Will Hodgman confirmed in
December the government would go a full term with the election due in March 2018,
marking an end to the phoney campaign and the start of the election campaign proper.
Labor continued to consolidate its gains in the opinion polls while the government
suffered further setbacks with State Growth Minister Matthew Groom announcing that
he was stepping down from Cabinet and would not recontest his seat in Denison at the
next election, the loss of a key upper house by-election, and the failure to get several
pieces of key legislation through Tasmania’s upper house. Opinion polls throughout this
period continued to predict a hung parliament after the next election with the ALP level-
pegging with the Liberal government for the first time during the parliamentary term.
All this came against a background of a strong economy, the budget in surplus, the
elimination of net debt, a booming tourism industry and modest jobs growth.
Labor increased its representation in the Tasmanian Parliament after winning the seat of
Pembroke — one of the fifteen electorates in Tasmania’s largely independent upper
house. The by-election on 2 October was triggered by the illness and subsequent
resignation of well-regarded former Attorney-General Vanessa Goodwin. The by-
election was won by little-known Labor candidate Jo Siejka, who ended comfortably
ahead of the Liberals’ candidate James Walker and highly-favoured independent and
Mayor of Clarence, Doug Chipman. Siejka’s election increased Labor’s numbers in the
upper house to four leaving the Hodgman government with just one member in the
The focus of the election was a bitter negative campaign by the Liberal Party against
Chipman, a former Liberal Party state president, over his opposition to a major
government policy initiative — the forced takeover of TasWater which is the state’s sole
water and sewerage corporation, jointly owned by Tasmania’s twenty-nine councils. The
campaign was dominated by the Liberals’ attack on Chipman’s age, suggesting the
seventy-one-year-old was too old to serve in the Upper House (ABC News, 6 November
This, among other missteps in the Liberal campaign, saw Seijka, a first-time candidate
and the only woman in a field of seven, attract 32 per cent of first-preference votes,
compared to Walker’s 25 per cent and Chipman’s 20 per cent (Tasmanian Electoral
Commission, 14 November 2017). After preferences were distributed, Siejka was the
clear winner, crediting her success to a positive grassroots campaign (Mercury, 6
This was a significant result on four fronts. Firstly, the by-election was widely seen
as a preview of the popularity of the two major parties in the lead-up to the state election.
Secondly, it heralded a major setback for the TasWater takeover bid which the
government had been hoping would make it more popular in regional areas of the state.