They’ve got a new Premier, but there’s still trouble in the Tasmanian Parliament.
Oh dear. It looked for a while there that the Tassie Libs were
having a good week as Parliament sat with a new Premier for the first
time all year – then frontbencher Peter Gutwein came along with some
ill-advised comments on his education portfolio.

Opposition Leader Rene Hidding ended Gutwein’s backbench exile on Holy
Thursday, sparking off a series of Judas jokes too feeble even for
Hillary Bray to report.

The gags mightn’t have added up to much – but Labor clearly feels that
the divisions between the pair will continue to cause trouble for the
Liberals.

Education Minister Paula Wriedt responded with theatrical fury, wielding the wedge with finesse that would put the PM to shame.

“Reinstated Liberal front-bencher Peter Gutwein has delivered a clear
reminder of why he has spent so long in disgrace with today’s example
of gutter politics,” she said in a media release.

Gutwein’s “vague suggestions of allegations of serious abuse within the
education system were scurrilous and disgraceful”, she suggested.

“He has not had the courage to specify his allegations and has been
content to smear the entire school system with a suggestion that comes
straight from the gutter.

“Mr Gutwein has not only failed to offer any evidence, he has failed to
even nominate a single example or allegation and is content to leave
the smell hanging in the air.”

Wriedt said there were clear guidelines and standard processes for dealing with all allegations of any form of child abuse.

“There are clear legislative guidelines and the Education Department complies with them absolutely.

“Reporting is mandatory. Any situation which may be criminal is
referred to police for investigation and dealt with according to a
clear set of standard guidelines.

“In addition, we have stringent teacher registration laws that we abide by.

“I can assure the community that all allegations of inappropriate conduct are thoroughly investigated.

“It is never appropriate for these matters to be used to score cheap political points, as Mr Gutwein has done.

“There are issues of privacy, personal rights and natural justice which
need to be observed and using any of these matters for political
purposes is beneath contempt.

“So much for the Liberals’ ‘fresh new approach to politics.’

“The pressure is now on Rene Hidding. What parliamentary standards does he demand of his team?

“Is he content to allow his front-benchers to make totally
unsubstantiated, vague and unspecified allegations in the parliament
and to follow them up with a media release?

“Or is Peter Gutwein simply beyond Mr Hidding’s control?”

Game, set and match to Ms Wreidt – and that’s only on the rhetoric. The behind the scenes spin is even more devastating.

How can Hidding trust Gutwein, Labor ask? How can Hidding know
Gutwein will not buck the party line the next time he feels it is his
interest? He’s done it three times before, what makes now any
different?

Gutwein has promoted himself as a politician of principle. He has
quite deliberately let the electorate know where he stands on key
social issues, and he has quite deliberately put himself at odds with
his party. The problem for him and the Liberals is, what does he
do the next time these issues are raised?

If he stood by his conscience before, how can he not do it again?
This is the problem political mavericks have – they can’t have it both
ways. They can’t be part of a party and profess opposing personal
views. They have to stand by their principles or be considered a
hypocrite.

It is a long, long time to the next election – probably over two
years. Sometime sooner or later – probably sooner (and often) –
Gutwein is going to be faced with a dilemma: stand by his convictions
or follow the party. It doesn’t take Einstein to figure out what
Labor and the Greens are going to do: continually try and separate
Gutwein from his party, then watch him squirm out of it.

Gutwein has a reasonably large personal following but it is entirely
built on the image he has crafted for himself as a conviction
politician. If he deviates from that image, I think his support
will crumble. Labor and the Greens (and various interest groups) are
going to have fun with this.

Wendy Wedge couldn’t come up with a better scenario!

Peter Fray

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