By Michael Bailey
For those of us of a certain age, the politics of Tasmania reverberate through the decades, sometimes like a parliamentary version of déjà vu.
This past month I have again reflected on the decision by both the Liberal Government and Labor Opposition to campaign for and succeed with reducing the numbers in the Lower House of Parliament from 35 to 25 in 1998 – now more than 20 years ago. In that year, the late Premier Jim Bacon came to power, defeating the Liberal Government of Tony Rundle. What was extremely clear then – and now echoes daily in the current Tasmanian parliamentary environment – was that the reduction was an attempt to erase the Greens from Parliament.
Did it work? Of course not. Are we affected as a State today? I would argue strongly that we are. The TCCI is unashamed in its stance that majority Government is critical to the overall health of the State and Tasmanian business. The TCCI is also adamant that the Tasmanian House of Assembly should be returned to 35 as soon as possible.
What the 35 members would give any Government is the ability to have choice for Ministers, as well as have a working, keen backbench pressing to win a Ministry. Just statistically, if we had 35 members today, the Government would have 18 members, Labor 14 and the Greens 3 – versus the 13-10-2 split we have with 25 members of the House of Assembly.
Since 1998, in general terms, we have had majority Governments of 13-15, with eight or nine Ministers and a paltry backbench. Yes, the Bartlett Labor Government of 2010 was in power with the support of the Greens and with two Green Ministers in Nick McKim and current leader Cassy O’Connor.
But in 2014, Premier Will Hodgman was elected with a majority of 15 with Labor (seven) and the Greens (three) on the Opposition benches. The TCCI believes that majority government gives confidence to business, which employs the majority of Tasmanians and will therefore continue to invest in their businesses and employ people.
It was therefore excellent to see the Premier Hodgman and the Speaker of the House of Assembly Sue Hickey maintain that situation in July. The TCCI backs Ms Hickey to play an important role in areas and issues which concern Tasmanians. She has stated and already proved her leadership with issues like homelessness, health and social disadvantage. As Speaker, Ms Hickey has a unique role where she can be a voice for Tasmanians. But for the overall economic and social health of Tasmania, majority government – now and into the future, whatever the flavor – remains critical.
I know people will say there are other state governments that have functioned well – and always point to overseas countries, like Japan and Germany, where political parties cooperate, some for long periods, others not so. But Tasmania is not a country. And we are the smallest State. And I would maintain that every past minority government in Tasmania has ultimately failed.
The TCCI wants the Tasmanian Parliament to return to 35 to give added stability and “gene pool” to future governments. Will 35 seats mean more Green and Independent politicians being elected? Most probably. But that’s what democracy is all about. Giving people choice. The current Parliament of 25 in the Lower House does not offer that to the people of Tasmania and does not give majority governments the flexibility to thrive.