Politics – the year ahead

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Government relations expert and former Cabinet Minister John Barker gives his views on politics in 2015


This year is shaping up to be a year of political contrasts when considering the Tasmanian and Federal political landscape.

The State Liberal Government, still in its first year, is performing well. The Government’s primary objective of honouring its election promises is on track. It has dealt with the Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment, the direct international shipping service which will cut exporters costs and has been very firm in implementing its first budget.

The debate around public sector employment is unfortunate but necessary. A State the size of Tasmania cannot sustain 26,000 public sector employees (32,000 if Government Business Enterprises are included) and the Government cannot, and should not be driven by public sector unions attempting to make themselves relevant now that a conservative government is in office, at the cost of the broader public sector workforce and the Tasmanian economy.

The unions cannot be selective in their behaviour endeavouring to stir trouble in this instance when an attempt by the previous government to reduce employment numbers hardly attracted a whimper.

In 2015 we can expect progress in the government’s planning reform agenda, outcomes from its health and forestry reviews, challenging education reforms, a tight budget following the 2014 budget theme and potentially an advance in local government reform.

There is growing confidence in business investment, consumer spending is at an all-time high, and employment and tourist visitations and investment is rising. The level of construction activity, encouraged by government policy, particularly in the south of the State will encourage further economic activity as it becomes visually evident. Also, the potential growth of the agriculture sector in dairy and cropping resulting from increased irrigation is also exciting.

Two matters requiring very careful Government attention, one policy one process, are;

  • Forestry – Clearly the time for subsidies to Forestry Tasmania is over. There is an increasing need for controlled private sector activity in marketing and sales of crown forest resources, in particular. Hopefully the current Treasury review will address this matter.
  • Legislative Council – A successful government must work closely with the Upper House. Since the election of Paul Harriss to the House of Assembly and Jim Wilkinson as President of the Legislative Council it seems the Council lack direction on the actual floor of the House.

There are some contenders attempting to assume that mantle however given the independent nature of the Council this unfortunately can lead to legislative delay, procrastination and in some cases a lack of appreciation of the actual role of the Council.

The Government must improve its process, communications and interpersonal relations with Members. The last thing Tasmania needs is an Upper House comprising of do nothing, oppose everything “independent” Members encouraged by the current success of the Senate cross bench and a compliant Opposition.

The Federal Government’s 2014 was very disappointing. 2015 is wake up time.

The budget horrors it experienced last year look like burdening it again in 2015 unless there is a decisive change in attitude and direction. While its objectives to correct a difficult budget situation are welcome its method of selling and implementing changes have not been accepted by the public at large. The budget argument has also distracted from the Government’s positive policy announcements including the free trade agreements with Korea and China.

It can be argued, legitimately, that the Federal Opposition has encouraged and cooperated with a disparate Senate cross bench to oppose budget measures to enhance the “broken promises” tag. Nonetheless politics is largely about public perception and in this regard the Government is off the mark.

The Government is nearly half way through is term of office and it has a difficult task in recovering sufficient ground to win the next election.

Significant performance improvement and a more realistic and pragmatic approach is required otherwise the old adage that “Governments lose elections, Oppositions do not win them” may again ring true.


1 Comment

  • James Groom says:

    Excellent analysis John. I agree 100% with the comments regarding LC leadership (or lack thereof). This is a big challenge for the state.

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