With only three days to go, Tasmanians seem to be
having trouble coming to grips with the fact that they have a genuine
three-party system. Realistically, there are only two possible outcomes from Saturday’s
election: either a majority Labor government will be returned, or the
Greens will hold the balance of power.

So a campaign against “minority government”, such as
is currently being waged by Tasmania’s business community, simply plays into the hands of Labor’s Paul Lennon. The Greens are
copping it from both sides, as business accuses them of being dangerous
radicals while Lennon describes them as “a mainstream conservative party of suit-wearing opportunists.”

Of course, hardly anyone ever wants minority
government as their first option; voters want their party to have a
majority. But if that isn’t possible – as, for both Liberal and Greens
voters, it isn’t – then most of them will prefer minority government to
a majority for their opponents.

The Greens currently hold four of the 25 House of Assembly seats
(against 14 ALP and 7 Liberals). All of them look reasonably secure,
and they
have hopes of winning another two: one from Labor in Denison, and one
from either Liberals or ALP in Braddon. It’s not surprising that
Tasmania is fertile territory for the Greens: a madly anti-conservation
Labor party, a dysfunctional Liberal Party, and an electoral system
that turns votes into seats.

Tasmania therefore provides the strongest case of
the dynamic that is driving Liberal-Greens relations in all the states.
Although they claim to be ideological opposites, they need each other:
the Liberals can’t beat Labor without the Greens’ help, and the Greens
can’t get the balance of power unless the Liberal vote holds up.

Labor may well survive this time around, either with
a majority or so close to it that it can pick off a defector from the
Greens or Liberals, but that’s not going to keep happening
indefinitely. As Greg Barns sensibly observes in Monday’s Mercury
(not online), “Whether or not minority government works depends on the
political culture of a society”. But the three-party system, looks like
being around for a while, so if Tasmania’s political culture can’t deal
with it, it’s going to have to learn.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW