Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) was an Italian Renaissance writer whose great contribution to history was to give politicians a bad name.

He was the first political scientist and in his most famous book ‘The Prince’, Machiavelli sanctioned the use of deceit, trickery, terror and even murder as legitimate tools of government.

Five hundred years later not much has changed.

Machiavelli was alive and well in the Hobart Tally Room last Saturday when I ran into an old friend, the long retired Tasmanian Labor Senator, Terry Aulich. Channeling Machiavelli he suggested that the ALP would have been wiser to keep its anti-pokies policy quiet until the last few days of the campaign.

‘MacAulich’ was quite right. With a Machiavellian strategy Labor could have gained the votes of a large number of Tasmanians who care about the damage pokies do while denying the powerful gambling lobby the time to marshal its forces and spend its vast winnings on a very effective campaign.

Elections are full of promises never redeemed in office (like fixing hospitals and educating the masses) so why is it any worse to enact undisclosed policies?

That same election night a reformed Tasmanian advertising executive (who now only does good works) told me that he agreed that the cause had been just but the battle unwinnable.

“Anyone in advertising could see that coming,” he told me. “The problem is there are no wise old heads in the Labor machine and the campaign was run by kids. You can have a young leader by all means, but you need a bit of cynical experience behind the scenes in the smoke-filled room. But there’s no smoking now and not much good old fashioned political cunning.”

My Machiavellian informants were in the Hobart Tally Room along with just about everyone else past and present in state politics. The Tally Room now only exists in Tasmania and like the Tasmanian devil and the red handfish is something else we should preserve. In our tiny polity it is great that ordinary punters can mix with politicians (the victors and the vanquished) and watch the process of democracy in action. In between making jokes about a place called Circular Head (they still can’t resist cranial jokes about our state) the visiting mainland broadcasters all enthused about the marvellous time warp of our Tally Room.

My reformed advertising mate saw the Labor pokies disaster coming. He has a world-weary acceptance of the things that can’t be changed in Tasmania.

“But what has upset me is the exploitation of that great Tasmanian icon, David Foster. He’s a decent bloke but advertisers keep recruiting him for divisive issues. His tragedy is that he is very good at communicating with the masses. Something at which Tasmania business leaders and politicians are spectacularly bad.”

In his more cynical younger days the adman coined the term ‘a beer and a ham sandwich’ to describe how cheaply celebrity could be purchased in Tasmania to spruik a cause or product. I wonder if they looked after David? He’s been a battler all his life. He once told me how cash-strapped he was after first winning the World Woodchopping Championship, which he then held for 20 years straight. It was an extraordinary athletic achievement but David remembers coming home crowned in glory but broke. He laughed, “Mate I was the bloody world champion but I couldn’t find a job. I eventually got work cleaning dunnies. Imagine that, the world champion cleaning public loos.”
Later he battled valiantly but in vain to keep afloat his dream, the Australian Axe man’s Hall of Fame in Latrobe, which celebrated Tasmania’s woodchopping heritage. The local council gave him no support.

I’ve filmed with David who is always generous to a fault with his time. Far from giving him ‘a beer and a ham sandwich’ he and his generous wife Jan fed me, which was an unforgettable experience. The large, jolly family, all of them athletes with the axe and the cross-saw sat around a table groaning with food. There was shouting and noisy hilarity until the starter’s gun.

Then there was sudden calm as massive amounts of food were inhaled in absolute silence. Dining with this good-hearted family of Tasmanian champions was an unforgettable experience.

I would hate those of you who are disappointed by the failure of the anti-pokies campaign to blame David. It was doomed to failure anyway. Rather than recriminate is there something we could do for big Dave Foster that would better befit his iconic status? Former Senator Terry Aulich put aside his copy of Machiavelli’s ‘Prince’ for a moment to suggest that there is indeed.

“A prophet is rarely honoured in his own land and so too apparently an axe-man. The government might recognise an unpaid debt here. This decent man, who has gone for so long unrewarded needs to be given an equally decent, respectable and fulfilling Tasmanian project to run with.”

As we ‘take Tasmania to the next level’ lets find something there for the big bloke.

*Charles Wooley is a legend of Australian journalism, partly through his history with Sixty Minutes. His columns on Tasmanian Times are HERE

EARLIER on Tasmanian Times …

And And this is a leading light in the battle to save pokies …