Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Economy

Smaller parliament rips us all off

THE introduction of weakened, cut-price democracy in Tasmania nearly 20 years ago has left the State with seriously diminished government.

The failure of political leadership to honour a tripartite promise to reverse the ill-conceived decision to slash the size of Parliament has short-changed Tasmania democratically and administratively.

It may seem contradictory but the Liberals will probably remain in office after the election even if, as appears likely, they fail to win the poll.

If the consistent pattern of opinion polls is to be believed, the election due by March will leave the Liberals with more seats than Labor, although short of an absolute majority. Possession is nine-tenths of the law and — assuming Labor and the Greens decline to repeat their ill-fated experiment in power-sharing — the Liberals are likely to retain their ministerial offices and limousines even if they fail to comprehensively win the election.

But a minority government of, say, 12 would be a toy-town administration with barely enough Members to form a ministry in the down-sized 25-seat House, a very limited and shallow talent pool, and next to no backbench to supervise and support overloaded ministers.

The complexity of 21st-century politics and government has put added pressure on ministers who, at the same time, have had to accept extra responsibilities because of the minimised Cabinet of nine (effectively only eight since Vanessa Goodwin stepped aside from public life because of illness).

The shortage of “talent” to fill ministerial vacancies is demonstrated by the fact that Goodwin’s position in Cabinet remained vacant six months after she was hospitalised with brain tumours.

Some ministers had to deal with multiple major portfolios — Jeremy Rockliff, for example, is not only Deputy Premier, Minister for Education and Training, but also has Primary Industries and Water, and Racing.

It was understandable that Matthew Groom decided to call it quits after having been overloaded with an unreasonably heavy ministerial workload — responsible for the politically highly-charged Energy the Environment and Parks, and State Growth portfolios, and for the past six months the added responsibility of assuming Goodwin’s legally and constitutionally important Attorney-General and Justice ministries.

The difficulty for overburdened ministers to give adequate attention to all portfolios has been obvious, only made even greater with Groom’s decision to quit politics.

Then there is the issue of competitive federalism. With the GST under review nationally, and Tasmania being ridiculed as mendicant and heavily subsidised by more populous and resource-rich states such as Western Australia, there has never been a more critical time for Tasmanian ministers to have the strength, time and commitment to be able to drive a compelling case for maintaining a fair and adequate share of national revenue.

While the Cabinet is small relative to its responsibilities, its size in proportion to the gutted House of Assembly means the Government’s ministerial executive will always prevail, with next to no scrutiny from the backbench or parliamentary committees.

Indeed, the only check on executive over-reach is the primarily independent Legislative Council which has jettisoned Hodgman Government legislation six times — notably rejecting the attempt to water down anti-discrimination legislation, and balking at attempts to introduce mandatory sentencing. It will also be no surprise if the Legislative Council blocks the Government’s attempt at a hostile takeover of TasWater from local government and gives the Government a torrid time over poker machines.

The Liberal and Labor parties have both backed away from the promise made in writing by their then leaders in 2010 to restore the size of the House of Assembly to the 35 members it had before the conspiracy between the two parties in 1998 to gut the Parliament for nefarious and cynical partisan reasons of self interest.

That plot — ostensibly to save money, but in reality aimed at getting rid of the Greens — backfired badly on both counts.

The cost of doing politics increased with elected MPs being replaced by battalions of unelected staffers and advisers. And the Greens continue to defy predictions of their demise, and in 2010 even took ministerial positions for the first time in a power-sharing government with Labor.

If voting at the next State election follows the pattern suggested by opinion polls, neither major party would win enough seats to form a majority government. Labor should make up some of the ground it lost in the 2014 electoral drubbing. But the Liberals cannot expect to repeat the 2014 landslide win which ended its 16 years in the political wilderness when the electorate expressed its disapproval at the term of untidy Labor rule which had seen four premiers and a period of “power-sharing” minority government which finished with a falling out between Labor and the first-ever Green ministers.

