INCUMBENT Labor Premier Paul Lennon looks likely to be returned to office in Saturday’s Tasmanian election, fronting either a majority or minority government.

Despite an early swell of opinion poll support away from the two major parties towards the Greens, Labor has regained substantive traction in the course of its campaign.

That’s despite pre-election imputations surrounding Lennon enjoying lavish Crown Casino corporate hospitality days before signing the $700 million PBL Betfair deal with Packer, more recent allegations in relation to around $100,000 worth of government contracts awarded to Lennon’s brother’s company Global Value Management, plus revelations that Lennon’s luxurious family home was renovated by Hinman, Wright and Manser, the civil construction division of woodchipping giant Gunns Limited that has benefited considerably from Lennon’s pro-logging stance.

How has Lennon’s Labor clawed its way back?

It’s the strategy, stupid.

Tight, hard fear campaign

First, Labor has run a tight, hard fear campaign against the Greens, based on predictions of economic ruin if Labor does not govern in its own right.

Emulating the Liberals’ successful interest rates scare sheets at the eleventh hour of the 2004 Federal election campaign, Lennon Labor has warned of massive slumps in Tasmania’s buoyant-as-never-before housing prices if Greens gain more

As Australia’s newest winners in the real estate Monopoly-money game, Tasmanian home owners may prove particularly susceptible on that front. The chairman of Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, also part of an organization called Tasmanians For A Better Future that’s been bankrolling a majority-government advertising campaign, has now publicly stated he sees little difference between Labor and Liberal policies — giving de facto support to this plank of Lennon’s campaign.

Second, Lennon has miraculously minimised his personal exposure to public scrutiny. Cosmetic makeovers nothwithstanding, Lennon is jowly, pudgy and fairly hairy, and voters are less forgiving on those fronts than they used to be.

Accordingly the Premier is one of the few candidates whose image isn’t plastered all over town — he is, literally, a faceless man. Lennon’s also refused outright to appear in any political debate involving the Greens, effectively
guaranteeing no televised stoush will happen before polling day.

Ducked straight questions

In recent mass media appearances, Lennon has ducked straight questions about the Hinman arrangement, throwing in a ‘lay off my family’ Lathamite whine, and alleging he’s the victim of a smear campaign. That’s fairly astounding chutzpah considering last weeks’ revelations that a Labor spin unit has been dishing out dirt on the Greens, including via anonymously faxed allegations of internal financial impropriety. Lennon may look screamingly belligerent, boorish and bullying to his urbane critics — but supporters and many waverers may react differently.

Third, the Labor machine has wheeled in some big mainland personalities to stand by their man. In the throes of the Simon Crean preselection debacle, Federal leader Kim Beazley has been wisely off the Tasmanian campaign page, but Gough Whitlam flew south to bestow patronage on Lennon’s campaign launch at a top-end Hobart hotel.

Missing that day was maverick Tasmanian Federal Labor backbencher Harry Quick, an outspoken critic of Lennon’s position on forestry, who recently lent his endorsement to a local Greens election candidate — Quick attended a surfing carnival instead.

Last weekend ACTU president Sharan Burrow arrived to head up Lennon’s old-style union protest against Liberal industrial relations reforms, a meeting-cum-media stunt organised by Unions Tasmania at which the Greens were not allowed to speak to their own workplace policies.

Had this been permitted, of course, Lennon (and Burrow) might have faced the embarrassing reiteration of this question in relation to the Hinman renovations, posed on Lindsay Tuffin’s some time ago: ‘Why did the Premier, who has publicly attacked John Howard’s IR reforms and who claims to be the workers’ mate, privately employ a company known for its anti-union stance and embrace of the new IR reforms?’ Regardless of the true answer, that’s a very important question for Labor, and not just in Tasmania.

Tuffin’s website now boasts a cartoon of a three-ringed circus, with the CFMEU, a key power base for his pro-logging stance, cracking the whip for Burrow and Beazley. The ironic punchline? — ‘New Labor is such a great act, I can’t see why it isn’t more popular!’

An edited version of this article appears in today’s Age

Dr Natasha Cica is a strategy and communications consultant. She has advised a range of Federal parliamentarians.

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