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.

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