With the Labor Opposition now looking competitive under a popular new leader whose polling has overtaken the Premier’s, the Hodgman Government has been showing signs of feeling nervous and under pressure.

The danger for the Government is not that Labor will win the election, but that the Liberals will lose their majority. With no enthusiasm for repeating the power-sharing experiment any time soon, the election outcome could be a minority Liberal Government relying on the Green cross-bench to keep it in office without any formal agreement, much as happened during the Rundle Liberal Government between 1996-98.

All sides of politics have acknowledged the decision in 1998 to slash Parliament to its present dysfunctional size was short-sighted.

Inevitably, the Parliament will be restored eventually to its previous size. Political scientist Professor Richard Herr, a strong advocate of a larger Parliament, notes that the most recent refurbishment of the House of Assembly chamber provides for the expansion back to 35 Members.

Sadly, while the present leadership of both the Liberals and Labor claim to support a return to the pre-1998 size, both say it is “not a priority.” Only the Greens have advocated for a return to previous numbers as a matter of importance.

With politicians generally not well respected or trusted, any decision to increase the size of Parliament will need to have cross-party support and will demand bipartisan political courage.

Tasmania needs to return to a Parliament large enough to provide a critical mass of sufficient breadth and depth to sustain both strong government and a forensic opposition.

Only then will Tasmania see the development of progressive policies which the electorate demands — overseen by a parliamentary system which ensures accountability on the part of that strong executive,

*Wayne Crawford is a Walkley Award-winning political journalist and former Associate Editor of the Mercury. First published in the Mercury, Wednesday, September 27, 2017.

• John Lawrence in Comments: Shouldn’t the discussion question why there are so many ministries in the first place? At one stage of the Hodgman government the Department of State Growth with one department head was scattered amongst six ministers. Infrastucture went to Hidding, Energy to Groom, Resources to Harriss, Tourism to Hodgman, Arts to Goodwin, Ferguson picked up IT. Ferguson is Health Minister but IT’s budget is allocated to both State Growth and DPAC. So Ferguson has three department heads. Sometimes budget Output Groups are allocated between more than one minister. One minister might get one line item, another may go elsewhere …

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Tony Stone

    October 1, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Talk about pie in the sky day dreams, even with 100 of those chosen by political parties to be elected running the state, couldn’t put one decent policy together to build a dunny. Let alone run the state for a better future.

    It’s not the numbers of politicians which is the problem, it’s the politician parties which are destroying the future and that’s the only problem we face.

    Wayne Crawford certainly doesn’t represent an unbiased balanced approach to journalism, just an extreme status quo supporter of the destructive political system we are stuck with.

    The mercury is way past its use by date and we need newspapers and journalists who represent the will of the people, not just the ideological elites as they do now throughout the state.

    Which is why we need no politicians, just those elected by the people to do a proper job, implementing the peoples wishes.

    No other way to save our future and get real 21st century representation, than online government run by the people for the people and not just a few corporations and brain dead destructive ideologues benefiting at our expense.

  2. Russell

    October 1, 2017 at 10:44 am

    Another bullshit article filled with false political propaganda.

    Once again I say, the Greater City of Geelong in Victoria has the same population as Tasmania and far exceeds Tasmania in every aspect.

    Tasmania should become another municipality of Victoria so that we get rid of the 25 useless elitist welfare recipients we know of as the Tasmanian Parliament.

    25×0=0
    35×0 still equals 0

  3. Chris

    October 1, 2017 at 11:20 am

    Fergies Son praises the “reduction” of cabinet size in the new reshuffle and legs very far apart criticises the Labor Party, a spin imposed on the Liebrals by their federal leader one Erica Betz.
    Now we hear that Chipman the former leader of the Liebrals is contesting the seat vacated by Vanessa.
    Chipman is indépendant now, lets shout it from the tree tops, he is no longer a Liberal but an independent, independent of independent means when he resigns from the Liberal, oops independent Clarence Council whose independence is no longer in the Liberal camp, but independent.
    Chipman wants your independent vote, provided he resigns from the Liberal Party first and becomes an independent for independence in the upper house, where he will be fiercely independent.
    PS.
    The divorce by the Chip Man from the marriage of Liberals and Erica will be complete.
    Pigs are sky writing.

