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Tasmanian Greens in a quandary

Don't take Tasmania's Greens for granted, why Rann can thank the pollsters for his victory, expect an increasingly thorough analysis from the Coalition of Hawker Britton's client list, and more thoughts from Richard Farmer.


A big problem for Nick. In all the commentary I have read about what will happen in Tasmania there seems to be an assumption that the Greens can be taken for granted. It is as if the only relevant statement is that of Labor Premier David Bartlett that the leader of the party with the most members should be asked by the Governor to become Premier and if two have the same number the nod should go to the leader of the party that gained most votes statewide.

Now that may be a very fair and just approach if you think the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Tasmanians who voted for a party to the left of the Liberals should be ignored. Liberal Leader Will Hodgman clearly thinks that his team’s tick over 39% of the vote should win over the combined 58% of Labor and Greens. He was very eager on Saturday night to take Premier Bartlett at his word and award himself the Premier’s mantle when it emerged that 10 Liberal, 10 Labor and 5 Greens was the most likely result.


The Greens leader Nick McKim (pictured) was naturally enough taking a different view. For him the sensible course of events is for there to be discussion between the three parties to work out the best way of ensuring the state has the most stable government possible when no one has a majority of the 25 seats.

Labor under David Bartlett ruled out such discussions, so the commentariat reached the immediate consensus that Hodgman, if the Liberals do reach the 10 seat figure or more, will be called on by the Governor to form a government. Yet what if the Greens unilaterally declare they would guarantee a Labor Government the passage of supply and thus a basic stability to administration but would not do so if there was a Liberal Party Premier?

Such a thought should enter the McKim mind because the overwhelming majority of those that voted for his party are to the left of the Tasmanian Labor Party, let alone the Tasmanian Liberal Party. They surely did not vote Green so that there would be a truly conservative administration. If the Greens elected to Parliament anoint conservative rule for the next four years, there will be much disappointment among their supporters. The risk of losing support next time around would be considerable.

That makes me think this is not yet the open and shut scenario that is being so widely predicted.

A classic case. The impact that can come for an incumbent government of being seen as the underdog was never so evident as in this South Australian election. The way that Labor got punished in its safe seats yet hung on in areas where people knew that their vote really mattered is a classic case of underdog benefit. If Mike Rann survives as Premier, as seems likely, he can thank the pollsters for his victory. It was Newspoll in The Australian and the polls in the Adelaide Advertiser showing Labor facing defeat that saved him.

A little myth making. Things must have been very convivial on the set of Sky News on Saturday night between commentators Peter van Onselen and Bruce Hawker because the van Onselen piece in this morning’s Oz gushingly gives praise to the Hawker role in the South Australian Labor victory. “As Labor prepared to enter the final week of a fraught election campaign,” wrote van Onselen, “the news was particularly alarming. The ALP was tracking behind the Liberals, and the momentum was with the opposition. Rann’s standing had become a drag on the party vote, and some of his closest advisers were losing their nerve. They wanted Rann to tear up his campaign script about low unemployment, strong economic growth and access to the ear of Kevin Rudd. Instead, Rann should respond to the lines being put out by the plain-speaking Opposition Leader, Isobel Redmond. But Bruce Hawker knew better. This was no time to blink, he told the doubters. The strategy he had led from the start — based on holding a handful of key marginal metropolitan seats — was sound.”

Now it’s true that Premier Rann was effusive on election night in his praise of Bruce Hawker as “the greatest strategist in Australia”. That was certainly a big rap and worthy of noting but we could hardly have expected a party leader to give thanks to his true campaign geniuses. Thanking Newspoll for giving him a truly underdog campaign just wouldn’t have sounded right to the assembled Party faithful as a prelude to remarks about the sweetest victory of all.

Expect many Hawker Britton examinations.  We can now expect an increasingly thorough analysis from the Coalition of Hawker Britton’s client list and decisions made by the Rudd Government in the run up to the Federal election.


Labor strategist and leading lobbyist Bruce Hawker on election night

The Liberals are already getting some traction with their claim that Federal Labor is all spin and no action. Having the acclaimed spin doctor on television panels as a commentator might not be the wisest strategy in the months ahead.


