Image for Tasmanian State election: The Pearlfish factor ...

*Pic: Who would envy Will Hodgman? The chickens WILL come home to roost ...

First published March 20

In the tropical sandy ocean floor there are not many private places but the pearlfish has a unique solution: it hides up the anus of the trepang or sea cucumber. Interestingly the trusty trepang, when attacked, will defend itself by chucking up its guts much like those on the outside pavement who Love Your Local.

The metaphors have endless application to the recent election. The Tasmanian Hospitality Association, which has burrowed itself up the Liberal Party, however, is no laughing matter. As a conduit for the pokies lobby it fuelled millions into the Liberal campaign. This was a crucial campaign for them (here and in South Australia) and Labor underestimated the determination of the gambling lobby to defend its lucrative preserve.

The Liberals outspent Labor 10 to 1 with most coming from gambling interests like Federal Hotels but also from the mainland club lobby and Australian Leisure and Hospitality [ALH], Woolworth’s gambling subsidiary.

As the American electoral experience has demonstrated, money buys elections and the result in Tasmania was a government that only a lot of money could buy.

The Liberals probably would have outpolled Labor anyway but without the excessive expenditure the difference would have been a loss of another 1 or 2 seats resulting in minority government. Forget the Liberal euphoria (or relief). It should be noted – though universally ignored – that the Liberals in fact lost 2 seats despite the extreme campaign spend and pork-barrelling the electorate with crackling and a front-end loader.

That suggests a rather odd desperation in the Liberals’ over-the-top campaign and a frantic determination to fund victory by genuflecting to vested interests. And gratitude will flow. The anti-pokies Tasmanian Hospitality Association is set to be rewarded with state grants of an extraordinary $6.8 million over the next 4 years, more than three times what it has received in the past.

This should be seen for what it is: the THA being reimbursed for its political spending on behalf of the Liberal government. This is breathtaking corruption by any definition, yet many, even in Labor, see it as political business as usual. And that complacency is disturbing.

The level of corruption can only be appreciated when contrasted with the Federal Liberal Governments’ obsessive campaign to shut down the political activity of charities and non-profit advocacy groups like Get Up. “Freedom of Speech”, it would seem, principally applies to pro-government advocacy organisations like the THA.

Other organisations like the gun lobby with its stream of finance from American gun-manufacturers and importers and their links to the notorious American NRA also pose the potential for disturbing political interference. As with the THA, the Tasmanian Liberals did a side deal with the gun lobby in return for political donations though the amount is difficult to pin down. And this parallels with arrangements made by Peter Dutton at a Federal level with the same gun lobby.

These are all disturbing features of the Tasmanian election that pose issues of potential corruption but their emergence has unwittingly altered the likely political narrative to emerge over the next few years.

The pokies issue is far from settled. Whatever is required must pass a sceptical Legislative Council. The weight of obvious vested mainland interests means the narrative becomes: “Whose state; theirs or ours?” A potentially very toxic tale.

Whether this generates a social media campaign against pubs that supported pokies or even a campaign against Woolworths is yet to be seen but the power of public resentment has yet to be manifested.

Similarly, the cloak of secrecy over gun law amendments means once more a cautious Legislative Council and a determined public will paint a narrative of suspicion and vested mainland interests.

Underlying such obvious issues will be inevitable moves to control electoral spending requiring more transparent disclosure of political donations. The government’s response will again determine the narrative. Do we have spending and disclosure laws or are we to have the “best government money can buy.”

In all these instances, the potential for a negative taint to gain barnacle adhesion to the Liberal government over the next four years is considerable. The slogans are readily at hand and the underlying hostility is far greater than might be imagined. The next 4 years may well be far less smooth than the Liberal Government would have liked.

*Dr Michael Powell is Adjunct Researcher, University of Tasmania. *There is a bio of Dr Michael Powell HERE: Andrew Nikolic Chucks a Wobbly

Satire by John ...