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Tasmania’s ethical and moral political wasteland

By Peter Henning - posted Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The elimination of openness and transparency in the Tasmanian political system is not regarded as unethical or morally repugnant behaviour by Labor-Liberal politicians. It is a prized principle, an essential value and a guiding virtue.

The crass deceit of Tasmania’s Treasurer, Michael Aird, about his trip to Europe is no surprise to anyone, just another affirmation of the dishonesty at the core of the political culture of the Tasmanian ALP. The fact that condemnation from the Liberals has been muted and pathetic is testimony to their own compliance with a culture which accepts that government ministers misleading the public is simply business as usual, nothing to be fussed about.

The Liberals should be asking for Aird’s resignation, but they haven’t and they won’t.


One of the crowning achievements of the current bipartisan arrangements in Tasmanian politics has been to create a totally “dysfunctional democracy”. Yes I know the phrase is an oxymoron, but then so is the term “openly misleading”, which when it becomes the norm of political expression is just as destructive of a “functional” or a “healthy democracy” as anything else, except overt violence.

No doubt Will Hodgman is watching with interest the ramifications of Tasmanian Treasurer Michael Aird’s bare-faced triumphalism in misleading the Tasmanian people, en masse, about his absurd tax-payer funded trip to Europe. Aird told the people he was going to Europe to try to finalise arrangements for a major foreign investment which would create hundreds of jobs, but a side issue was to assist Gunns in acquiring finance for their pulp mill in the Tamar Valley.

On returning to Tasmania it became apparent that he had visited pulp mills in Europe - “one or two, three or four”. Or was it five or six? Who knows, apart from Gunns and Aird, the puppet Premier, some highly politicised and timid bureaucrats and the Labor cabinet. Aird suggested he didn’t know how many pulp mills he visited. This is not misleading. This is a deliberate lie.

Aird’s overseas visit was planned well before he went overseas. It was all planned in discussions with Gunns behind closed doors. To suggest that he was merely “asked” by Gunns to help their fund-raising as an add-on to another purpose is laughable. His trip for Gunns was no side issue. Aird did not tell Tasmanians the real reasons he went to Europe because he was using taxpayer funds on behalf of the interests of a private company.

This must have been discussed at cabinet level, and if not, all cabinet members must have agreed to allow such decisions to be made on their behalf by others, which does not absolve them from cabinet responsibility. All Labor ministers are complicit in Aird’s lie to the Tasmanian people. The puppet Premier, the now thoroughly exposed hypocrite David Bartlett, was part of the decision-making process. A secret trip for Gunns, the details of which remain completely obscure (Aird has no credibility about what he says was the purpose of his trip), involves the agreement to lie to the Tasmanian people by all Tasmanian government ministers.

This has nothing to do with the oft-abused notion of “commercial in confidence”, but it has everything to do with the nature of Tasmanian politics, the absence of honesty in government, the absence of openness and transparency, the absence of representation of the interests of the people by elected representatives, the absence of ministerial responsibility, the absence of collective cabinet responsibility, the absence of a politically disinterested public service, and the absence of a “free” mainstream popular local press.


Tasmania is a “functional democracy” or a “representative democracy” in its forms and structures, but not in its practices.

It would be regarded as intolerable in a “functional democracy” that government ministers be able to lie to or mislead the people they are elected to represent, and also to do so with impunity. Not in Tasmania.

It would be regarded as intolerable in a “functional democracy” that government ministers who lie and mislead the people they are elected to represent be rewarded, applauded or protected for their behaviour. Not in Tasmania.

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First published in the Tasmanian Times on September 29, 2009.

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About the Author

Peter Henning is a former teacher and historian. He is a former Tasmanian olive grower, living in Melbourne.

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