While the Liberals' victory in the Tasmanian state election was decisive, the vote was influenced by corporations and big business, writes Peter Henning.
THE RESULT of the Tasmanian election campaign has stunned many, both within and outside Tasmania. It is no wonder why, as just a couple of weeks ago it was expected to be a close-run affair and maybe even a Labor victory. People were asking questions about whether there could be another hung parliament, requiring a re-run of the Labor-Greens alliance between 2010 and 2014.
In the event, Labor was thoroughly thrashed and the Greens reduced to irrelevance. The Greens deserve to win just one seat in the 25 member House of Assembly, although the quirks of the Hare-Clark system could see them winning more.
The strength of the Liberal victory is actually not reflected in winning 13 of the 25 seats. For example, outside the greater Hobart area and throughout the rest of the state, including regional centres like Launceston, Burnie and Devonport, plus their rural hinterlands, the Liberal vote came close to 60%, with Labor lucky to reach 30%. The only saving grace for Labor was the strong personal vote of new Labor leader, Rebecca White, in the sprawling rural electorate of Lyons, running from the outskirts of Hobart to the West Tamar in the north. But even then, Labor managed just 33% of the primary vote in her electorate.
Hobart is like another country, as different from the rest of the State as Tasmania is from Victoria. It must seem odd to non-Tasmanian Australians that Tasmania’s most well-heeled electorate, Denison, represented in Canberra by independent Andrew Wilkie, had by far the strongest Labor vote in the State, while the strongest support for the Liberals came from some of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged areas of Tasmania. How do you make sense of that?
Both Labor and the Greens sought to make sense of Will Hodgman’s victory by asserting that the dominating presence of high spending corporate aspirants for pokies licenses on behalf of the Liberals "bought" votes. That is to say, to put it bluntly, that Tasmanians are easily bought by well-heeled vested interests willing to spend heavily.
While it’s a bit surprising that two of Tasmania’s political parties would admit so openly that the average Tasmanian voter can easily be sold any line by big-spending corporates, there’s no shortage of evidence to support that view. Tasmanians are renowned for regarding the forestry industry as an essential public service, requiring permanent taxpayer subsidies for destruction of water catchments and woodchipping of high quality timber, including specialty species.
In that sense, it’s no surprise at all that many Tasmanians would believe the gaming industry’s "jobs in pubs" argument – and even the notion that pokies put money into essential services like health and education – and have little interest in the socio-economic costs to families and the community at large. It’s not as if this issue has not been prominent in Tasmania for years, highly publicised since Julia Gillard abandoned a deal with Andrew Wilkie to introduce mandatory pre-commitment on pokies and given detailed treatment by James Boyce in his 2017 book, Losing Streak. Tasmanians themselves have said they support the removal of pokies from pubs and clubs, but they have now voted for its exponential expansion.
Pokies reform is a key issue in Tasmania's historic 2018 state election. @jamesboycebooks's award-winning book, LOSING STREAK, reveals how one company came to own every poker machine in Tasmania. https://t.co/o9w2L5x0bZ #TasVotes pic.twitter.com/EsUhktY8zA— Black Inc. (@BlackIncBooks) February 20, 2018
It is also informative that a range of issues, especially in relation to the provision of essential public hospital and health services, had little impact on voters. Nor did the controversy about standards applied to Tasmania’s lucrative fish-farming industry in estuaries and bays on the east coast, and in Macquarie Harbour, which generated widespread local community opposition to the expansion of salmon farms on the east coast. Nor did the ongoing controversy about the provision of adequate infrastructure for ensuring water quality in rural communities. Nor, as alluded to, did the continuing public subsidisation of uncommercial forestry operations in support of foreign corporate interests, like Ta Ann.
The idea of a pulp mill finally collapsed in 2017, but business as usual otherwise continued, with the Tarkine wilderness area being targeted for logging since 2014. Defenders of the Tarkine who contested the 2018 election attracted very little support. It would appear that Tasmanian voters in the main are less interested in public funds being distributed to support or improve essential services such as health and education – or water quality for that matter – but are willing to endorse at the ballot box the subsidisation of the corporate interest, above all else.
Perhaps one explanation of why Tasmanians vote the way they do, now and in the past, is exemplified by the huge support unionists and forestry workers gave to John Howard in Launceston in 2004. They probably never realised then or later how they had voted against their own interests. It’s a mindset rooted in a political background where the local Labor Party and unions are perpetually glued to a search for social "respectability" through tentative and timid agendas aligned with "working for The Man".
At the same time, regional and rural Tasmanian voters are not dissimilar in their values and attitudes to National Party voters in Queensland, but in Tasmania they oscillate between rightwing Liberal and rightwing Labor, depending on who has the highest public profile.
Finally, it will be interesting to see how Rebecca White fares as Labor leader because the same influences which dominated the Labor administrations of her predecessors for more than a decade of wasted time in Tasmania still remain strongly represented in the Tasmanian Parliament. She needs to watch her back.
Peter Henning is a Tasmanian historian who lived in the Tamar Valley in Tasmania during the pulp mill controversy.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License
Liberal Party wins Tasmanian election— #JimmysFRIENDjake🔥🏉🐓 (@choox75) March 3, 2018
I was very worried that I might see Turnbull raising both his and Will Hodgman's arms after last night's victory @TasLiberal @Tasmania #ElectionSausage #tasvotes2018 #JustAskBarnaby😡😡🔥🔥 https://t.co/IAKrtjzkD1
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