TASMANIAN VOTERS will vote in an election on 15 March that is likely to terminate 16 years of Labor government and elect the first majority Liberal administration since 1992; in terms of economic indicators, Tasmania is Australia’s worst-performed state, and the circus that has been government in Tasmania for more than a decade — complete with clowns in the form of the
Communist Party Greens — is about to meet an involuntary end.
Jumping into bed with the Greens — as Labor has now learned several times — initiates a tryst destined to end bitterly, and in tears; the smiles and bonhomie may have been plentiful yesterday, as Premier Lara Giddings sacked the two Greens ministers from her cabinet, but the petty brutality has merely been deferred by a couple of months.
In fact, the eight-week election campaign announced by Giddings yesterday is a potent indication of Labor’s expectations of the election result; any government that senses itself to be on course for re-election generally gets the act done as soon as possible, and the only real purpose for dragging the matter out is to hope the opposition slips up on the way through, and makes a hash of its campaign.
It’s the same strategy used by the Victorian ALP in 1992, when Joan Kirner — fully cognisant that a belting awaited Labor, as voters retaliated against the financial incompetence of the Cain years — drew out proceedings for so long, in the vain hope Liberal leader Jeff Kennett would commit one of his famous gaffes during the campaign, that the move backfired badly when Kennett executed a trouble-free, focused campaign that culminated in a landslide Coalition win.
Labor and the Coalition begin the campaign with 10 seats apiece in Tasmania’s 25-member House of Assembly, with the Greens holding the remaining five; this election is the first for Giddings — who replaced previous Premier David Bartlett in 2011 — whilst Liberal leader Will Hodgman and the Greens’ Nick McKim are both going around for the second consecutive time.
Labor’s stint in government in Tasmania — as so often seems to be the case — began with great promise; under the strong leadership of a popular, telegenic and articulate leader in Jim Bacon, Labor promised to restore stability to government after a disastrous minority Liberal government, in unholy alliance with the Greens, represented anything but.
Following Bacon’s resignation due to ill health in 2004 (he died of lung cancer soon after), Labor has since been through three Premiers — Paul Lennon, David Bartlett, and Giddings — in the ensuing ten years. A fourth change of leadership, widely rumoured but summarily squashed by Giddings’ election announcement yesterday, would have seen Tasmanian Labor eclipse the shocking record of its NSW counterpart in playing “musical chairs” with the Premiership of the state: self-consumed acts of introspection that show a cavalier degree of respect for the electorate at best.
Whichever way you cut it, Tasmania is not in good shape. Certainly, it is a beautiful part of the world and an ideal place to visit, but in terms of the legacy of its recent governance, the place is a shambles.
Underneath the showy surface glamour of tourist drawcards such as Constitution Dock and the Salamanca precinct lies a very different story: high unemployment, a shrinking manufacturing base, and the steady disappearance of traditional Tasmanian industries, such as the timber industry, which have provided a backbone for the state’s economy — and jobs for its citizens — for decades.
At the end of 16 years in office, Labor must take the blame for much of this; it long ago ceased to be a “new” regime, able to point to its Liberal predecessors in apportioning blame for all manner of ills, and has “owned” the actions of government in Tasmania for many years, and must now own the consequences of those actions.
Much of the damage that has been done in Tasmania derives from the ideological, rigidly doctrinaire influence of the Greens; the decline in areas such as the timber industry (and compounded by issues such as the fiasco over the proposed pulp mill on the Tamar Valley) derives either directly from Greens’ blackmail as participants in government, or from fear of losing votes to (and failing to win preferences from) the anti-business, anti-industry, anti-family and anti-jobs fruit cakes masquerading as a responsible environmentally-based political party.
This election should, once and for all, end the era of governing alliances between one of the major parties and the Greens — a practice initiated by the ALP in Tasmania in 1992, and perpetuated since to its cost.
The Tasmanian Liberals made the same mistake after a state election in 1996 robbed them of their majority; since then, Labor in Tasmania in 2010, federally in 2010 and in the ACT in 2012 have repeated the experiment.
