Gambling lobby buys Tasmania’s election

Tasmanian elections are decided by the Hare-Clark system, a method of proportional voting that means a party must secure close to half the total vote to win majority government.

It is a complex system in which a voter has a single transferable vote in one of the five electorates, each of which elect five members of parliament. The system often produces close results and minority governments. It also means seats are rarely decided on election night.

But on March 3, Tasmanians went to bed knowing they had re-elected Will Hodgman’s Liberal government with a 0.76% swing against it. On the night, the Liberal Party had won 50.46% of the total vote and at least 13 out of the 25 seats.

Labor recovered some of the votes it lost in 2014, with a swing of 5.4%. But its vote share of 32.76% is still its third worst result since World War II. It won eight seats and has a chance in three others.

The Tasmanian Greens vote dropped by 3.8% to 10.03%, lower than its previous worst result of 10.2% in 1998 when it won one seat. At the time of writing, it had secured one seat, with two others it had previously held undecided.

The Jacqui Lambie Network only managed 3.2%, down from the almost 5% Lambie polled to win a Senate spot for the Palmer United Party in 2014.

The minor party vote was down, with the combined vote for the major parties (83%) the highest since the 1986 election.

Labor’s promise to ban poker machines from pubs and clubs, and restrict them to casinos became a major election issue, although the Greens were the first to raise this issue. It meant that some of the Greens votes would have gone back to Labor.

This promise was a challenge to the wealthy Farrell family whose company, the Federal Group, has held exclusive licensing rights for pokies in pubs and clubs since 1993.

Tasmanians lose more than $100 million a year on gaming machines. They have made the Farrell family incredibly wealthy: in 2015, according to the Business Review Weekly’s rich family list, they were worth $463 million up $48 million from the previous year.

The amount of money donated to the Liberal Party by the pro-gambling lobbying groups became an election issue, with Labor claiming the Liberals spent $5 million on advertising.

Former Labor treasurer Michael Aird told the ABC that this amount was “unheralded” in Tasmania. “We’re not saying we were robbed, we are saying the vested interests and those who are going to benefit financially were going to spend whatever it took. The forces against us in terms of expenditure was [sic] about 10 to one.”

Under the current rules, political parties are not obliged to disclose donations until the end of the financial year. There are no requirements to reveal how much was spent on advertising and companies, such as the Federal Group, do not have to reveal how much they spend on advertising, even if it is political.

Hodgman has felt the pressure and said he will look into enacting more transparent laws governing political donations.

Given that Tasmania’s only dedicated surgical abortion clinic in Hobart closed recently, Labor leader Rebecca White had pledged to make terminations available through public hospitals, or to invest in a standalone abortion clinic, during the campaign.

The Liberals oppose public hospitals performing surgical abortions, offering instead to extend travel assistance to women to go to Melbourne for a surgical abortion.

The Liberals ran a successful scare campaign, focused on the prospect of a hung parliament with Labor and the Greens forming government, as they had from 2010–14.

A last-minute Liberal Party policy to weaken gun laws meant that many people were not aware of it given the strict rules governing what the print media can publish on election day. Hodgman’s response to accusations he had misled the electorate was to retort: "An opportunity to talk about every single one of your policies is perhaps unrealistic".

Or perhaps too democratic?

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