Hillary has packed her laptop and tossed her chainsaw into the Louis Vuitton hold-all and headed off to Tassie for Crispy and Buttock’s big day.

Still, at least Hillary doesn’t have to come here every second year like her Labor contacts. The thought of being trapped in a downmarket holiday resort like Wrest Point with nothing to do but talk politics and plot is beyond comprehension. Mind you, it’s been a few years since Labor last had a serious political debate at a national conference.

The big issue

At least Crikey readers know that serious matters have been under discussion throughout the state election. We’ve run hot and cold on the water temperature in the pool in Liberal Leader Bob “Buttocks” Cheek’s gym.

And it is Buttock’s gym. Hillary got confused last weekend, but since arriving in Tassie has discovered that Buttocks owned two Club Salamanca and Dockside. Dockside has been sold to Hobart Council, but the other, Club Salamanca, the gym he still owns, has been the source of all the issues the cold pool, the broken spa that have dominated the campaign so far.

And they’re issues that just won’t go away. There are three days left in the campaign and the pool is still cold and now people are complaining of skin rashes from using the spa in Buttock’s gym. Have folk in Tassie heard of ambulance chasers Slater and Gordon?

Timing is everything

There was some toing and froing over the election date. Indeed, Premier Jim “Crispy” Bacon’s choice of a date might have been the most significant political decision the Apple Isle will see for quite some time.

Crispy didn’t need to go to the polls until November, but Tasmanian political observers a couple of weird looking blokes, a two-headed child and a dog, as readers will recall expected he’d call the election for sometime in August.

Bringing the date forward a few weeks is a highly political decision. If the government had gone full term, the campaign would have coincided with the financial deadline for troubled catamaran manufacturer Incat, the state’s largest private employer. Incat and its employees face a bleak future. Labor wisely chose to avoid damaging its re-election bid by going now, and many in the party wish they had taken the chance to go even earlier.

The government had a bad start to the campaign. First there was the embarrassment of government loans to the Abt tourist railway on the state’s west coast. Then one of the state’s largest salmon farms went belly-up. In normal circumstances this would be all quite embarrassing for the government but embarrassment is a word more regularly applied to the Liberal opposition and the gung-ho Buttocks.

Battle of the slogans

So far the slogans have been bland, with nothing inspiring like Helen Clarke’s “It Takes Balls to Lead New Zealand”. For the last two elections, Buttocks has run in his seat of Denison under the slogan “It Takes Cheek to Get Things Done”, but the party has settled for the far blander “Tasmania Can Do Better. Much Better.”

Labor, unsurprisingly, have been saying Tasmania can do much better than Bob Cheek and there are shades of the 1976 New South Wales election, when the Liberals under Sir Eric Willis ran with the slogan “Willis Will”. Labor promptly came back and asked “Willis will what?” Oh the perils of sloganeering!

Labor is on much stronger ground. Hillary loves a man in uniform and a whiff of leather and has been very taken by Labor’s adoption of “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer”. Hillary is taking some literary licence there. It’s actually “One Leader, One Team, One Direction”, but you can see the similarity. In fact, it even sounds better in English. Hillary can’t imagine its German translation “Ein Fuhrer, ein Mannschaft, ein Richtung” pulling them in at the bierkeller.

Bacon on a roll

Hillary has referred to Labor leader Jim Bacon as “Crispy” for yonks. Then came the Labor Party’s love-in campaign launch, with Crispy planting big wet ones on wife Honey. Yes, that’s right, Crispy and Honey. We presume their sons are called Streaky and Smokey.

Anyway, enough bad jokes. We’ll get to the Hodgmans later. Jim Bacon is the brother of investigative journalist Wendy Bacon and began his union and political career as second in charge to former Builders Labourers Federation boss Norm Gallagher. It was an issue the Liberal Party tried to play up in 1998, running ads with pictures of Bacon and Gallagher. The ads had more impact in reminding everyone of the appalling Zapata moustaches people thought were attractive in the 1970s. Trying to paint bland old Jim as threatening the end of capitalism as we know didn’t really wash with the electorate.

