IMAGE CREDIT: electoral map shows preference by district for Meg Webb, produced by Kester@kesteret

Why have eight of the ten candidates vying for Nelson declared against or been unsupportive of the cable car proposal?

Votes.

The middle ground on the cable car has shifted. Every candidate has expressed disquiet at the proposal or the way it has been foisted upon the public.

Two candidates are in favour. Three candidates are unconvinced, their support is soft and conditional. Five are strongly opposed. For the opponents the proposal is a piñata donkey they whack on all sides. Candidate John ‘Polly’ Farmer says he “does not support the proposition” and neither does Richard Griggs who considers the entire scheme “inappropriate”. To candidate Vica Bayley a cable car is “a really bad idea”. Meg Webb declares herself “absolutely against it” and truculently opposed is Deborah Brewer who calls for “us” to be “courageous” and “fight this development”. Even the scheme’s main supporter Nic Street says the proposal has “problems” and that the proponents “certainly haven’t taken the community with them”.

Among the unconvinced, caveats are piled high: the scheme would have to be “low impact and environmentally and aesthetically sensitive” (Robert Manning), it must only be done with “care, forethought and consultation” and not alter "Tasmania’s “uniqueness to tourists” (Lorraine Bennett). Blair Brownless favours it only if “everything lines up”.

Not a single candidate has been convinced by the MWCC’s assertion that its scheme is, at once, “environmentally beneficial, socially inclusive, economically sound and culturally vital”. The scepticism is perhaps most modestly expressed by Manning for whom the scheme is yet to explain away “the many well-documented concerns which have been expressed by so many”.

On its environmental “benefits”, candidates Griggs and Brewer say the mountain is “wild” and a cable car is “not consistent” with that wildness. Griggs disputes the MWCC’s assertion that the mountain is “little more than a city park”.  For Farmer and Bayley, the sense-of-place the mountain offers deserves to be preserved.

On its cultural appropriateness, Brownless has a concern over the height of the structure on top of the mountain (it is 3 storeys high), but if it goes “anywhere near the Organ Pipes” he would have “massive concerns”. The cableway passes directly over the Organ Pipes. Bayley characterises the Pinnacle Centre as “the mountain’s cruise ship”. Brewer suggests that most locals—and even visitors—would “cringe” at it. For her, aesthetically, the mountain is “beautiful” whereas a cable car would be “invasive” and the mountain should “remain beautiful for all our tomorrows”. For Farmer, the mountain’s “majestic presence and timelessness” offer an inestimable psychological value. For Brewer, any development is unthinkable, for kunanyi is “like Uluru”,  which is suggestive of it being sacred. Bayley says it straight-out: “kunanyi is sacred”.

On its claimed social inclusivity, almost every candidate criticises “the process”. Nic Street says “developments like this need to take the community with them and they [the proponents] certainly haven’t.” Bayley agrees, arguing that “the cable car has no social licence”. Ogilvy says the process has “lacked transparency”.  Bayley uses “underhand”, characterises its handling by the state government as a “perversion” and “disempowerment” and sees the process as “a land grab for private profit on reserved public land”. Meg Webb says it has “a stink about it”, and that the project has been “divisive”and “exclusionary”. Of the proponent company, Bayley calls it “secretive, deceptive and adolescent”. Ogilvie sees a worsening prospect, raising the odious possibility of the project being called-in by a planning minister under a Major Projects legislation. She sees “no role for Major Projects legislation for such a scheme”. Bayley also argues that the ticket price makes the enterprise exclusive, not inclusive.

The cable car’s economic “soundness” is questioned by Brewer. Cable cars and convention centres are to her “yesterday developments”. Brownless could only be convinced by seeing “the full business case”. For Farmer, the mountain’s iconic value raises its price far above any tourist dollars, and any commercialisation would not only taint the mountain but cheapen Hobart itself. Farmer shares the deep ecologist’s view that the mountain has a right in itself to exist that transcends its economic value. Bayley calls the scheme “an economic dud”, “a massive white elephant” and “mass tourism” which he considers an inappropriate economic goal.

On the far side of the middle ground stand Nic Street and Lorraine Bennett. Bennett supports a cable car, but on the proviso that: “it must be done with care, forethought and consultation”, and adds that “to appeal to the tourist that Tasmania attracts, we need to keep our uniqueness.” Only Street is certain.

