Advance summary:

1. In Tasmania’s current Labor-Green coalition-governed Parliament, votes on the floor of the Parliament in which the Greens vote with the Liberals are rare.

2. The most common voting pattern by far is that Labor and the Greens vote on one side and the Liberals on the other.

3. Yet this was the least common voting pattern by far under Labor majority rule between 2002 and 2010.

4. The pattern in the current parliament is also very different to the previous minority government situation in the state.

5. The formation of a formal coalition between Labor and the Greens appears to have assisted in reducing the proportion of times that the parties disagree with each other, and especially the chance of Labor-introduced legislation being voted down.  This has apparently increased the stability of the minority parliament.

6.  However this has come at the cost of both the transparency lauded by advocates of minority government and its genuine “Laborness” as understood in the Tasmanian context.

7. The view that the major parties are “Laborials” and agree on nearly everything with the Greens as the real “opposition” is not consistent with any data about voting on the floor of parliament.

A strange thing happened this week during debate on the many proposed changes to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act.  A proposal by Labor to grant “faith-based” schools the right to preferentially enrol religious students in cases of competition for enrolments or waiting lists was shot down on both sides: by the Greens, who did not support the policy at all, and by the Liberals, who wanted it to go much further. [..] This was an example of what was supposed to happen in the Tasmanian hung parliament, according to defenders of minority government: a transparent display of the party positions of all three parties on the floor of the House, with the outcome determined by agreement of two of the parties. 

(Though in this case, it was a strange variant even of that, with the Liberals effectively supporting the Greens’ policy so they could continue pushing for more than Labor’s).  But in the current Tasmanian parliament, which features a Labor-Green coalition, it has been one of very few examples of exceptions that prove the rule.


This also means that a great deal of the political process that determines how Tasmania runs is happening behind closed doors between Labor and the Greens, rather than as a result of each party putting its proposals on the floor of Parliament and either gaining support from them for another party or not (as in the 1996-8 parliament).  And this means the government-on-the-floor-of-parliament political openness and transparency that is often argued to be a benefit of minority government no longer exists all that often.
It has been sacrificed for the sake of what up until now has been stability (and also the sake of obtaining the Greens’ support in the first place) but that this sacrifice was even made speaks loudly against the lauding of minority government as a venue for political transparency.  The Labor-Green coalition is not only as opaque as a majority government (in that decisions on government policy are made in Cabinet not on the floor of Parliament) but arguably even more opaque, in that the outcome of those decisions cannot be predicted on the basis of a single party’s policies.

Read the full article on Dr Bonham’s website, here