Of course, now he is Premier of a state with a struggling economy, Crispy may have a different view on the industrial action by rogue (or is that rouge) unions. Labor is banking much on the Basslink electricity project, which will allow Tasmania to sell green power on the mainland and top up Victoria’s tottering generating capacity. Yet in a hark-back to the BLF’s old strategies, Dean Mighell and the Victorian ETU have banned the project. Hillary can’t quite work out why Mighell has chosen to stand up for a few affluent West Gippsland hobby farmers worried pylons might damage the view from their rural idyll but thinks it would be entertaining to hear Crispy give us an unexpurgated opinion on what he thinks of the Victorian ETU.

Buttocks’ cheek

Tasmania’s peculiar Hare-Clark electoral system makes political parties choose high profile candidates in an attempt to garner votes. It’s why the state has a long history of sportsmen entering parliament think Darrel Baldock, Ray Groom, Tony Benneworth and Brian Davison and how Buttocks ended up in Parliament.

Buttocks had quite a profile as a sports journalist, sports administrator and health club proprietor, one of those classic small business get up and go types that always go down well with Liberal Party pre-selectors. He got into Parliament at his first election in 1996, but immediately proved a thorn in the side of his colleagues. He came spectacularly to blows at one meeting with former Premier Ray Groom, who showed Buttocks a few of the skills he learnt playing Aussie rules for Melbourne. His black eye was the talk of Hobart for some time.

Anyway, Buttocks was an absolute pest on the backbench of the minority Rundle government, crossing the floor to support Labor’s parliamentary reform proposals. He at least proved right on that. The Rundle government eventually decided it was better off adopting Labor’s proposal and going to an early election rather than sitting around being white-anted by the Greens.

The cut in parliamentary numbers had the desired effect, with the Greens losing the balance of power they almost certainly would have retained under the old electoral system in 1998. But the downside was the election of the Bacon government, and it has been all downhill for the Liberal Party since then.

Back in Opposition, the 10 member Liberal Party room became riven with leadership tension. Peter Hodgman had his eyes on the job, as did Buttocks. Rundle hung around for a year before resigning, the party room endorsing his deputy Sue Napier as the new leader. But she was never secure in the job, and with Peter Hodgman switching interest to federal politics, the battle became a contest between Napier and Buttocks. For a year the numbers were split five-all.

Then Ray Groom decided he had had enough and resigned from Parliament. With by-elections in Tasmania being conducted by re-counting votes from the previous election, this produced a back-to-the-future scenario with old stager Michael Hodgman, a known Cheek supporter, filling Groom’s vacancy. Napier saw the writing on the wall and resigned.

But the partyroom is clearly not a happy group of campers. Only four of the 10 MPs elected in 1998 will be facing re-election, three having resigned since 1998, and three more retiring at this election. The party membership, as well as the partyroom, is riven with factional and personal disputes, as shown by the purging of Greg Barns’ and the blocking of Sue Napier’s attempt to fill a Senate vacancy.

The reward or rather, punishment for all this disunity will be seen on Saturday. A dreadful result for the Liberals, such as only winning one seat in Denison and Franklin, would leave Cheek blushing. But there is no alternative leader, and the last thing the party would want him to do is resign the leadership, resign from Parliament, and see Michael Hodgman re-elected at another recount.

Tasmania needs a credible alternative government, something the Greens, who only ever strive for balance of power, can never offer. The shrivelling of the Liberal Party under Erica Betz and his cronies since 1998 is bad for Tasmania. The Franklin Dam dispute split Labor after five decades of hegemony and made competitive party politics in the state a reality. Now with the Greens an anathema to the majority of the electorate and the Betz ‘n’ Buttocks Liberals a standing joke, Labor looks to be back to its glory days.

And what about the Greens?

To some extent, those who say Peg Putt, the state’s only Green MP, has been the real opposition to Labor are probably right. The Liberals, preoccupied by fratricide, have created a great opportunity for the Greens.

