TASMANIAN STATE ELECTION: by Wayne WilliamsNews Weekly
The Ides of March for Labor's Lara Giddings?
, March 15, 2014
The Tasmanian state election, to be held on March 15, could well see the defeat of the Labor-Greens coalition government headed by Premier Lara Giddings.
The Giddings government has depended on Greens backing for its survival and, as a result, has implemented many controversial Greens policies — to its ultimate electoral cost.
Will Hodgman MP.
The poor state of Tasmania’s economy, widespread anger in the island-state’s north over what is widely perceived as a sell-out of the forestry industry in order to appease radical environmentalists, and the Giddings government’s radical social agenda — all these things have alienated many of Labor’s traditional voters.
Polling has put voter support for Labor at a record low of 25.8 per cent, the Liberals at 48.8 per cent, the Nationals at 0.7 per cent, Palmer United at 4.8 per cent and others at 4.6 per cent.
The Greens are polling 15.3 per cent, but there could well be a greater electoral backlash against them than the polls are indicating. Paul “Basil” O’Halloran, the Greens member for Braddon, could well be a casualty.
Tasmania has Australia’s highest rate of unemployment at 7.6 per cent, well above the national average of 6.0 per cent.
Tasmania’s Labor government, which has been in power since 1998, has racked up a debt of $428 million, with a heavy over-reliance on GST revenue from the larger states to provide the ready cash to help balance the state budget. Over-dependence on this source revenue hasn’t helped Tasmania stand on its own feet.
With the recent loss of GST revenue of $94 million, and a further predicted loss of $200 million, Tasmania has declined to the level of a mendicant state.
The productivity of state industry is in serious decline, resulting in a shortfall of monies for the state coffers.
The bloated public sector employs some 25,000 public servants, when the state in good economic times can realistically support only 18,000. State public sector employees earn up to 37 per cent more than their private sector counterparts.
The bill for running the public service eats up most of the state budget, and to keep financing it the government borrows money.
The coalition of Labor and the Greens since 2010 has seen radical social legislation introduced and sometimes passed in the Tasmanian parliament.
Tasmania’s controversial new abortion legislation, passed last November, is not far short of a licence for infanticide. It denies pro-life doctors freedom of conscience if they are unwilling to provide a referral for an abortion to women with unwanted pregnancies, and makes it illegal for people to hold even peaceful protests within 150 metres of an abortion facility. Anybody protesting within the exclusion zone can be fined up to $9,750 or be jailed for up to a year.
On March 4, a Queensland pro-life activist, Graham Preston, was arrested in Hobart, charged and jailed, pending an appearance in the city’s Magistrates Court on March 7, for conducting a peaceful protest within the exclusion zone.
A bill to legalise same-sex marriage — even though, constitutionally, marriage is a Commonwealth not a state matter — was passed in the lower house but defeated in the upper house last year.
A bill to legalise euthanasia was next on the agenda, while another bill for human rights did not get off the ground as the state could not afford to proceed with it.
The social agenda of Labor and the Greens has occupied an inordinate amount of government time and energy when the real issues facing Tasmania are high unemployment, the dire straits of the economy and the failure to attract industry to the state.
The demise of Gunns Pulp Mill in the state’s north, the protracted battles by the Greens against the forest industry, the attacks on Ta Ann Tasmania (a business established in 2007 to add value to timber rather than letting it be used only for woodchips), and the resulting cancellation of a valuable London Olympics plywood contract, have left many workers wondering if Labor is really interested in protecting jobs.
The Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement (TFIA), signed in 2012 by Premier Giddings and the then Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard, resulted in the locking-up of even more of the state’s forests into national parks, despite the fact that the timber industry is a cornerstone industry for Tasmania.
In the electorates of Lyons and Braddon, many timber workers and those in associated industries have consequently found themselves without work and unable to support their families and meet their housing mortgage repayments.
The Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) expressed fears that the TFIA could lead to a higher incidence of bushfires. In a statement it issued in 2012, the AWU warned: “During consultations with our members, the union was advised that such activity [effective wildfire-suppression] has been seriously impeded by the statement of principles/intergovernmental agreement process.
“As a consequence, access to heavy equipment for fire-suppression activities through both Forestry Tasmania and harvesting contractors is fundamentally compromised and an imminent disaster waiting to happen” (AWU’s position paper on the proposed restructuring of Forestry Tasmania, 2012, page 8: note 10).
Labor could find that the implementation of bad policy now has an electoral cost. In 2011, a billboard advertising Hobart’s annual political satire event, the Uni Revue at Hobart’s Theatre Royal, bore the caption, “Larageddon, the ultimate disaster”. This best encapsulates what many Tasmanians feel about Lara Giddings’ term of office as Tasmania’s first female premier.
Tasmania’s House of Assembly, or Lower House, has 25 members. Five large multi-member electorates each return five members to parliament under Tasmania’s unique electoral system.
The Liberal opposition, headed by Will Hodgman, needs to win 13 seats to form government. The Liberals are likely to win three seats in Bass, three in Braddon and three in Lyons, with a possibility of three in Franklin and two in Denison.
Jacqueline Petrusma in Franklin is a staunch pro-life advocate, as is Michael Ferguson in Bass, a very articulate Liberal member, who from 2004 to 2007 was a federal MP.
Former senator Guy Barnett, also standing in Bass, has campaigned vigorously throughout Tasmania in support of traditional marriage, and Marinus “Rene” Hidding in Lyons is seeking to ensure that the Liberals address Tasmania’s abhorrent abortion legislation, should they be elected.
The Palmer United Party, which, in a recently-released poll, is on 4.8 per cent, is running 19 candidates.
The Nationals are also fielding candidates, and the combined vote of PUP and the Nationals could attract a percentage of the conservative vote away from the Liberals, denying the Liberals the necessary quota in a closely contested third seat.
Under the Hare-Clark system of proportional voting, a candidate needs to attain 16.7 per cent to secure a quota of around 11,500 votes.
If the Liberal opposition wins majority government, it will be due to the appalling mess Labor has left, in a state where voters have traditionally supported Labor governments over many years.
The Tasmanian trade union movement issued a media release recently stating it would give only minimal financial support to Labor for this election.
It has been 16 years since the Liberal were last in power in Tasmania.
If they are elected to government on March 15, they will be faced with some very tough decisions that will test their mettle.
Wayne Williams was the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) candidate for the Tasmanian seat of Denison in the September 2013 federal election.