That federal Labor government is now gone, the Tasmanian Liberals paid a heavy price after 1996, and Giddings will do so again in a couple of months’ time.
So-called “stable, functional” government — the rhetoric used to justify such unions — is no substitute for effective or productive government; there is a world of difference between the two. Most recently, federal Labor learned this to its cost. Soon, its Tasmanian cousin will do so as well.
Whilst the only poll that counts is the one held on the day, there seems little doubt about the outcome in Tasmania; the modest amount of opinion sampling conducted in the Apple Isle has been consistent, and conclusive, for most of this term of Parliament.
The latest EMRS poll put the Liberals in an election-winning position, with 49% of the primary vote; in the same survey Labor rated 22%, and the Greens 19%. Other polls have consistently found the Liberals to be on track to win more than 50% of the primary vote, and as recently as this week, unnamed Tasmanian Labor Party figures saw to it that fears the party would win just 6 of the 25 lower house seats — or less — were made public.
Liberal leader Will Hodgman has, as he did prior to the 2010 election, pledged to govern in majority, or not at all.
It seems the Tasmanian Liberals heeded the lesson of their folly in coming to terms with the Greens during the Premiership of Tony Rundle in the 1990s, and are determined not to repeat it: and it would be a brave observer indeed who did not expect to see Hodgman to lead the Liberals to victory this time.
Giddings, by contrast, yesterday sacked the two Greens ministers in her cabinet, in a cynical and unbelievable pantomime designed to con voters that Labor and the Greens are anything other than two ends of the same dog act.
Labor knows — through its misadventures in Tasmania, and from the disaster a similar arrangement turned the Gillard government into federally — that voters will not buy alliances with the Greens, even in a proportionally-elected bubble like the Tasmanian Parliament exists within.
The divorce proceedings between the two parties are little more than a charade; each knows the other will be needed if either is to sit in government in Tasmania again, and perhaps ever again.
In the wake of the inconclusive 2010 election, then-Premier David Bartlett famously declared that “a backroom deal with the Greens is a deal with the devil” and in words that haunted him until his departure from Parliament the following year claimed that “I am not going to sell my soul for the sake of remaining in power.”
Nonetheless, Bartlett remained Premier.
Today, Giddings has made it known that she is campaigning “to win a majority” for Labor; whilst this is rather obviously the electoral objective of the leader of any mainstream political party at an election, that objective, in this case, is a claim for trip on a hiding to nothing.
Expect Bartlett’s 2010 pledge — and those made by Giddings now — to feature prominently during the campaign.
The simple fact is that the Tasmanian ALP neither deserves to win re-election, nor boasts a record worthy of anything other than hiding it.
High unemployment, a stagnant economy, business failures, below-trend long term growth and a state in recession are the end results of 16 years of Labor government in Tasmania, and after a torrid and gruelling campaign lasting almost twice as long as it should, the ALP is set to be thrown from office in what, historically, has been its strongest state.
I will be following this campaign — excessive in length as it will be — along with the soon to be formalised campaign in South Australia; today’s post is really by way of overview.
But to illustrate just how far out of touch Tasmanian Labor has grown — and just how divorced from reality or sanity its leader is — I encourage readers to check out this article by Piers Akerman, dealing mostly as it does with the warped, almost perverse, attitude Giddings and her cohorts at the Greens have taken to the fraught issue of asylum seekers.
And for those readers who regularly accuse me of giving Piers oxygen because of some purported right wing plot, here is today’s editorial from Hobart’s newspaper, the Mercury, and here is the Mercury’s report on Giddings’ sacking of the Greens’ ministers — and her commissioning of two others, putting two extra ALP snouts into the taxpayer trough solely for the length of the caretaker period leading up to polling day.
For those that think otherwise, it’s not all a right wing conspiracy: sometimes governments are just this bad, and the most recent generation of Labor governments have proven, in the end, to be far worse than most.
Like its defeated counterparts elsewhere, Giddings’ government will not be missed when its tenure ends at the end of the election campaign that has now officially begun.