While Bob Brown turns up at every election round the country and claims the result as a great victory for the Greens, their vote has fallen in their Tasmanian heartland at every state election since its peak in 1989. If the Greens had retained their support from 1989, or even 1992, then the cut in size of Parliament in 1998 would not have prevented it winning the balance of power.

But the problems with the Greens is that they put ideology ahead of achieving anything like a majority of the vote. In 1992, they briefly looked like they could replace the Labor Party as the state’s major left party. However, the Greens chose to stick to ideological purity. Despite Green demands that their policies are right, they seem to totally miss the point that the right policies are irrelevant if you are not popular enough to get yourself elected to government. In politics, you have to make up your mind whether you are a lobby group, or a potential party of government.

Instead, the Greens have convinced themselves that the balance of power is in fact a slice of real power. Once again, the Greens will stand full tickets of five candidates in each electorate. Yet it is clear from the Greens’ website that only one candidate is intended to be elected, the rest are just there to support the lead candidate. The Greens are making no serious attempt to become a government party. All they want is the balance of power.

This means that if Labor loses its majority, the Greens will insist a Labor government will have to implement Green policies to gain their support in Parliament. Despite the Greens getting only a third or quarter of the Labor vote, the Greens will insist that their policies on issues like old growth forest logging should be implemented, not Labor’s. It is an admission that the Greens think bourgeois parliamentary democracy is a sham, that people’s choice on policy is to be ignored, and ideology should be the determining factor.

What the Greens forget is that they are not a balance of power party, but a hard left lobby group, with Labor and Liberal voters having more in common with each other than either do with the Greens. As the defeats of the Field government in 1992 and Rundle government in 1998 showed, voters for the major parties will switch sides to ensure the Greens are denied the balance of power.

You can see that in last weekend’s Examiner poll. While it has been written up as Greens gaining at the expense of the Liberal Party, what is happening is that part of Labor’s left is moving to the Greens, the Labor Party is hogging the middle ground, and some Liberal voters are prepared to vote Labor to prevent the Greens getting the balance of power.

In other words, a Labor majority government on Saturday will be the result of Labor dominating the middle ground of politics, not from the sort of shift to the left mainland commentators seem to think Simon Crean should be doing.

The Greens are essentially a “tail wagging the dog” party. They can’t implement any of their policies without a Labor government. In essence they are a parasitic party, wanting only to work out their ideology, not putting the hard yards into building a broader support base, and hoping for the situation where they can find a host to leech on to Labor does well enough to deny the Coalition a majority, but not so well that Labor can govern in its own right. All power but no responsibility seems to be the catch-cry of Green politics.

A Hodgman too far

First it was Bill Hodgman, for many years a member of the Tasmanian Legislative Council, a bucolic chamber that for many decades was Hobart’s leading stand-up comedy venue.

Then barrister son Michael was elected to the Council, and in 1975 to Federal Parliament as MHR for Denison. Then brother Peter followed the family calling, elected to state Parliament as state MHA for Franklin.

Following his Federal defeat in 1987, Michael tried and failed again at the 1990 Federal election, before switching successfully to state politics in 1992. After an abortive run for Speaker, when several Liberal MPs crossed to floor to vote against him in the secret ballot, and after being dumped as Cabinet Secretary for his incessant plotting to become Premier, Michael become more and more a fringe player, losing his state seat in 1998.

But Michael was missed who could forget his memorable “The lesbians have the Labor Party by the balls” comment after the agreement to implement affirmative action in Labor pre-selections, after all so when Ray Groom retired in 2001 it was only natural that he would make a comeback.

Of course, Hillary’s old drinking pal can go too far sometimes. Hodgeman used to take delight in waving shots of Jim Bacon with Norm Gallagher in Parliament. Eventually Labor shot back with some memorable shots of Michael with Mark ‘Chopper’ Read, a man he defended in court, also serving as Read’s best man at his wedding.

Well, Michael is in trouble again. If polls showing the Liberal vote in Denison in free fall are correct, then Bob Cheek will be the only Liberal returned. Once again, Michael Hodgman QC will have to fall back on his silk.

