ALP Headed For Richly Deserved Belting In Tasmania

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.


Greens Monster: How To Lose An Election, Tasmania-Style

PERHAPS TERRIFIED of voter retribution over their dalliance with the Communist Party Greens, Labor figures — both in Tasmania and on the mainland — are lining up to disown the ALP’s alliance with the Greens, and to trash the Greens themselves. Although voters are sick of Labor and now awake to the nature of the Greens, it won’t work: Tasmanians are set to throw the Left from office, and its disunity will simply fuel their intent to do so.

We don’t spend a great deal of time talking about Tasmanian politics in this column, and I suppose there’s a reason for that: very often, little that happens on the Apple Isle at a state level has much effect on us here on the mainland.

This may change, however, with Tasmania and South Australia heading off to the polls in March — and in Tasmania’s case, a change of government seems virtually certain. We’ll keep an eye on these contests as they develop.

I was originally going to entitle this article “Greens: ALP Comes To Its Senses In Tasmania,” but even the most cursory consideration of what’s been going on in Tasmania suggests the game Tasmanian Labor is playing should be taken with no more than a grain of salt.

Some time ago (and forgive me — I haven’t had time today to locate the piece) I wrote of the nature of governing alliances between one of the major parties and the Greens; in every instance to date where such an arrangement has been pursued — Tasmanian Labor under Michael Field (1989-92), the Tasmanian Liberals under Tony Rundle (1996-98) and federal Labor under Julia Gillard (2010-13), the major party involved has gone on to face landslide defeat at the hands of voters when next an election fell due.

I think precisely the same fate will befall the ALP in Tasmania in about nine weeks’ time.

There has been a debate going on within the Tasmanian branch of the ALP for some time, essentially about how to rid itself of the odious stench of the Greens without bringing down the state government; some readers will be unaware that there are two Greens MPs who serve in the Labor state cabinet.

To some extent, it had to be so; the 2010 state election saw the electorate return 10 ALP MPs, 10 Liberals and 5 Greens. Both the then-Premier, David Bartlett, and the Liberal leader, Will Hodgman, had made stout declarations of their refusal to serve in any kind of alliance with the Greens prior to that election, but Bartlett quickly reneged on his pledge.

Tasmanian Labor therefore enters the state election period fighting on three unenviable fronts: the first is the general economic torpor that has enveloped the Apple Isle on its 16-year watch, particularly in later years; the second is the “it’s time” consideration that has been such a contributing factor in helping kill off unpopular, long-term state Labor regimes in the past few years.

The same issues of longevity will also adversely affect the re-election campaign of South Australian Labor in March.

But the third is this issue with the Greens: one destined to intensify the urge of Tasmanians to swing the proverbial baseball bats at the state government, and one the ALP will find impossible to outrun.

There has been a lot of noise emanating from Tasmania for months now from Labor circles, with a debate conducted in full public view on how best to dump the Greens whilst not risking the truncation of the remainder of Labor’s term of government.

Unlike the Gillard government, the Tasmanian Greens — despite federal leader Christine Milne being a Tasmanian, and once helping make up the Greens’ numbers in state Parliament — have declined to commit the act of infidelity themselves, robbing Labor of the opportunity to present its hands as clean (which federal Labor also sought to do).

The imperative of keeping Labor bums in green ministerial leather is the kind of imperative destined to impress Tasmanian voters no end, I suspect. The same can be said of the Greens, with their two Cabinet ministers.

Now, prominent union figure and senior Labor identity Paul Howes has weighed in, calling on the ALP to ensure its split with the Greens in Tasmania marks “a final end” to its power-sharing with “fringe political parties” in Australia.

Readers will see, from the article I have linked, that Howes indulges in a rant against the Greens and their alleged (actual) misdeeds in Tasmania; the irony is that what he has to say makes perfect sense, but that any action by the ALP — in this case, in Tasmania — to act on it is implausible, and cannot and should not be believed.

Contrary to Howes’ exhortation that “if we haven’t learnt our lessons after the last few years, then nothing will teach us,” not 18 months ago — after yet another typically hung Parliament resulted from an election in the ACT — Labor’s Katy Gallagher continued in office after negotiating a formal alliance with the sole Greens MP, Shane Rattenbury. That unedifying spectacle took place well into the life of the dysfunctional Gillard government, and at a time Labor figures nationally were in open warfare with the Greens as a result of the damage the ALP-Greens coalition was doing to Labor support in reputable opinion polls.

“You’d have to have rocks in your head to be advocating this type of future again,” Howes said.

The problem is, simply, that we’ve heard this kind of thing before; Labor has solemnly promised not to form these kinds of relationships with the Greens if found wanting for a majority at an election time and again — and then gone ahead and done it anyway.

There is no reason to believe the same thing wouldn’t happen again if another hung Parliament results from the looming state election.

And this, in turn, only increases the prospect of an outright Liberal victory.

Hodgman is going around again in March; he promised not to deal with the Greens four years ago, and he didn’t. The odds are very much on him becoming Premier of Tasmania.

Yet it isn’t possible to say “the next Premier of Tasmania” because — in the latest manifestation of an old Labor disease, rumours abound of a challenge to the incumbent Premier, Lara Giddings.

It’s not difficult to see why; the latest EMRS poll of Tasmanian state voting intentions had the Liberals on 49%, with the ALP on just 22% and the Greens on 19%. Other polls on the Apple Isle consistently find the Liberal Party doing better than 50% of the vote.

But Labor is a creature that doesn’t learn its lessons, even the hard way; just like the 16-year-old ALP government in NSW that was kicked out in 2011, Tasmanian Labor, too, has already had four Premiers in 16 years: the first of these, the popular and telegenic Jim Bacon, resigned and later died after being struck down with lung cancer and a brain tumour. But successors Paul Lennon and David Bartlett both resigned in circumstances that could most kindly be described as controversial. The current Premier, Lara Giddings, is as good as useless.

Even the chaotic NSW branch of the ALP failed to spin the door five times in 16 years; should their Taswegian counterpart elect to do so, it will be an additional nail in an electoral coffin long since nailed shut.

With friends like the Greens, Labor can ill-afford enemies; yet under the Greens’ patronage, economic activity and growth in Tasmania has ground to a complete halt: not bad for a state that could, and should, be a booming example to the rest of the country.

Australia, and its states, needs minority government like it needs the proverbial hole in the head. Yet increasingly, the balance of power in such situations falls to the Greens, and without fail, it is the Labor Party which acts on the opportunity.

Howes — despite the fact I detest utterly the union movement he represents and the brand of politics he stands for — is nonetheless someone I have some respect for; probably because he knows what he stands for and, more importantly, why he stands for it.

In this case he is right. Labor would have to have rocks in its collective head to entertain ever repeating the litany of politically lethal alliances with the Greens that it has been cohort to over the years. As a passionate Labor man, he is dead right in his assessment that such things should never happen again.

But the more things change, the more they stay the same, and the only way for Tasmanians to ensure the prospect of another Labor-Greens government does not materialise is to vote for the Liberal Party in March.

It seems the Tasmanian electorate is aware of this, and ready to proceed accordingly.