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8 thoughts on “Tasmanian Greens in a quandary

  1. Niall Clugston

    So if the polls had predicted a Rann victory he would have lost, but since they predicted his defeat he won???

  2. Mark Duffett

    Richard Farmer, I don’t know that you’ve been following the campaign closely enough. It wasn’t front and centre in the Liberal campaign, but there were many instances (e.g. making positive noises about restoring the size of the Lower House) when Hodgman was clearly reaching out to the Greens and their supporters. Not through any realistic hope of gaining their first preference, but in anticipation of precisely the current situation. The level of disgust with Labor within many elements of the Tasmanian Greens should not be underestimated. The distribution of Greens preferences will be a very interesting pointer to this.

  3. Richard Farmer

    This politics is a very perverse game

  4. Richard Farmer

    I will watch the preference distribution with interest if we end up having one that makes Green preferences between Liberal and Labor happen

  5. Keith is not my real name

    Tasmania- whatevs 😉

  6. John Worcester

    I think you display your Labor origins, Richard! It’s clear that Tassie voters were in the process of dumping the Labor Party! For the Greens to “put them back in” would seem like an insult to Tassie voters overall. As Bartlett made it clear that if the 2 majors had equal numbers of seats and the Liberals’ vote was greater, then he would not wish to serve as Premier, thereby handing the position to the Libs. If the Greens were willing to go into a Government coalition, taking on portfolios, and they don’t seem to wish to do that, then that would be a different matter although it could equally apply to the other main party as coalition partner.
    Why does it “have to be” that a Labor (or a Liberal) “victory” is brought about? Any minority Government simply has to be prepared to negotiate with either or both of the other main party and the minor party. That could well be a good thing for Tasmania – a good-will, civilised approach that is aimed at Tasmanian benefit and not that of one party or the other.

  7. noname

    Not being an expert on the Tasmanian constitution (is anyone?), I am curious as to how this agreement between the two major parties will play out, and in particular who will be Leader of the Opposition. Here’s how I see the scenario if both parties continue to ignore the Greens.

    Tasmania has a Westminster system of government. The governor, acting for Her Majesty, appoints the premier. Presumably he will first ask Bartlett whether or not he can form a government. Bartlett, honouring his gentleman’s agreement with Hodgman will say no and suggest he call on Hodgman. The governor will then ask Hodgman if he can form a government. He will say yes, because he has the support of the Liberals and Labor.

    All well and good. The governor gives Hodgman the nod. But who then is the governor to appoint Leader of the Opposition? Surely it couldn’t be the leader of the Labor Party? Afterall, he has said he will support the new Liberal government. For the governor to then appoint Bartlett Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Tasmanian Opposition would be like the Governor-General appointing a Liberal Primeminister and a National Party leader of the Opposition.

    Interesting to see how this plays out.

  8. noname

    John Worcester said “a good-will, civilised approach ”

    Hmmm… Not sure I agree with you John. Cosy agreements between major parties look too much to me like a one-party state. I think Churchill said it was the duty of Oppositions to oppose. If everyone is being so gentlemanly and full of good-will, who then is going to be the Opposition?

    Also, I don’t think it necessarily follows that “Bartlett made it clear that if the 2 majors had equal numbers of seats and the Liberals’ vote was greater, then he would not wish to serve as Premier, thereby handing the position to the Libs.” Another solution, exercised when Groom lost, would be to dump Bartlett and put in someone who would negotiate with the Greens. That’s how you ended up with Tony Rundle as Premier

    However, I agree with you that the Greens would think long and hard before supporting another Labor Government. As well as the succession of scandal, the ill-will between the ALP and the Greens is (I believe) intense. However, could the Greens support a Liberal government infested with Abetz acolytes?

    Of course, the logical thing is for the Liberals and Labor to form a coalition that becomes the next government and the Greens to become the official Opposition. In fact if they exercise their gentleman’s agreement, it’s hard to see how the governor could do otherwise than appoint McKim leader of the Opposition.


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