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Mar 18, 2010

Tasmania: Labor dials 'M' for electoral murder

When Labor loses government on Saturday, it might look to a nine-year-old girl from the north-west coast to begin to understand why, writes Bruce Montgomery.


Tasmanian Labor is on the ropes. The knockout punch is coming. It is running scared. The hard men have panicked. They’ve made bad decisions. They’ve resorted to the politics of the lowest common denominator: fear. And it has backfired on them.

When Labor loses government on Saturday, which looks inevitable, it might look to a nine-year-old girl from the north-west coast to begin to understand why.

The Labor Party caused Alice Bellamy’s phone to ring at her home in Spreyton. When she answered, an ALP robocall, an automated message, told her that a vote for the Greens would be a vote to legalise heroin in Tasmania. Alice had to ask her mum what heroin was.

That single event, lasting less than a minute, reported on the front page of the Advocate newspaper on Wednesday, represents the nadir of Tasmanian Labor’s appalling campaign for Saturday’s poll.

Their rationale apparently was that with one quarter of the voting population still undecided, it was time to nail the Greens once and for all. Former premier Paul Lennon had already corralled his Labor and Liberal predecessors Rundle, Field and Gray to put their names to a document warning of the end of the world as we know it if the Greens held the balance of power.

Labor backed it up with its robocalls warning that the Greens would not only decriminalise heroin but what would give long-serving prisoners at Risdon Prison the vote. Think Port Arthur mass murderer Martin Bryant.

If a journalist had written such a libellous summary, they would have transgressed Tasmania’s electoral laws, yet those laws do nothing to stop this garbage being broadcast over the phone lines, with no identification, no authorisation. In the US, where robocalls are commonplace, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act requires all telephone calls using pre-recorded messages to identify who is initiating the calls and to include a telephone number or address where the initiator can be reached.

The Tasmanian party was besieged by complaints from members, candidates, present and past ministers, aghast that anybody could have regarded this as clever, let alone productive. Premier David Bartlett claimed he knew nothing about it in advance. If that is true, it is an indictment on the way he has allowed the campaign to be managed. He is the bunny who has to wear it.

The damage is done. Labor has no hope of retaining government as the majority party in the 25-seat House of Assembly; the polls show the Liberals winning more seats and therefore the right to form a government. Labor is now in damage control to ensure it is not further humiliated by the Green vote on Saturday. Bartlett himself may be in trouble in his own electorate, Denison.

There is a PhD or two in the analysis of this election campaign. Because Tasmania’s Hare-Clark system of proportional representation allows voters to pick and choose candidates within each party, electors can send quite explicit messages about what they think of the parties, their policies and their candidates. The deadwood will be excised on Saturday. Hare-Clark facilitates that admirably.

Tasmania was a Labor state. That status has been destroyed by the actions of recent governments, by their too cosy relationships with companies such as Gunns and Federal Hotels, their blindfolded attitude to due process, by their failure to adapt to a smarter constituency, and by their ineptitude in this campaign.

Bartlett’s challenge, if he has a future, is to bring younger and fresher minds to the incident room of Tasmanian Labor politics, to hold a post-mortem to determine where it unravelled and to start the process of re-education and renewal.

Bruce Montgomery is a freelance journalist and former Tasmanian correspondent with The Australian.


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20 thoughts on “Tasmania: Labor dials ‘M’ for electoral murder

  1. Simon de Little

    It took a real pyscho to come up with this tactic –


  2. Jim Reiher

    I think people have finally woken up to it. The big parties run lie and fear campaigns against the Greens and the best policy to do it with is…. drugs!

    But finally people are not being deluded as much. Maybe some people are actually getting onto the Greens web site and reading the policy for themselves. (There’s a thought!). Or maybe they see Green politicians and notice that they are good people: people who care about others and the nation and the world.

    The Greens drug policy wants to help people get off drugs. Wow. What a revelation. It wants to treat users as people with a health problem who need help (not jail) and it wants to treat pushers as criminals. (If people really want a debate, then lets debate the different ways of helping people get off drugs.)

    But who lets a few facts get in the way of a good scare campaign! Finally the day of reckoning might just have come. And more and more people are sick of shallow, self-interested politicians who lie and distort and do anything they can to keep their claws into power.

  3. Greg Angelo

    The report that the Labor Party has been involved in scandalous automated telephone polling campaign on an indiscriminate basis is a cause for great concern. Generally, most of the news that filters out of Tasmania, other than its excellent cool climate wines, and fantastic wilderness areas (the ones remaining unlogged of course) relates to the disgusting relationship between Tasmanian politicians and that big Tasmanian forest company whose name cannot be mentioned for fear of being sued, and of course government jobs for mates.

    If as reported Labor has resorted to scandalous lies being broadcast by automated phone calls on an indiscriminate basis to an unsuspecting audience including children they deserve to be thrown out of office. If the Tasmanian Premier does not know what is going on in his own party machine and he is an even bigger fool then he appears to be and deserves to go.

  4. shepherdmarilyn

    Oh dear, it seems the liberals can pull any old slander and libel they like and they are scarcely chided but if the silly ALP do it they are demons.

    Do grow up little people.

  5. jacks

    Oh don’t be so damn one eyed SHEPHERDMARILYN. If the liberals had done something this stupid they would have rightly been blasted just as badly. Remember the liberal lies in pamphlets about labor letting muslims build mosques at the 07 election? They quite rightly got the wrong end of the stick from the media.