  4. Chris Harries

    October 1, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Thanks for this article, Wayne. Coming from you should make a few MPs think twice about this important issue.

    I’ve written this week about a related issue. The two major parties (caught in their own trap, and realising that they can barely ever again form a stable majority government) have been deploying a lateral strategy to try to make the system workable. And that is, to do what they can to turn the Leg Council into a party House.

    By gradually getting their reps elected to Upper House seats they can feasibly increase (even if only slightly) the pool of MPs from which they can draw on to form a competent ministry.

    The withdrawal of the Liberals’ highly regarded MLC, Vanessa Goodwin, is not only a blow to the incumbent government’s standing but to the Libs forward electoral strategy in this regard.

    I’m not opposed to Leg Council members owning up to their political allegiances, but this strategy – whereby the major parties progressively get more party tagged MLCs elected – does have implications for those voices who believe that the Leg Council should remain as a non-partisan House of Review.

    I’m wondering if this phenomenen is understood an accepted as an inevitable implication that has stemmed from shrinking the House of Assembly to 25 seats?

  5. John Biggs

    October 1, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    Wayne as ever has nailed it. It was unworkable before Groom’s departure with few members holding many portfolios. The terrible record of previous legislation over the years arose precisely because one person can’t competently manage so many different areas demanding his/her considered judgment. Now it is even worse: Hodgman is Premier AND Attorney general, which is unconstitutional or should be, plus 4 other portfolios. How can he possibly manage all that? Rockcliff is Deputy plus 3 portfolios, Archer has 4, Barnett 3. And don’t bring in MLCs — how can they review their own decisions? Come one.

    Unfortunately the current lot are doing such a bad job that the public reacts negatively to all politicians and resists appointing more (chucking good money after bad, sort of thing). However paying more money for politcians and sacking those party-appointed, yes-minister-how-would you-like-me-to-advise-you, minders, and getting competent government in would save a whole heap. That’s the message that must be got across.

    I think Labor under White might well go along with an increase, the Greens would, and maybe after groaning under the load of so many portfolios the Libs will come around — as all three parties promised they would in 2010.

    We deserve competent government and that means ministers seeking the best advice and making considered decisions. That is not possible with a 25 member parliament.

  6. Bob Hawkins

    October 1, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    It doesn’t matter whether a state is as big and complex as NSW or as small and economically struggling as Tasmania, all the same service requirements are at play. Today, as inheritors of a corrupt, less-than-democratic system, we in Tasmania are burdened with a government comprising politicians who probably wouldn’t be able to manage even one ministry properly, let alone half a dozen. Even a 50-seat lower house would be unlikely to throw up enough competents to allow the state to be run with any semblance of efficiency or at morally decent standards.

  7. TGC

    October 1, 2017 at 1:49 pm

    #1 “…but this strategy – whereby the major parties progressively get more party tagged MLCs elected – does have implications for those voices who believe that the Leg Council should remain as a non-partisan House of Review.”
    Now’ wasn’t that once thought to be the role of the Senate?

    A problem for Tasmania- and there’s every likelihood it would apply to every other State and Territory- is the widespread belief that politics and society in general is “corrupt”- almost all TT contributors fuming at government will bring ‘corrupt’ into the text.
    And clearly they believe what they write.
    That’s pretty sad really and holds little hope for any who may wish to give politics a go- inevitably they also will-eventually- come under the ‘corrupt’ tag.

  8. john lawrence

    October 1, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    Shouldn’t the discussion question why there are so many ministries in the first place?

    At one stage of the Hodgman government the Department of State Growth with one department head was scattered amongst six ministers. Infrastucture went to Hidding, Energy to Groom, Resources to Harriss, Tourism to Hodgman, Arts to Goodwin, Ferguson picked up IT.

