Tasmania was a different place Monday morning than it had been Sunday night.
There is a spring in the step, a lightness of being that comes with knowing the future can and will be brighter.
David Bartlett, the new premier, is not the Messiah but he embodies both a generational and cultural shift in Tasmania’s Labor dynamic that should not be underestimated, but nor should it be overstated.
Bartlett’s biggest and most important first step was to let Gunns know that its glory days of government patronage were over and that it will have to get used to being treated like any other business.
This is unknown territory for John Gay and his Board who have grown used to premiers—Liberal and Labor—being at their beck and call.
Bartlett has said “no more”. The pulp mill has parliamentary approvals in place and Bartlett has made it clear that it will now be built—or not—on its own merits as a business venture, not on how much money it can suck from public coffers.
The fact is the pulp mill is looking all but dead with financiers unwilling to stump up the dough for a risky venture and Bartlett, despite having voted to support it, is quite happy to let it die, drawing a line under a very unhappy 18 months.
Bartlett is making it clear that the role of government is to provide an environment in which business can prosper, not to pick pet projects and then prop them up in the hope that they will provide jobs.
With a background in IT Bartlett lives and breathes technology and understands the vital engine-room role that small business plays, particularly in Tasmania where the population is distributed fairly evenly across the state and not concentrated in one big city.
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Expect Bartlett to find ways to make it easier for small firms to innovate and prosper; collectively, this approach will end up providing many more jobs than one big massively subsidised factory on the Tamar and make Tasmania an even more enjoyable place to invest in, live in and work.
Bartlett’s political challenges are formidable but most will come from his own side. There are plenty of Lennon loyalists (at least four) still in the Labor caucus who turned to Bartlett only out of desperation; they don’t like him and they don’t trust him.
These unpleasant people are verbal bashers; under Lennon they bashed the Greens and critical writers like Richard Flanagan, they bashed octogenarian pulp mill protestors and Liberals, they bashed Terry Martin and anyone who got in their way. And they will bash (in off-the-record whispers to journalists) David Bartlett if they think he represents a threat to their continued existence on the public tit.
Bartlett must meet these fools head on and assert his authority – it is vital for Labor in both the short and long-term that he not retreat from his reform agenda. Importantly, he should use his Cool Tasmania visage to recruit new blood into the branches and party pre-selections.
Waves of techno-nerds—as opposed to the usual Labor apparatchik gene pool—should be given party membership forms and encouraged to get involved.
Many of us in Tasmanian Labor were delighted to see the back of Paul Lennon, not only because we were heading for electoral annihilation but also because he had come to represent values that no longer hold true for most of us. Like John Howard he was a cultural warrior; he hated his enemies and used division and avarice to achieve his ends.
Ironically, I think Paul Lennon throughout his life as union leader and politician has acted out of a genuine interest in advancing the interests of working people and that his support for the pulp mill was born out of a real belief that it would benefit the state.
But in fighting so hard for something that he believed was right, he lost his way and compromised both his own personal integrity and that of the State. It was for this—not his belief in the mill—that cost him the support of the people he’d fought so hard to represent.