  6. ronin8317

    To borrow from an Irish phrase : Grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented. ‘Robocall’ with negative messages requires a surrogate party. This is pure, simple incompetence.

  7. Meski

    @Shepherd: You mean if one person commits a crime, then it’s ok for the rest of us to as well? I can’t see that defence working in front of a judge.

  8. Chad C Mulligan

    Um. What slanders have the Liberals pulled out this time around Shepherdmarilyn?

  9. shepherdmarilyn

    Oh dear. The liberals and EB ganged up on Bob Brown in the last election remember? Don’t remember any outrage by the liberal huggers then.

  10. davidk

    Outra geous actions by Labor this time. Power corrupts. The Greens have complex well thought policies that are easily misinterpreted by scurrilous operators. The Libs have been doing it in Canberra for years. The fact that Tas Labor is now doing it shows just how degenerate they are.

  11. Carlos Medina

    hoWARd & the Exclusive Brethren would be proud!

    Anyone remember the preference deals with Family First in Victoria at the last Fed. election? Yep, also from the brains trust @ ALP HQ!

    I guess it is a really good sign for the Greens when they are soooo desperate to try anything…

    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you.
    …Then you win.”

  12. Lyle Allan

    Robocalls should be outlawed. They are disgraceful.

    I’m reading on various blogs that Danny Nalliah of Catch the Fire Ministries is praying for a certain result in Tasmania. Pastor Nalliah was a Family First candidate behind Steve Fielding in Victoria at a previous election. Is he supporting born agains like Jacquie Petrusma and Michael Ferguson?

  13. pedro

    Confected outrage and a generous helping of bile from Bruce Montgomery, the former Tasmanian correspondent with The Australian, aka The Liberal Party Daily Newsletter.

    I can’t really imagine the Oz having a lefty correspondent on the payroll, so I say it’s a fair call that the article is biased.

    BTW, I never let my kid answer the home phone and he is 9yo too.

    IMO the parents should wear it.

  14. my say

    sorry montgomery has alwasy worked for news limited.
    look we are not silly here in tas.
    i take notice of people like possum Phesphs Bowie and Bonah,.
    as if one child and the picture on the mercury would do that.
    You must really think we have two heads

  15. my say

    Geee a 9 year old these days should know what drugs are.
    Every child should be taught by responsible parents like us explain so if they hear the word they know is wrong.
    Life is so out there today that explaining things to children is proably done or should be about 5 years earlier than in Mr. Mont.s time.

    out of the street yesterday amoung real people and not the North bible area.

    every second STRANGER i spoke to where voting labor now that may be bit of exaggeration but 6
    is not bad figure in denison in a range of about 2 ks. yes and i have this bad habbit of chatting to sranger not like the main land where one can do that without people thinking you may rob them.

    about a beat up COME ON CRICKEY .
    stop treating tasmanians ?????

  16. my say

    JACKS I got numerous calls from your exleader howard and others in the liberal pary

    invinting me NOT to vote labor as it was bad thing to do

  17. my say

    another thing
    how about some good policy news from you re the hospital
    and other initives

    The liberals have run the most uninspiring campaign i can ever remember.
    from god bothers saying they have a calling.
    and inviting mainlanders to live here for 2500 each.
    no school levies when only 2o percent pay them any way.
    and gee i cannot remember much else the liberals actually said.
    Young will really has dissapointed many i think.
    and the good economic management from our labor gov over the years has not been mentioned by you.
    I think if this is all that crickey can give us for our elelction,

    I bet you dont have to many tasmanian subs.

  18. jacks

    My Say I am not a member of the liberal party and I very much doubt I will be voting labor or liberal at the next election. Apparently SHEPHERDMARILYN lives in the world where if one party does something wrong that excuses the other one. The liberals were idiots in the 07 election to say that labor was going to allow the building of a mosque, but labor are also idiots here using a calling machine to tell people about a sensitive issue when it cannot differentiate between adults or children. if howard had started talking about aids or sex in his calling message I’m pretty sure he’d have been in the poo too.
    Isn’t it funny how I talk about stupid things both parties have done and I’m apparently automatically a liberal, but you’re blatantly left of centre yourself and just want to make any excuse for your beloved labor party. Labor has sold out since the 80s and gone far more rightwing than it ever was before.

  19. Craig Bellamy

    The person the robo-cop rang was my niece Alice.

    I absolutely detest negative advertising and this has really brought it home for me. Political advertising in Australia really needs to be regulated. Politicians are undermining the very system that they are employed to advance. Negative advertising bring the tone of the political system down and makes it difficult for informed, intelligent, and insightful debate.

    And mechanical phone calls in Tasmania. How well does the Labour party actually know that state in this instance?

    Dr Craig Bellamy
    Melbourne (via Ulverstone, Tasmania)

  20. Liz45

    I’d get really angry if I got one of these phone calls from any party. They’re an invasion of privacy, and I have a ‘no call’ on my phone re advertising – I think that political phone calls are just that. Playing dirty tricks is particularly grotty, and like the Libs in ’07 those who take part deserve to lose – I don’t care who they are.
    I hope The Greens hold the balance of power or better!
    Fingers crossed! I think this is the only way to stop the Gunns pulp mill, destruction of native forests etc, destroying Tasmania and Bass Strait, and …………….??


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