The results of grafting two heads onto one government body became painfully clear in Tasmania last week. Labor Premier Lara Giddings and her coalition partner, Greens leader Nick McKim, jointly guided a same-sex marriage bill through the lower house on Thursday.
This, said Ms Giddings, would erase Tasmania's reputation as the "laughing-stock" of Australia. Admittedly it was a landmark. The bill's fate in the upper house is far from certain. But if it does become law, it will strengthen the case for same-sex marriage throughout Australia.
However, the rejoicing was a cynical distraction from Lara Giddings' dismal economic management.
On July 23, the Commonwealth Bank released its State of the States report. It found that Tasmania scored lowest in the country on five key indicators: employment, retail trade, population growth, construction work and housing finance. "Tasmania is underperforming other state and territory economies" said the bank's chief economist, Craig James, "and arguably is the number one candidate of any regional income redistribution as the Federal Government seeks to share the benefits of the mining boom across the broader Australian economy".
Translation: Tasmania will use Western Australia as an ATM.
Meanwhile, Ms Giddings is living on the other side of the looking glass. At the annual Labor Party conference a fortnight later, she fantasised about making Tasmania "one of the most dynamic small economies in the world, producing high quality niche products and services that are recognised and valued across the globe". Her nominations for model investments to save her economy? A museum, a golf course, and a luxury resort.
Somehow, in the mind of the leader of what was once a workers' party, Tasmanian prosperity is coming a distant second to same-sex marriage. "Labor has had the courage to tackle difficult, complex and challenging areas where progressive action was needed," Ms Giddings told conference delegates. "There's no better example than our determination to end all discrimination… on the issue of marriage equality."
With her party languishing in the polls, she announced five priority areas for social reform over the next two years: legalising surrogacy for same-sex couples, legalising gay marriage, legalising brothels, legalising euthanasia, and liberalising Tasmania's already liberal abortion law.
This is an ambitious and radical agenda for which a government on the verge of seeking life support has no mandate. A vigorous media is needed to query and probe glib claims. It ought to be a golden time for sharp commentary and investigative journalism.
But in Tasmania the media is as sclerotic as the economy. The Mercury has a near monopoly on news in Hobart.
None of the claims made by supporters of same-sex marriage has been scrutinised as they would certainly be in Mainland states. Instead, The Mercury has scathingly ridiculed opponents as bigots.
The most damning example of journalistic complacency is the plausibility of Tasmania legislating for same-sex marriage. Under Section 51 of the constitution, marriage is a Commonwealth responsibility. So the State law will immediately head for the High Court – costing Tasmanian taxpayers millions of dollars.
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