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State of the states: Tasmania

Will Whelan disendorsement make a difference in Tasmania? Richard Eccleston weighs in for The Conversation.

The Conversation's “state of the states” series takes stock of the key issues, seats and policies affecting the vote in each of Australia’s states.  Here's Professor Richard Eccleston and Dain Bolwell's insights into Tasmania's current political landscape. 


The rural Tasmanian seat of Lyons has been in the national spotlight in recent days following revelations that Liberal candidate Jessica Whelan had made a series of Islamophobic comments on social media.

The Liberal party responded by disendorsing Whelan, who, in turn, resigned from the party. There are some parallels with Pauline Hanson’s original campaign in Oxley in 1996, although there are important differences too.

Like Hanson, Whelan has decided – after some indecision – to contest Lyons as an independent. She will still appear as a Liberal candidate as it’s too late to change ballot papers. Unlike Hanson, Whelan, an elected councillor in Brighton, north of Hobart, insists she isn’t anti-Muslim and that her posts have been taken out of context.

Is the “Whelan affair” likely to influence the final election outcome in Tasmania?

Even before the events of last week, most pundits expected Labor’s Brian Mitchell to hold Lyons because, with the exception of 2013, the seat has been safe Labor territory since 1993. Also, as in most rural seats, incumbency matters, and Mitchell has had three years to build his profile in country towns and communities across the length and breadth of the state.

An embarrassed Liberal party will urge supporters in Lyons to vote for National Party candidate Deanna Hutchinson. But the Nationals did not have a serious presence in Tasmania until Jacqui Lambie’s successor, Steve Martin, joined the party in May 2018, so the prospects of unseating Mitchell seem slim.

The unanswered question is whether the Liberals’ campaign woes in Lyons will have any impact on the neighbouring battleground seats of Bass or Braddon, which recent polls suggest the Liberals could regain.

If there is a late swing back to Labor in northern Tasmania, then indiscretions on social media may not only have ended a candidate’s political career, but may have cruelled the Coalition’s chances in two key marginal electorates.


Richard Eccleston, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of Tasmania

Dain Bolwell, Research Associate with the Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation

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