Image for Tasmanian democracy is bought ... democracy is sold ...

“When corporate or other interests hand over cash to a political party they are entitled to expect that it will act in their interests.” - Premier Will Hodgman, 11 February, 2018

First published March 5

For years Premier Hodgman has said that Tasmania is open for business. We didn’t expect him to mean that the Tasmanian Government itself would be up for sale in a business deal, but the above words spoken during the 2018 election campaign, and his subsequent policies, dispel any doubt that that is exactly what he meant.

When a government “acts in the interests” of corporate donors, it cannot at the same time act in the interests of the people. Just how much Federal Hotels, and any other heavy donors to the Liberal Party such as Dixon Hotels, the Goodstone Group, Woolworths or others contributed we were not allowed to know before the election, but whatever it was that sum became the price of democracy in Tasmania.

The poker machine issue exposes that fork in the political road. 

Survey after survey showed that over 80 per cent of Tasmanians wanted pokies to be taken out of pubs and clubs and restricted to casinos. But with the undoubtedly massive financial backing of the hospitality industry the Liberal campaign was lavish, loud and mendacious.

Treasury figures said that 1038 jobs would be at risk if pokies were restricted to casinos, but that would undoubtedly be compensated by more jobs in a more diversified hospitality industry, and in investment of up to at least $100 million in the local community; Gutwein and Hodgman used a grossly inflated industry estimate of 5100 jobs to terrorise employees.

Here is another lie: Hodgman assured us that hotels as small business would profit from the Liberal policy, but the biggest beneficiaries of that policy are hotel consortiums, including Federal and Woolworths, as mentioned above.

What might be even morally worse is that the bonanza for the Liberal Party over-rode any consideration of the harm Liberal policy would do to vulnerable people and their families.

The gaming machines used in Tasmania are banned in most foreign countries precisely because they are designed to hook people, and these machines are deliberately situated in low socio-economic areas where they do most damage to family budgets and cause greatest misery, while the huge profits drained from these areas go to a few already very rich businesses.

The pro-pokie defence is that people should have freedom to choose their leisure activities, but do their children have freedom to choose to eat, to dress adequately, or to hold their heads up amongst their fellows? On this argument, we should ban seat belts, crash helmets, road laws (‘it is my right to drive on whatever side of the road I choose’). The nanny-state argument used by the right to justify deregulation just gets sillier and sillier.

The sad thing is that although the large majority of people had had the opportunity to heavily reduce the toll that poker machines take by voting for Labor and Green policy, only 14 per cent said this issue would be enough to change their vote.

They evidently thought that policy was less of an election priority than health, education, infrastructure and the economy. Voters did not take into account the fact that the Liberals had done very poorly on certainly the first three issues and arguably on the last, according to the excellent articles on Liberal economic opacity by economist John Lawrence ( http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php/category-article/108 ).

The undermining of democracy by the Liberals is however not confined to the poker machine sell-out.

The hard won Tasmanian Forestry Agreement, which the industry itself had called for, was torn up, to return Tasmania to the forestry wars of the past. The Anti-Workplace Protest Bill, the weapon used to return to those wars, denied people the democratic right of protest. Indeed, the High Court found this bill to be not only unconstitutional but confusing, vague, poorly written and of ‘Pythonesque absurdity’ in the opinion of Judge Galager.

And while on Liberal incompetence I could mention the health crisis, and the Safe Pathways and child care scandal. 

The Tasmanian Planning Scheme effectively gave open slather to developers, plus a further gift when 300 properties in the Hobart area were delisted from the Tasmanian Heritage Council.

The government also played favourites with Tassal, allowing it several thousand tons of fish over the EPA quota, even when Macquarie Harbour was found to degraded into near sterility, and even then allowing Tassal into Okehampton over strong public protest.

The government downgraded biosecurity and now we have fruit fly.

Then we have cuts to the public service, secrecy over advice received from Treasury regarding the possible sale of the Tamar Valley power plant, the proposed takeover of TasWater, and allowing sacred sites in the Tarkine to be smashed by hoons on off-road vehicles.

The day before significant deadlines is a favourite time for the Liberals to spring unannounced events on the public. A day before the government went to caretaker mode, Gutwein off his own bat and reportedly without the Premier’s knowledge (believe that?), handed his good friend Adrian Bold licence to drill on public land up Mt Wellington, tracts of which had been already gifted to Bold to facilitate his hubristic cable car.

And a day before the election itself, a website was discovered announcing a Liberal plan undertaken weeks earlier to introduce legislation that would allow semi-automatic firearms, gun silencers, and lessen penalties for storing weapons, for use by farmers and shooters, in defiance of sections of the national agreement made after the Port Arthur massacre.

This bid for rural votes had not been brought into the public domain, presumably in the deceitful hope of forestalling public outrage. Of course, Hodgman denied that it broke the national agreement on firearms or that he was trying to avoid public scrutiny of this obviously contentious policy. 

The Hodgman Government’s term of office has thus been characterised by incompetence, secrecy, neglect of public welfare, and self-admitted bribery.

The Liberal Party does not deserve the privilege of being returned to government.

*John Biggs is a frequent contributor to the Mercury and to other media on matters that inflame his concern about those public figures who appear not to be acting in the public interest. He is a retired academic who now writes fiction. He turns to non-fiction when angry ...

Andrew Wilkie: Last year’s allegations of unlawful poker machine mods by Crown Casino … Clearly the Commission’s concern makes a mockery of Crown’s outright rejection of these allegations when I raised them in October. The casino obviously has a case to answer about the blanking of buttons and I’m sure that the truth will come out when the Commission finalises its enquiries …

Stephen Mayne: NSW remains completely captured by pokies lobby