Tasmanian Green vote up, but it looks like business as usual

Tasmanians savaged the Labor government in the recent state elections. In the South Australian elections, the Rann Labor government just held onto power after an 8 per cent swing against it. The Liberals were the main beneficiaries of Labor’s disarray in South Australia, and their vote was up 7 per cent in Tasmania.
More hopeful is that The Greens recorded their largest ever vote in Tasmania—13.5 per cent altogether with a 5 per cent swing their way. Tasmania’s proportional system means that there are now ten Liberals, ten Labor and five Greens in parliament. As Solidarity goes to press, it seems that Liberal Will Hodgman will preside over a minority Liberal government.
Labor’s cosy relationship with the big end of town is to blame for their loss. Former Liberal Premier Robin Gray—now a board member of the timber company Gunns Ltd—suggested in the lead up to the election that if neither Liberal or Labor won enough seats to govern in their own right, they ought to form a coalition government. He argued there were no major policy differences between the two parties, and that it would keep The Greens out.
Both Labor and Liberal have offered their full support to the planned Gunns pulp mill, which will pump 64,000 tonnes of effluent into Bass Strait and consume 4.6 billion tonnes of wood annually, most from old-growth forests.
Teachers took strike action during the election period over attacks on state education. And Labor’s campaign promises to fund public health failed to impress voters. It seemed like too little, too late from a government that has privatised three major hospitals in the last decade.
Statistics show The Greens picked up a large section of the working class vote in Lyons, which combines rural forestry areas with some of the poorest public housing estates in the country.
The “hung parliament” result has meant a big debate about how Tasmania’s government will function. Sadly, The Greens’ performance has been less than impressive. They have consistently put up their hand to share power with the Liberals. Moderate leader Nick McKim said that The Greens would “be making no demands” in any negotiations. The Greens opposed the teachers’ strike and according to the ABC, pressured forest protesters to lie low during the campaign period.
Although The Greens have given no commitment to pass Liberal legislation they have said they will not block the budget. But it is highly likely the Liberals will want deep cuts to public spending. It would not be the first time—The Greens’ informal alliance with the Tasmanian Liberals in 1996-1998 allowed them to pass a budget with public sector cuts.
The Liberals will be hoping to rely on Labor votes to maintain business as usual for corporate interests in Tasmania. A clear majority of Tasmanian voters don’t want a Liberal government but Labor has also ruled out any coalition with The Greens—preferring to let the Liberals govern.
People voted Green because they were sick of a Labor government acting like the Liberals. Greens policies for improved public transport and reversal of some of Labor’s attacks on education were popular with voters.
Looking for an agreement with the Liberals is no way of delivering on their promises. But that is where The Greens strategy—of gaining a bigger piece of the parliamentary pie—leads. Hopefully any minority Liberal government will be short lived. In the meantime it will be up to the teachers and the forestry activists to keep up the heat on The Greens and to win a better deal for Tasmania.
By Amy Thomas


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