Not that all will be lost for the Hodgman clan. Peter is retiring in Franklin, so the Liberal Party chose Michael’s 33 year-old son Will to fill the Hodgman void there.

One thing that has taken Hillary’s eye is that Will is the Deputy Convenor of the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Republican Movement. Given his father has been one of Tasmania’s most florid defenders of the Monarchy, political discussion at family get togethers must be quite entertaining.

The thought of a third generation of Hodgmans brings back strange echoes of a famous judgement by US Supreme Court Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. In upholding Virginia’s eugenics laws, prescribing sterilisation for the ‘feeble minded’, Holmes agreed to the sterilisation of the unfortunate Carrie Buck, with the ringing judgment that “Three generations of imbeciles is enough”.

It might be a harsh to apply this to the Hodgmans, and certainly it is unfair to judge young Will on the antics of his father. But you suspect that this is an election where a famous name is not going to be enough to save the Liberal Party.

The name game

It is common in Tasmania for MPs to be defeated by other candidates of their own Party. For that reason, parties sometimes play games, like pre-selecting all the sitting MPs in conjunction with a selection of unelectable hacks.

With the cut in numbers in 1998, everyone knew some MPs would miss out. However, no-one expected a turnover of Party MPs. Still, that’s what happened in Lyons, where sitting MP Lara Giddings lost her seat, defeated by a relative unknown in Ken Bacon, presumably elected because people thought he was actually Jim.

Since then, Giddings has bided her time since 1998 working as a government adviser, and this time she has been preselected in Franklin, where sitting MP Fran Bladel was retiring. Unfortunately, with the government choosing to run full term, Bladel’s decision to contest a Legislative Council election in May forced her to resign. In the countback, Neville Oliver was elected to Parliament.

Oliver is the former Head of ABC sport. You could always pick his Labor bias when he was calling the cricket, unable to help himself when BBC commentators started talking about which private schools English players came from. Like most middle aged male MPs, Oliver is an overweight self-opinionated bore, but at least he is prepared to admit this failing.

Oliver also has one of the more amusing nicknames we have come across. Mark Waugh apparently dubbed him “fart in a bath”, noting the onomatopoeic nature of his name if said quickly. He will have a hard time defeating Giddings, who is clearly the candidate Labor would prefer to see elected.

Indeed, maybe he should have changed his name to “fart in a bath” to get elected. Remember, this is the state that in 1986 improbably elected John His Grace the Most Noble Duke of Avram. The Duke as he was widely known, was Tasmania’s answer to Prince Leonard of Hutt. His election came about because with his name starting with ‘H’ (for His), he appeared directly under Robin Gray on the rotating ballot. Gray’s preferences were solely responsible for his election.

Another Liberal candidate has learnt the name lesson since 1998. Then, Glenorchy City Councillor and Denison candidate Steve Mavrigiannakis finished last on the Liberal ticket. He’s since shortened his name to Steve Mav, presumably because he thinks there is not much of an ethnic vote in Tasmania. He’ll be fighting it out with Michael Hodgman for the second Liberal position in Denison. It’s a fitting contest, given Mav is almost as rabid a monarchist as the great man Hodgman QC himself.

Silly tourism policies

You can’t get away from the fact that Bass Strait is a physical impediment to Tasmania’s ability to compete nationally and internationally. Politicians try to write-off the physical problem with expensive schemes, like subsidising it as part of the national highway system, paying huge amounts for submarine power cables, and now Michael Hodgman’s mad scheme to declare the state some sort of off-shore tax haven.

For the last year, the fate of cross-strait ferries has been an on-going issue. While it is very appropriate for a madly oversubsidised ferry to be named the Spirit of Tasmania the vessel itself needs to be replaced after years of plying the strait from Melbourne to Devonport needed to be replaced. Attempts at a catamaran crossing had problems created by rough seas, otherwise it could have helped save Incat. In the end, the government has gone for a pair of mono-hull vessels.

But listen to this breathtaking policy by the Liberals to ensure the ferries are properly utilised. This taken from an ad for Bass candidate Peter Gutwein.

