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Labor flees to Opposition in Tasmania

By Kate Crowley - posted Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Tasmanian caretaker Premier David Bartlett has conceded defeat in the March 20th state election now that the final result has been clarified.

Labor and the Liberals have tied with ten seats each, with the Liberals attracting more votes, and the Greens picking up an extra seat to hold a total of five.

In a bizarre declaration, Bartlett has cited the Opposition parties moving a no confidence motion in the integrity of his government on November 18 last year as part justification for his decision to not seek to form government. At the time, Labor held majority numbers, so the motion failed.


More relevant is Labor's recognition that the people have spoken and it has been trounced at the polls. The swing against Labor has been unequivocal at 12 per cent, while the Liberals picked up 7 per cent and the Greens 5 per cent. The big winner with the electorate has been power-sharing government. Tasmanians did not heed the warnings of ex-Premiers and the major parties on the perils of minority government.

Indeed, since the election, Get Up online has commissioned a poll that shows 72 per cent of Tasmanians preferring power sharing than one party trying to govern alone. It is now time for the Liberal party to talk to the Greens who want a negotiated agreement rather than an informal, less certain deal.

The Greens are looking for a power sharing arrangement, probably one that guarantees a process both for ensuring stability and for progressing policy.

It is unlikely that power sharing can work without an agreement, such as the ACT Parliamentary Agreement between Labor and the Greens. This agreement was struck in 2008. It is little known because it has been uncontroversial. And now it is being credited with delivering stability, reform, and fiscal responsibility. It includes a process for delivering policy as well as arrangements for staffing, resources, committees and dispute resolution.

Talking to the Greens was beyond Labor, and indeed worth fleeing to Opposition to avoid. The reasons are simple: history, bad blood and more history. Labor last tried to govern in minority with Green support from 1989 to 1992 and was rewarded with its lowest ever vote at the next election.

Michael Field was Premier at the time and took Labor to its rock bottom vote of 28.9 per cent, not far off the Green vote of 21.61 per cent in 2010. It took two terms for Labor to return to office and only then after persuading the Liberals to cut the House of Assembly and raise the electoral quota from 12 per cent to 16 per cent.


This “electoral reform”, undertaken without reference to the people, was intended to rid the Tasmanian parliament of the Greens, and saw Labor return to office in 1998, as it reaped the benefits of the implosion of the Liberal minority government that the Greens had been supporting in power.

The Greens hung in, however, after the 1998 election, with one seat in the depleted 25-member House of Assembly, held by Greens leader Peg Putt, and assisted by researcher, Cath Hughes. Between them, they worked harder than the Opposition and were rewarded with three more seats in 2002.

Since then there has been no turning back for the Greens, who have been a presence in state parliament now for 30 years. Their tactical, political, and policy sophistication has heightened and, at this last election, their campaigning skill was recognised for the first time as being second to none.

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About the Author

Kate Crowley is Associate Professor and Head of School, School of Government, University of Tasmania. She is author of many papers on Tasmanian minority government and Green politics, including the newly released 'Against Green minority government: themes and traditions in Tasmanian politics', Tasmanian Historical Studies, 14 pp. 137-153, (2009). She is author of “Climate Clever?: Kyoto and Australia's Decade of Recalcitrance” forthcoming in K. Harrison and L. Sundstrom The Comparative Politics of Climate Change MIT Press, and A Framework for Action for Reducing the Tasmanian Government’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions which has been adopted in full by the Tasmanian Government.

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