Political support for the cable car is rooted in public support. The Mount Wellington Cable Car company must—and does—always claim that the Tasmanian public is overwhelmingly in support of a cable car. Is it?
On the three occasions when the public has been asked, formally, to comment on the proposal, they have overwhelmingly rejected it, sometimes on a ratio of 8 against to every 1 in favour. Public and community group submissions—on the plan to open the Pinnacle to commercial development and to create project-specific legislation for the MWCC—offered multiple, detailed reasons for rejecting the idea.
The MWCC ignores all that.
Instead, for years, the MWCC’s Poll Results page stated that 80% of Tasmanians supported their proposal. Two independent polls, they claimed, showed “support is five times more that those opposed”. This support level is still quoted on their website’s Consultation page: “With a foundation of 78% support … in 2009 and an even stronger result … in early 2013…”
Both those polls were shown to be shonky, but even if almost 80% of Tasmanians ever supported the idea, that left 20% opposed: one hundred thousand people. That is a lot of opposition.
In 2018 a EMRS poll measured statewide support at 62%, with opposition at 31%. The MWCC nevertheless claim—of course—that “The latest EMRS opinion poll shows that support has grown over the past year”. ???
In fact, the EMRS poll shows a meltdown of support. Before the EMRS poll, the MWCC claimed Strongly support (unconditional support) was 58% and Mildly (conditional support) support at 78%. By 2018 “Strong support” had dived to 35% and “Somewhat” support crashed to 26%.
The MWCC also quotes three other polls (a Mercury Reader poll, a UTAS student’s poll and a northern radio poll), but each was an opt-in poll. The sample is not only low, but skewed and the results have no statistical validity.
Should the cableway be built even if its support is based on disinformation?
Should the views of, say, the people of Devonport regarding a cable car in Hobart be given equal weight?
Should the views of the bare majority tyranise the views of a substantial minority?
Should the cableway be built right now—without approvals—simply because a majority want it?
The majority of Tasmanians may support a cable car. That support is certainly widespread: a majority support in every electorate, however, crucially, in the place where the proponents would hope for, and require, the most support: the place where it is to be built and where—supposedly, most of the benefits will arise—the polls show that opposition is not only the highest, but opponents outnumber supporters. Two polls conducted by ROCC suggest that 60% of Hobartians do not support the cable car. Precisely where the proposal needs the most support it faces the most trenchant opposition.
Popularity is a fickle beast. In the boiler room of politics, popularity, even if it remains high, is not enough. It is not the level of support but the strength of the support that matters. Many people are excitable and would love to try the cable car—that makes the idea popular—but if they couldn't have that ride they would find other things to amuse themselves. The support for the cable car is soft. The opposition is hard. The MWCC's opponents are impassioned and many are deeply committed to keeping the mountain free of a cable car.
Ultimately, permission and consent requires more than a majority wish; permission requires a social licence—and that has not been obtained: a fact forcefully demonstrated by Carlton & United Breweries decision not to support the cableway after their own consultation and feedback process concluded that the local community was opposed to the project.
The professional pollster Dr Kevin Bonham of UTAS isn't convinced by any of the polls. He has criticised the polling done by both for attempting to skew the results in their favour.
Finally, consider this: for years the MWCC has claimed overwhelming support, yet most recently, the MWCC says “Wait till you see the Final Details. Wait till you see our Development Application. Then you will be convinced, then all the misconceptions will melt away.” The MWCC can’t have it both ways. If an atmosphere of misperception, misinformation or mistaken understanding exists—and will be removed by the Development Application—where does this leave the previous polls? They were based on the same mistaken understanding, weren’t they? They are hardly worth the paper they were written on.