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The election in Tasmania – a referendum on old-growth logging?

By Peter Tucker - posted Wednesday, 13 October 2004

From the minute Mark Latham announced Labor's $800 million plan to end old-growth clearfelling in Tasmania, nearly everyone - commentators, journalist and the politicians themselves, state and federal - declared the ballot in Tasmania would be a referendum on forests.

And so it was. For the first time ever Tasmanian voters had a clear choice between the two major parties on the "forestry issue". While little more than a sideshow to mainland voters, Tasmania's forestry practices have divided the locals for over a decade and quite frankly, exhausted them.

But in state elections the major parties have always been in sync on forest policy, both strongly supportive of the industry. The only way to lodge an anti-logging ballot has been to vote Green, an option exercised in recent years by about 15 per cent of the population but because most prefer majority government the remaining 85 per cent, whatever their feelings on forestry, stuck with Liberal or Labor.


Then along came Mark Latham. His platform to end old-growth clearfelling versus John Howard's endorsement (almost) of the status quo meant that the voters' decision could, at last, be taken as an indication of their view on forestry. State Liberal leader Rene Hidding went as far as to declare that if a single seat was held by Labor in Tasmania, he would take it as an indication that both parties would need to reconsider their strong pro-forestry stand. The Hobart Mercury on the Tuesday before the election quoted Mr Hidding as saying Mr Latham's "betrayal" of the state was a "disgraceful and outrageous day in Australia's history". Mr Hidding called on Tasmanians to "rise up" to defend "states' rights".

So, did the locals "rise up"? No, not really. Labor lost its two most marginal seats, Bass and Braddon, and in the Senate the Liberals nabbed three seats to Labor's two, but an analysis of the poll shows that the majority of Tasmanians voted to save the forests.

Let me repeat that because a lot of commentators will be calling the Tasmanian election outcome some sort of win for the forest industry: the majority of Tasmanians voted to save the forests. The table below illustrates this clearly: 























On a two-party preferred basis: Labor 53.9% compared to the Liberals 46.1%

2004 Federal election in Tasmania – major party primary votes and two-party preferred









2 Party Pref % Swing

4.7 to Libs

7.4 to Libs

4.9 to Libs

0.6 to Libs

1.4 to Libs

3.8 to Libs

2004 Federal election in Tasmania – two party preferred swing

Figures from The Mercury 10 and 11 October 2004. Close to, but not final count.

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About the Author

Peter Tucker has worked in Tasmania as an advisor for the Liberals in opposition and in ministerial offices for both Labor and Liberal governments. He is author of the Tasmanian Politics website, and is a researcher at the University of Tasmania’s School of Government.

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