Tasmania has been shocked by the resignation of Premier Jim Bacon due
to lung cancer. But what does it mean for the island state’s political
landscape?
The Australian broke ranks on Saturday and reported the big Tasmanian
story that has been announced tomorrow – the resignation of Premier Jim
Bacon who has lung cancer.

One of The Australian’s Canberra-based political reporters, Samantha Maiden, had the by-line in The Weekend Australia: “Premier to step aside for health”

We say “broke ranks” because most of the Tasmanian media were onto the
story but a Government ring-around late last week warned everyone off
until the Premier was ready.

This infuriated The Mercury which pulled in chief reporter Ellen
Whinnett to produce the big splash in The Sunday Tasmanian which you
can read here.

There are numerous other stories in the Sunday Tasmanian on the biggest
political story to hit Tassie since Jim Bacon took power in 1998.

Ellen Whinnett has an excellent profile on the next Tassie Premier, pro-logging hard man Paul Lennon:  “Lennon steps up to mark again”

Then there’s this story on the power vacuum at the top: “Labor power vacuum at top”

And what about this glowing tribute to Bacon by Wayne Crawford:
“Premier turned Tasmania around”

Crikey is sometimes criticised for publishing unsubstantiated rumors
but this story is an example of our restraint. This email came through
on Thursday:

“I have had advice from an impeccable source, that Jim Bacon has
incurable cancer and that his 2 sons have returned from overseas, other
relatives are also visiting before it is announced.”

Not knowing the source, we were still checking it out when The
Australian produced the story on Saturday. We had the yarn but were
beaten to it. Oh well. Then again, being beaten is better than being
wrong when dealing with an issue like the resignation of a premier and
cancer.

TASMANIA APRES BACON

Lou from Launceston writes:

The departure of Tasmanian Premier, Jim Bacon, from politics to tackle
lung cancer is, to state the bleeding obvious, going to change the
whole political landscape in Tasmania.

Bacon WAS politics in Tasmania, very much in the way Beattie is in
Queensland, and for many Tasmanians would be about the only politician
they could readily name. Much has been written about Bacon’s skills:
his firm grip, his presidential style, his willingness to make bold
decisions; and his weakness: his propensity for secrecy and his
hyper-sensitivity to criticism; but rising above all this was the very
obvious fact that Bacon ENJOYED being premier and was extremely
comfortable in the role.

Many people aspire to leadership but when achieved never look like they
belong there. Jim Bacon, just like John Howard, Peter Beattie and Bill
Clinton, for example, are completely at ease in the role of leader. But
politics is politics and it is time to make some assessment of the
future.

First to deputy, Paul Lennon, who will take over as premier. He is
usually described as a “hard man” or less charitably a “thug”. Many
doubt if he can make the change from bad cop to good. But those who
know Lennon believe he can. He is more like Bacon in character than
most people realise. He is intelligent and hard working, and has a
keenly honed political eye. In fact, he can be much “nicer” than Bacon
as he takes criticism better, but he will still be sharp and cutting to
his political foes.

His faults? A bit too smart for his own good, sometimes, and enjoys
putting people down. He will clearly miss the the advice and support of
David Crean and Jim Bacon, but he has the intellectual strength to
carry the premiership off.

The Mercury’s Ellen Whinnett predicts a softer Lennon will emerge here: “Lennon’s softer new look”

Next to the deputy-elect, the veteran Health Minister David Llewellyn.
Very much a surprise choice as the press were predicting elevation for
the younger and more media-friendly Education Minister Paula Wreidt or
Forestry Minister Bryan Green.

Even Franklin MHA Harry Quick thought a “generational change” would
have been better in the deputy post, drawing comparisons with the
success of Mark Latham. But the often tongue-tied Llewellyn has one big
advantage over his younger colleagues: he can take on a mountain of
work.

Lennon knows it is going to be tough going at the top from here on in
and the last thing he needs is a deputy shy of work. Green, despite
being considered by some in the media as a high flyer, has only learned
recently how much work there is in being a minister of the Crown. He
botched the large portfolio of primary industry and environment and was
moved to resources, which has a higher profile and spun as a promotion
by Bacon, but is in fact less grunt work.

It should be noted that, in the previous government, Llewellyn had
primary industry, environment, parks and wildlife, police and treasury
in the Lower House – phew! Now he handles the impossible health
portfolio, a big enough task in itself, as well as police and managing
government business in the House.

Wreidt has made education her own, and is doing a creditable job, but
it is a relatively easy ride as far as portfolios go. It is interesting
that Bacon recently took from her the task of government business in
the house and foisted it onto poor old Llewellyn. No, Lennon clearly
wants a level head and a fellow workaholic as deputy. Llewellyn is
consistently and persistently underestimated by everyone, but will rise
to this occasion.

Now to the Greens. Having Lennon as premier is great news for Pegg Putt
and her Green team. It gives them a much clearer target to focus their
hatred and should help them galvanise their supporters. Remember, the
Greens play 16% politics, not 50% politics like the major parties (and
when will they wake up to that?), so anything that can polarise and
emotionalise the environmental debate is a plus.

The Liberals. Today’s Examiner, in their six page coverage of the Bacon
retirement, had a story titled, “Opposition may not be ready to take
opportunity.” Unfortunately it is not on their online edition. There is
no bi-line, but surely has been written by political journo Chris
Johnson.

It quotes University of Tasmania political analyst Tony McCall: “There
is no doubt that they (the Libs) have scored a penalty without really
falling in the box. But Tasmanians have always been attracted to strong
leaders. Rene’s (Hidding) a nice bloke but he’s not a strong leader.
And there are a couple of younger members in the Opposition’s team who
need to be performing better if there is to be any advantage for them
out of the current situation.”

Prediction? Certainly changes in leadership style and personality at
the top. Expect Lennon to be a capable and strong leader, and for Labor
to feel its way for a while. Like all new leaders Lennon will have a
honeymoon period as the media, and the voters, get to know him in the
role. His honeymoon will be enhanced more than it might, because the
press will show defference to the ailing Bacon. (Someone taking over in
these circumstances will get a much easier ride than leadership grabbed
in a coup.)

There IS a danger Lennon and Labor will blow it, but the more likely
scenario is that it will be business as usual. Labor’s tourism-led
economic recovery is working at the moment so don’t expect any major
changes in direction. The government is also building a large surplus
in time for some sweetners at the next election. Lennon has the luxury
of taking over in good times with little, except for the perennial
health black hole, to fix.

Lennon has always done Rene Hidding cold in parliament and in the
public so there is no solace for the Liberals in the change-over.

Peter Fray

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