Or is he? Street once said that he would “fight every inch of the way” for the cable car. Brewer will fight him every inch of the way back. These are doctrinaire positions from the two party-affiliated (Liberal, Greens) candidates in the poll. Street might argue that the controversial “city park” statement by the MWCC referred to the summit, not the entire mountain; that the real process has hardly begun, and will be controlled by the Hobart City Council with public input; that we may all imagine better alternatives, but the cable car is the bird in the hand; that MONA is not for everyone, that the Pinnacle Centre is a work of art—but Street has not (yet) made these arguments. Of late, what he says is that it is “a sensible way” to get people to the mountain top.

More than any statement against the cable car, this tepid endorsement says what the majority of voters in Nelson are telling the candidates: boldly spruiking a cable car is not a popular idea. In Nelson, it is electoral hemlock.

WHO WON?

To vote for the mountain, Respect the Mountain (RTM) suggested—but RTM did not rank—five candidates, alphabetically: Bayley, Brewer, Farmer, Griggs, Web) who, it says, are deserving of a place in your top 5 preferences, them. Electoral law prevented the Mountain Preservation Society from publishing its How-to-vote card. It could only “encourages you to read the candidate statements below and number 8 candidate boxes, but no more. By leaving blank your two least preferred candidate boxes your preferences will “exhaust”. Those two candidates will not receive any benefit from your vote, but your gesture will count. The two blank boxes on your ballot will read as an invisible but unmistakable message, a snow-white protest, a silent “No”.

Nelson’s victor was the independent candidate Meg Webb. For most of the tally she trailed Vica Bayley and the front-runner Nic Street, but preferences from Madeliene Ogilvy flowed so strongly her way that she overtook Bayley and then, garnering the overwhelming allocation of his preferences, defeated Street with 60% of the vote to his 40%. A blow-by-blow explanation of the Nelson cut-up is on psephologist Kevin Bonham’s Nelson blog.

MEG WEBB ON THE CABLE CAR

A detailed statement on Meg’s website on the cable car issue reads:

“[The cable car] has clearly become quite divisive. I think this is due to the fact that a considered and accountable process has not been followed. 

A good starting point when it comes to public policy is to ask ourselves some key questions:

What is the problem(s) we are trying to solve?

What are the opportunities that may be realised?

Who are the people or groups that should be involved in this discussion and decision?  

What unintended consequences might occur as a result of this?

In regards to the cable car, we didn’t start by discussing these questions as a community. And it has been problematic ever since.

I believe that this is an issue we should be discussing as a community in the context of:

  • Understanding the full spectrum of what kunanyi/Mt Wellington means to the people of Hobart and, in particular, to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community. 

  • Developing a future vision for our tourism industry that articulates its intersection with the protection of our natural environment.  I think tourism will continue to increase in importance to our state economy. Our value in terms of tourism rests so inherently in our incredible natural environment, that we need to be very thoughtful in how we develop attractions and tourism infrastructure and opportunities.  

  • Exploring a wide range of innovative ideas for locals and visitors to access and enjoy kunanyi/Mt Wellington. And then choosing from them the best and most appropriate to fit with our community views and values.

I think we should start back at the beginning with those earlier questions. Personally, I quite like the idea that we improve access to kunanyi for both locals and visitors, and that we find valuable and respectful ways to have tourism experiences on the mountain. However, I do not much like the idea of a private business pursuing and profiting from a major infrastructure project that may ultimately have limited benefit to the Hobart community but great impost on some locals.  I also want to see a proper process followed, through the appropriate regulatory channels and without special arrangements, in scrutinising and progressing any proposal for the mountain.”

CANDIDATE STATEMENTS ON THE CABLE CAR


NOTE ON CANDIDATE STATEMENTS

The Mercury broke the news of the startling anti-cable car candidate complexion on March 28th with the headline “Only one candidate supports cable car” after Loretta Lohberger attended a candidate forum organised by the Australia Institute in the Fern Tree Tavern. Of the seven candidates attending, six spoke against the proposal, only one spoke in favour. Lohberger’s Mercury report led with: “Nelson Liberal candidate Nic Street was the lone voice in support of a cable car”. Candidates Bennet, Brownless and Manning did not attend.

A fortnight later, on April 17th, Leon Compton on his ABC radio program Mornings (heard between the 27:00 – 38:00 minute marks) squeezed all ten candidates into his studio and quizzed them on the same topic. Six spoke directly against, three reserved their decision and again, only one candidate (Street) declared in favour.

LEARN MORE:

How Nelson voted last time  (ABC Election analysis)

How Nelson voted last time (ABC Election analysis)