Was it really the wistful look of the young son as his father opened the front door each weekend to go to work that caused Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett to quit?
Clearly, there was more at play here than Bartlett’s wish to be a better father to his children. If he sees these next few years as the most important in bonding with his children, why will he remain a minister in a new government led by his deputy, Lara Giddings? Does he intend to be a Monday-to-Friday minister? Granted, he has said he will quit at the 2014 election.
In the political lexicon, to cite “family reasons” to justify one’s resignation implies there is more to the departure than meets the eye. There is more to this. It revolves around Bartlett’s personality and his judgment.
By his own definition, he is a suburban kid, an adopted child who did not meet his birth family until he was 19 but who grew up in a loving, caring family. Those close to him say his flaw is that he seeks constant approval. It is now clear he chose the wrong time in life to step up to the plate of being Premier.
Bartlett breaks the mould of Tasmanian Labor leaders. Born in 1968 he is the archetypal Gen Xer: an IT nerd, who works with an iPad, communicates by Facebook, wears a thumb ring, rides a mountain bike and bangs his head to Grinderman. No working in the mines of the west coast for this one.
Bartlett became a father in his late 30s and premier at 40, after only four years in the parliament. That is his main problem. Orthodoxy in Tasmania is that backbenchers have toddlers, ministers have teenagers, but premiers have empty nests, favourite restaurants and burn the midnight oil. Or, as Giddings and Julia Gillard prefer, you dedicate your life to politics from the start. Bartlett’s timing for a political career was out of phase with his family. His rise was too sharp.
Once in power, he found the job much tougher, more time-consuming than he had imagined and not quite the glam of President Jed Bartlet in The West Wing.
Bartlett’s critics point to a record of procrastination on decisions or to making commitments that he could not possibly keep: no deals with the Greens, a line in the sand with Gunns and its pulp mill; two new Bass Strait ships; a cap on power bills. Add to that the dramatic loss of support for Labor in Tasmania over the past five years.
A protégé of former Labor premier Michael Field, Bartlett last year was forced to do what his mentor had done 21 years earlier and swore should never happen again: to form a coalition with the Greens to stay in office. Labor under Bartlett lost four of the government’s 14 seats in the 25-seat House of Assembly at the March 2010 election. He traded two places in cabinet in return for the Greens guaranteeing supply and confidence. When you have only 10 MPs in the Lower House and a handful in the Upper House from which to choose a Labor cabinet, it is a blessing in disguise to recruit some intellect from outside.
Bartlett has not been able to convince party power-brokers that coalitions are the way of the future, despite it being blindingly obvious to most others. Labor still wants power in its own right and, under Bartlett, it was unlikely to achieve it in 2014.
“They were ready to slice him up,” one insider told Crikey.
When Giddings became Treasurer in December she is said to have been horrified at the fiscal forecasts for the state. Governing Tasmania in the next three years was going to be difficult, time-consuming and unpopular decisions were going to have to be made and sold.
Bartlett knew it. He also knew the moves would come against him from Giddings or Left minister David O’Byrne, probably some time this year. He looked at his kids and took the course that offered him dignity. He did it by Facebook.
The timing suited Giddings — elected unopposed this morning — 38, single, single-minded, articulate, experienced, savvy and well-advised. She becomes Tasmania’s first woman premier, having already been the youngest woman elected to an Australian parliament in 1996 at the age of 23. She has the time to commit to the job. Bryan Green — the former deputy premier who fell on his sword in disgrace five years ago — is back as her deputy.
There is no question that the coalition with the Greens will continue.
“The king is dead. Long live the queen,” said the pragmatic Greens’ leader Nick McKim.