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Tasmania: state election « Previous | |Next »
February 15, 2010

I came out of walking in the Franklin-Gordon National Park in South West Tasmania to find the newspapers in the Queenstown IGA supermarket saying that the Tasmanian state election had been called for March 20. The commentary said that the contest will be close, bitter and dirty---"tight and brusing" they called it. As is to be expected, there was no mention of the policy issues that divide the Labor and Liberal parties in the local media. Are there any for a state whose economy has been based on its natural resource development and hydro industrialization?

Bartlett-led Labor is carrying old baggage from the 10 years of Labor rule in the state and particularly the four years of sleaze under Paul Lennon, who so corrupted the democratic process of governance in order to fast track the Gunns pulp mill in the Tamar valley. The Gunn's pulp mill continues to cause grief, with Labor under Bartlett still unsure whether to back or back away from it. To counter the "It's Time for change" mood, and the dislike of the corrupt culture of old Labor, they are reinventing themselves as the right part party for a more modern, positive Tasmania in a global economy to prevent the loses blowing out to 5 seats.

What do the policy-lite Hodgman-led Liberals stand for, as they try to end a 12-year political wilderness? They promise a new government of openness and honesty, but they are slippery when dragged off script onto tricky, controversial subjects. More environmentally unfriendly pulp mills? More logging of the old growth forests? More mining indifferent to the environmental consequences? It's hard to say. They talk about "two futures" for Tasmania, but as policy doesn't seem to be their thing, the "Two futures" scenario simply refers to Liberal and Labor. Is there much of a difference between Labor and Liberal around the development of Tasmania?

Labor need lose just two seats to lose its majority (14 seats in 25), and, as it is highly unlikely that the Liberals will increase the 7 to gain a majority (13 seats), it is more likely that Labor will be a minority government forming a formal power-sharing deal with the Greens. The issue of minority government is ever-present and old Labor will not like that prospect. Their scare campaign is that the basket-case economy of the late 1980s to mid-90s was caused by minority government.

One scenario is that the protest vote will be parked with the Greens, denying the Liberals enough seats to steal government and allowing Labor to govern in minority. However, both Hodgman and Bartlett have ruled out forming a coalition or formal power-sharing deal with the Greens, as Labor did in 1989, should they fail to win a majority. If they don't win a majority what then?

Tasmania has been at a development cross roads ever since the High Court’s decision to terminate the Franklin Dam project. That meant Tasmania lost its development mainspring---hydro-industrialisation. Since 1983 there have been repeated battles over specific projects, usually with environmental concerns at their centre, with little coherent new direction to create new platforms for innovation that replace that of hydro industrialization. The image of Tasmania as a basket economy is due to the policy failure to develop a new innovation platform that can build a diverse export-oriented economy by generating value-added growth.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:36 AM | | Comments (8)


It's struck me how parallel the situation is SA is to other states.
Tasmania, NSW, Victoria, Queensland, WA, NT: all are encumbered with the same dysfunctional politics.
The Liberals still remain distrusted and rightly so, and electors instead put back in governments as contemptible as those of Iemma and Lennon.
To show that the trend is no acident, then Bligh Labor gets back in on a solemn promise of no more privatisation and neoliberalism, and promptly embarks on a grotesque fire sale of assets that some economists (eg Quiggin) regard as being totally uneccessary and unproductive.
Who can you trust?

the major parties could always stop to consider why the Greens are so popular, and maybe shift policy in the direction the public obviously wants. I don't understand why that's so unthinkable for them.

Labor and Liberal appear to be more willing to form their own "coalition" than to work with the Greens. If the Greens stand for controlling or regulating the economy to ensure a more sustainable Tasmania, then that is what cannot be accepted.

Bartlett's economic innovation strategy is to turn Tasmania into a new version of the Murray-Darling Basin as the breadbasket of the nation. Food and agriculture is arguably Tasmania’s most important industry sector.

The argument is that as the Murray-Darling, produces about 40 per cent of Australia's food, dries up, water availability is the key to unlocking Tasmania’s food-production potential. The water exists in Tasmania, but only a very small portion is utilised for agriculture. It falls on the western half of the island, but is needed on the eastern. That means irrigation.

Wong isn't too keen on making lots of commonwealth money available.

I'm currently based in the Midlands and the farmers here have been offered irrigation water from the lakes in the Great Western Tier. Currently they don't have the skills and knowledge to innovate their agricultural practices to make the transition the traditional dry land farming and grazing operations to higher value agricultural and intensive horticulture.

some Labor state governments are better than others. The Bartlett one in Tasmania is better than the one in NSW for instance. But it is splitting hairs isn't it. The Brumby Govt in Victoria is on the nose.

Jonathan West's Report for the Australian Innovation Research Centre at the University of Tasmania ----An Innovation Strategy for Tasmania A New Vision for Economic Development ---- that was linked to in the above blog post says that providing irrigation infrastructure is not enough for an innovation platform. It says:

Irrigation is only one element of the set of necessary initiatives. Irrigation alone will not achieve the ambitious goals outlined above. It is important to reiterate that what is proposed in this document is an innovation strategy, not an irrigation strategy.

Innovation rest on the willingness and ability of individuals to tackle and solve problems. This is a particular challenge in Tasmania’s agricultural sector, where the average age of farmers is almost 60.

The NBN's rolling out there first, so you could reasonably expect an influx of geeky types going there for that and cheaper property prices.

Will Hodgman is into highways--his big election promise is a four-lane Midland highway. Tony Abbott has offered assistance-- a promised $400m in federal funds - --to build the Midland highway.

Apart from that Hodgman's guiding vision for the state, is kicking out Labor. It's a small target strategy. The no-go policy areas include the Gunns Ltd pulp mill, deals with the Greens in the event of a hung parliament and IR.

Bartlett Labor does look like a a fourth-term government that has run out of energy. Labor's negative campaigning is not being well received by its base.