    Ferguson is Health Minister but IT’s budget is allocated to both State Growth and DPAC. So Ferguson has three department heads.

    Sometimes budget Output Groups are allocated between more than one minister. One minister might get one line item, another may go elsewhere.

    There have been occasions in the past where Ministers didn’t even get a line item to administer. Veterans Affairs which is part of DPAC, at one stage was a ministry without a budget allocation. From memory, Graham Don’t-You –Know-Who-I-Am Sturges was the minister. We remember Graham, you were the Minister without a budget.

    It is not too difficult to have a pretty good stab at which candidates would have been elected had 7 instead of 5 been the number per seat. We haven’t missed much.

    A bigger pool to choose from may look attractive but it leaves a bigger pile of rejects to waste their time witch hunting in Triabunna woodchip piles. The only time we get a decent parliamentary committee report is when one of the genuine independents in the Leg Co steps up to the plate.

  9. john lawrence

    October 1, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    My memory failed me (#9). Graham should have been Graeme.

  10. Simon Warriner

    October 1, 2017 at 8:39 pm

    re 7, Unsurprisingly TGC chooses to place the most ignorant interpretation on what others write in their critiques of party political performance, and then attempts to smear that critique onto other, independent, political participants.

  11. Leonard Colquhoun

    October 2, 2017 at 12:21 pm

    Yes, 25 lower house MPs is too small, especially when considering that elections serve two purposes:

    (i) to form a parliament which (within a range of interpretations) represents / is representative of the electors; various sorts of proportional representation are best at getting this, and the most significant Australian example is each State’s Senate election; and (often overlooked in such discussions),

    (ii) to form workable and relatively stable ‘governments’ (our usual term) or ‘administrations’ (often used in the US and elsewhere: administration [fr], administrasi [id], administração [pt], администра́ци [ru] and administración [es]).

    Without (ii) being achieved^, elections are not much more than highly expensive opinion polls or surveys (the value of which has been vigorously debated of late).

    A lower house of 30 would have two advantages: a numerical majority after a Speaker is chosen (applicable to any even-numbered seats), and a wider spread of ministerial duties plus a backbench as ‘reserves’ (for whatever purposes).

    Achieving (ii) would be easier with single-member electorates, preferably (but not necessarily) uncoupled for flexibility’s sake from federal HoR divisions. (Note: our arrangements reverse the more frequent one between the chambers. Was it a late 19th century version of ‘Tasmania leading the nation[to be]’?)

    ^ Italy seemed to have done quite well from, say, the 1950s to the 19680s, without stable ‘governments”, with PMs changing more often than some of its citizens changed their (keeping things nice) socks. But maybe now the arithmetic has caught up with them.

  12. pat synge

    October 3, 2017 at 10:32 am

    Germany has managed quite well despite not having had a majority government for many decades.

  13. Leonard Colquhoun

    October 3, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    Does Comment 13 take into account the distinction between majority party governments and majority coalition governments?

  14. max

    October 3, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    The present small parliament rips us all off and a bigger one would rip us all off faster with more dead heads. If we stopped voting for parties and party policies and voted for 25 Independents with suitable qualifications and they worked as as a committee, then we would know who to keep and who to throw out.

  15. Simon Warriner

    October 3, 2017 at 6:42 pm

    re 13, I am happy to wait a while and see how the integration of the latest wave of refugees works out before I declare Germany’s recent governance a success or failure.

    re 14, we have a majority (just) federal coalition govt. Hardly any difference between that and the lab faction of the ruling classes representatives that I can see.

    re 15, That is what I have been banging on about, thanks for putting it so succinctly.

  16. philll Parsons

    October 4, 2017 at 11:11 pm

    You will find a chaotic system run by the permanent public service (the unelected government) if there is not an elected executive chosen to run a coherent program.

  17. max

    October 6, 2017 at 9:00 pm

    # 17 phill
    I looked up executive and coherent in the dictionary just to be sure. Neither word should be used in conjunction with anyone in the Tasmanian government.
    But chaotic is a good word to describes a normal day in parliament.

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