The Tasmanian election has seen a Liberal government returned for a third consecutive term—the first time ever in Tasmanian political history. Premier Peter Gutwein (above) called the election a year early hoping that the Liberals could capitalise on their handling of the pandemic in Tasmania and retain their one-seat majority government.
While the Liberals have achieved another term, they could be a minority government: two seats in Clark might still go to Independents—Kristie Johnstone and former Liberal Sue Hickey.
The Tasmanian election follows the trend of incumbent state governments, such as Labor in WA, ACT, the NT and Queensland, in retaining (but in this case not increasing) their majorities during the pandemic. But this is the first time a state Liberal government has been up for re-election and won during the pandemic.
Gutwein’s personal vote skyrocketed but there is no great joy in the result for Morrison and the federal Liberals. Overall the Liberals suffered a 1.5 per cent swing against them. While Labor suffered a 4.5 per cent swing against them, some of that went to increasing the Green vote by 2 per cent. The Greens have retained their two seats and are competing for a third in Bass.
The Tasmanian election was dominated by health as the state struggles to meet the demand for elective surgeries, rather than other issues like housing, education and climate change.
According to Australian Medical Association Tasmania president, Helen McArdle, 15,000 elective surgeries are completed each year but another 19,000 are added to the waitlist.
The Liberals promised $156.4 million to increase health funding but this won’t be enough. McArdle says: “Elective surgery was already underfunded before COVID; funding must meet increases in demand as well as the increased costs of running the health system.”
Labor promised $197 million for 17 rural hospitals across the state and 24/7 care at 30 community centres. But this wasn’t enough to convince Tasmanians in rural areas to vote for them. The predominantly rural electorates of Braddon, Lyons and Bass gave three out of a possible five seats to the Liberals.
The Liberals are also moving to turn TasTAFE into a government business. The teachers’ union argues this will mean that TAFE will be more concerned with increasing course costs and making profit than providing quality education and training.
Climate change was left off the agenda by both major parties. Meanwhile the Liberals are overseeing Tasmania’s massively polluting billion-dollar salmon farming industry which is seeking to double its operations by 2030. It has already polluted world heritage waterways such as Macquarie Harbour and is now threatening to extend the devastation to areas of the east coast. The Liberals will no doubt allow the worst practices to continue during their next term.
The Liberals are also allowing the state’s tourism industry to boost profits from commercial leases over national parks. Such commercial licences increased from 152 in 2014 to 515 in 2021. One tourism operator plans to charge $4500 per person for a helicopter ride to Halls Island—a small island on Lake Malbena in the middle of a remote national park. The proposed tourist attractions cater for wealthy interstate and international travellers, making the tourist operators richer by effectively privatising public lands.
And the native forests will continue to be felled under a Liberal government. Sustainable Timbers Tasmania and consecutive governments swear that the logging industry is sustainable. Yet, time and again, Sustainable Timbers Tasmania itself has been found to be logging forests that are home to endangered swift parrots and other species, and allowing “controlled burns” to burn out of control, torching adjoining forests.
The anti-protest bill that was voted down earlier this year is also likely rear its ugly head in the Liberals’ new term. The anti-protest law proposed hefty fines and potential prison time for protestors who obstruct business operations. Under the law, protesters could be fined for merely threatening to impede business activities—actions like posting on social media encouraging people to protest against businesses exploiting workers.
The Liberals won the state election. To fight for a sustainable future, to properly fund housing and health and to protect the environment from damaging salmon and tourist industries we are going to need more struggle in the streets and workplaces.
By Luke Ottavi