“Only the Liberals have a plan to ensure that the new ferries don’t travel empty across Bass Strait during winter. Tourists who come to Tasmania during the summer by either air or sea and stay at least three nights will be given the opportunity to come back for free when we really need them throughout the winter. Our return visitor program will fill the boats during the off season by offering free return travel on the ferries to tourists who come back to enjoy the delights of a Tasmanian winter and stay at least five nights.”

What a policy! For a moment ignore the real practical difficulties of administering such a scheme. How many people who chose to stay only a weekend in summer, are going to want to come back and spend five days in winter! I mean, Tasmania may be fun for a cheap dirty weekend in winter as there is not much outside activity to distract you. But to think the ferries are going to filled by people coming on five day breaks in mid-winter is just a fantasy.

The Forest debate

Forests continue to be the environment issue that has most bite in the electorate. The arguments about logging in old-growth forests has caused division in both major parties, and for that reason both sides have avoided raising the issue in the campaign, preferring to paper over the internal divisions.

This has been a problem for the Greens, who have been keen to use the issue to attract votes from the Labor left. They had been singularly unable to put the issue front and centre, until the boss of timber company Gunns, Stephen Gay, lumbered in with a particularly Neanderthal contribution.

Gunns is an interesting company with enormous interests in forestry industries. It also has an intriguing Board of Directors. Most of them, including former Liberal Premier Robin Gray, made appearances before the Royal Commission into the 1989 political bribery scandal, when Launceston media proprietor Edmund Rouse tried to bribe a Labor MP into crossing the floor and keeping Robin Gray in power. The make-up of the Gunns board continues to viewed with interest by long-time observers of Tasmanian politics.

So the Greens finally got the old growth forests issue running for a few days, making the intrusion by Gunns one of the least useful bits of PR spinning recently performed by a major corporation. However, it did have an interesting consequence in bringing to the fore some divisions within the conservation movement.

The Greens have stated they do not oppose sensible logging in old-growth forests. What they oppose is clear-felling. Selective logging of trees should be allowed, though exactly which trees should be logged is not clear. We think that logging may be granted if the tree consents, or perhaps there is an age of consent, only trees under a certain age can be logged, and perhaps for good measure, only under a certain height. Watch for developments.

Of course, there are a few hard line shrubhuggers who oppose any logging in old-growth forests. For this hard core, whenever a tree falls in the forest, they can hear it scream. At this stage, the split has not been major. But with similar debates going on in the Labor Party, many activists opposing Deputy Premier Paul Lennon’s let-it-rip attitude to logging, this division about the future of forestry looks set to be an on-going issue, whatever the result of the election.

Shop Trading Hours

The silliest thing Bob Cheek has decided to do out of many strong contenders is to oppose Labor’s attempts to introduce Sunday trading. Back in the days of the Groom government, an attempt to do the same thing was blocked by the Legislative Council, leading the Liberals to embark on reforming the council’s rotten borough electoral system. Now the Council has finally been made a more representative institution and agreed to longer trading hours, the Liberals back-flip, hoping for a few votes from amongst the few remaining supporters of banning whistling on the Sabbath.

Groom’s attempt actually had unusual consequences. Some reform got through, allowing major stores to open on Sunday in Hobart if a cruise ship was in port. This doesn’t happen very often, and unfortunately, when a US aircraft carrier was unfortunate enough to dock in Hobart on a Sunday, it didn’t qualify as a cruise ship. Still, with thousands of American sailors in town and all the major stores closed one trade did well.

Out on the Fringes

The great joy of the internet is that more and more candidates can have their opinions on politics read by the great mass of the public. Instead of editors choosing to shun loony candidates and the well-intentioned but poorly-thought through, the web allows us all to spot the losers with no chance of winning.

Hillary is very thankful for the ABC in putting up some profiles of all the candidates. They are obviously written by the candidates rather than ABC journalists, as even the ABC couldn’t be as left-wing as some of the people described on the ABC’s website.

