Make no mistake about it, there is a lot at stake in the Legislative Council election for Pembroke.
Of the fifteen members of the Legislative Council, all but three are Independents. The rhetoric used by most of these members is to support the independence of the chamber. Many state that without the house retaining a majority of Independent Members, there would be little point in having an Upper House at all, as they contend it would be just a rubber stamp of the political parties controlling the Lower House.
Historically, the Independent Members have generally been conservative in their outlook. It is probably for this reason that the Liberals have rarely been publicly involved in Legislative Council elections.
In Pembroke, this time however, the Liberal Party has endorsed Vanessa Goodwin. This is a break with tradition. In the last 40 years there has only been one formal member of the Liberal Party in the Legislative Council. This was Peter McKay who, after succeeding his father in the seat in 1976, also as an Independent, became a member of the Liberals in 1991 and subsequently Minister for Health in the Rundle Liberal Government.
While the Liberal Party has played down the significance of the endorsement, it has profound implications for the future of the Legislative Council. If Vanessa Goodwin is successful as an endorsed candidate, the Liberals will surely be encouraged to endorse again.
As it stands, without Liberal Members elected to Legislative Council, it would be very difficult for the party to fill all the positions required of them, if they were to try to form a government. At present there are only seven members of the Liberal Party in the Lower House. The best they could hope for is to pick up 2 or 3 seats at the next election. This would give them only 9 or 10 members to provide an 8 member Cabinet, the Speaker, a Chairman of Committees and a Whip. An alternative proposition – that of forming a Coalition with their minority partners – the Greens – is not politically tenable.
Another alternative to increasing numbers in the Liberal Party through increasing its numbers in the Upper House is to cooperate with the Greens in going to the election next year, promising to increase the size of Parliament. Increasing the number of politicians is not generally an election winner.
If the Liberals, are successful and continue to endorse in Legislative Council elections, then the end game for this particular strategy would be to institute simultaneous elections for both Houses of the Tasmanian Parliament – something that would certainly increase the numbers for both major political parties in the Parliament.
So what are the twelve Independent Members of the Legislative Council to make of all this? If they have the strength of their convictions, surely they would be actively campaigning for fellow Independents. So far they have been very quiet indeed.