James Boyce
IT IS an uncomfortable truth that Green and progressive voters of Denison made a significant contribution to Paul Lennon winning a majority of lower house seats in 2006. The Labor party fell far short of three quotas but won three seats on the back of preferences. The Greens polled far in excess of one quota but well short of two, ensuring that the preferences of Green voters were critical to Labor winning a third seat. Such is the nature of preference distribution that even those who put Labor well down on the ballot paper often ended up supporting Paul Lennon. There was no way out of this conundrum of a wasted progressive vote: those who responded by not directing preferences only ensured that that the value of their vote was greatly diminished (if not lost altogether).
So remote is any hope that the Liberals or the Greens can win two seats in Denison, that without a new candidate breaking open established voting patterns, there is no result more certain in the 2010 state election that Denison will again deliver three seats for Labor (even though the party is almost certain to again fall well short of three quotas in their primary vote). For Labor hard men and the shadowy campaign group, Tasmanians for a Better Future, Denison is in the bag.

What has been desperately needed in Denison, and what has now been provided through the candidature of Andrew Wilkie, is an independent who provides Green, ‘small l’ Liberal and independent thinking Labor voters with an alternative choice for their primary and preference vote. Whether ultimately elected or not (and it is tough for independents), Wilkie ensures that in 2010, unlike 2006, there will be a real choice in Denison.

This argument of course could be applied to any high profile decent independent, but Andrew Wilkie is far more than just a decent candidate. He is on any measure an outstanding one.

Andrew’s public resignation from the Office of National Assessments in the lead up to Australia’s invasion of Iraq is well known, although the personal costs of this, and the courage it involved, is perhaps still less so. One measure of what it meant to turn whistle blower in the heady pre-war environment is that not one other intelligence officer in the western world was prepared to take the same course. We are used to environmental heroes in Tasmania, but when we remember the hundreds of thousands of people that died in consequence of the invasion of Iraq, the lies that were told about it, and the degree to which it has contributed to political and economic instability in the middle east and across the globe, Andrew is perhaps more deserving of honour than any.

This, of course, is not sufficient reason to vote for the man, although I would suggest such a proven and costly commitment to integrity and truth telling in public life should be enough of a reason to ensure we seriously think about it!

Andrew Wilkie’s policies can be viewed on his web site: Here. It is evident that they emphasise proper public policy process. Given Andrew’s background, this is to be expected. It is equally predictable that this has already rankled with some who seek a more clear cut position, yeah or nay, on major environmental disputes. I myself don’t agree with Andrew’s belief that the Ralphs Bay development should be allowed to go through the RPDC. I believe that this development has demonstrated ‘wrong process’ from the outset: the government should not be allowed to alienate publicly owned coastal land (let alone a conservation area set aside for birds already facing multiple pressures), for a private property development. Nevertheless I recognise that Andrew’s position on Ralphs Bay, as with the pulp mill, does not show his lack of conviction (as some have mistakenly believed), but the depth of it. It would be far easier for him politically to simply say he was against the Ralphs Bay canal development. But despite reservations about the project, Andrew doesn’t believe that you can call for one development to be fully and independently assessed by the RPDC according to the strictest environmental criteria, while asking that another be removed from the very same process.

What Andrew is consistently advocating is transparent and rigorous assessment processes. He clearly wants the government to end its traditional role of being an active protagonist in development disputes. And even if few of us are likely to agree with the implications of this position all of the time, and will inevitably continue to disagree about what represents a fair and rigorous process, the principle Andrew is promoting is surely essential to uphold if we are to find shared solutions to the crisis faced by our island, and our planet.

The poker machine policy is somewhat separate. It is an issue that has been very poorly debated in Tasmanian public life, and as someone involved in it for over a decade, I can say with confidence that Andrew is not jumping on a bandwagon here as some have publicly implied. There has been no bandwagon. Andrew is the first Tasmanian candidate to call for poker machines to be banned in Tasmania. The Greens, to their credit, have consistently sought policy change, and developed a policy that would be of real (if still limited) benefit. Nevertheless this policy area has not been one of their strong points. The depth and quality of Green policy analysis and public campaigning on energy, forestry, and water, has had no equivalent here. Twenty five per cent of Tasmanians now have a family member with a gambling addiction, overwhelming to poker machines. As the Productivity Commission found, and leaked industry research confirmed, people with an addiction to these sophisticated mind numbing machines, are not a small part of poker machine turnover, but core business. Few people yet realise how significant this public policy issue is to a broad range of economic, social and political questions. Andrew’s candidature is likely, for the first time, to change that.

Whatever our differences on poker machines, forestry, public housing, or truth in public life, most people would accept that the Tasmanian Parliament has seriously failed the Tasmanian community during recent decades. Almost no success has been achieved in finding political solutions to the prolonged disputes which tear the community apart. We have been left with a parliament that is largely irrelevant, a civil society poorly developed outside the environmental movement and a senior bureaucracy that has been crudely politicized.

In this context, the prospect of Andrew Wilkie holding the balance of power in a hung parliament is a small but very exciting one. Andrew would bring personal qualities and a depth of integrity to parliament which could help transform not only the House of Assembly but the quality of public debate generally.

And ultimately, whether the people of Denison opt to give him a primary vote, preference vote or no vote, at least we will all have a choice, and the Labour Party finally have something to think about in Denison.

If that alone was all Andrew Wilkie’s candidature achieved, I would be immensely grateful. I choose, however, to dream for a whole lot more.

James Boyce