Hillary was particularly fond of David Pittaway, Greens candidate in Bass. “The Greens have real openness and integrity remember Bob Brown’s honest stand on asylum seekers? It was simply the right stand to take; not poll driven; not pushed by interest groups just pure Green integrity.” Yes, and the Greens got 5% of the vote, the government increased its majority, and the Coalition still can’t believe their luck that every ratbag left group in the country still keeps banging on about letting boat people in months after they stopped arriving.

But these remarks are nothing to the losers from the Socialist Alliance, campaigning under the wonderful slogan ” For the millions, not the millionaires”. The Socialist candidates love banging on about campaigning for refugees, aborigines, the workers, blah, blah, blah as opposed to doing anything for Tasmanians in general.

Hillary thinks that Denison candidate Shua Garfield gives the game away when she states “Socialist Alliance doesn’t mouth the lie that we can achieve change by electing people to parliament. We encourage ordinary people to get involved, participate, and contribute to social justice mass movements where real change occurs.” So it’s back to direct action a guaranteed way round the problem of being unable to get anyone to vote for you.

Then Franklin candidate Glen Shields also lets slip the great lie of groups like Socialist Alliance. “I believe that the Socialist Alliance represents a chance to promote the rights of individuals in the face of corporate manipulation of society.” Here we go again. When you can’t get anyone to vote for you, fall back on false consciousness of the masses. Never believe this crap about individual rights from socialist groups. When they start from the ideologically blinkered position that “property is theft”, then the checks and balances created by democracy get shafted by ideology. It was always the great question of the whole Pauline Hanson debate. Was Australian democracy under greater threat from Pauline Hanson and One Nation, or from the sort of left-wing loonies who used to turn up to try and intimidate her supporters.

Mind you, it is good to see one unadulterated right-wing loony up for election. Bass ungrouped candidate Rob Larner wants to pursue development “in line with the vision of Lyndon H Larouche”. He wants national credit banks, restriction on the right to borrow overseas, repeal all anti-union legislation (where’s that come from?), repeal of anti-fascist laws, such as the recent “anti-terror” bill, an end to privatisation, and the re-nationalisation of companies already sold. And the great 0.1% speculative turnover tax to replace the GST. We need more candidates like Rob Larner.

Actually, some of these views are similar to those of Socialist candidate Sonja Montaigne. “Companies that threaten mass sackings should be nationalised under the democratic control of workers and the community to save jobs and goods and services the community needs.” Sounds like the old Hydro-Electricity Commission. And what about “where an industry is environmentally destructive (like woodchipping old growth forests), workers should be retrained on full pay with a guaranteed job at the end.” Paid for and guaranteed a job by who, and retrained in what? Perhaps as an insurance industry bureaucrat, seeing another Socialist candidate Kamala Emanuel wants to fix the public liability crisis be nationalising the insurance industry.

Voters complain about the lack of choice offered by the major parties. But when you see the other alternatives offered, you understand why the electorate is better off just ignoring politics and getting on with their lives.

A night to remember. Not.

The Tasmanian Electoral Office has a long standing arrangement with Wrest Point to hold the tallyroom in the main auditorium. With the public let in, it can be quite a bear pit. Seasoned observers remember the remarkable hostility of the crowd in 1992 as Michael Field conceded defeat.

But Hillary hears that the ABC has pulled out all stops to produce one of the most boring election panels ever. Labor’s Under-Fuhrer Paul Lennon is boring enough, but he is joined by the most boring man in Australian politics, Erica Betz. The thought of listening to Erica droning on for several hours should have viewers looking for alternative entertainment. And Kerry O’Brien is interrupting his one weeks (not eight weeks, mind you, Crullers) holiday for the big event. They’ll probably outrate SBS with that panel.

Anyway, we all know what will happen. At some point, Bob Brown will claim the election as a great result for the Greens, another nail in the coffin of the old parties, etc, etc, etc. He’s made the same speech in every tallyroom round the country for the last decade, whatever the result. So with the Green vote likely to increase this time, expect to see a real glint of excitement in Brown’s steely stare.

Stay tuned tomorrow for Hillary in Tasmania Part II: The electorates, the candidates, the outcome.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]