Why Tasmanian voters should avoid the major parties

Toxic, Richard Flanagan’s new book, highlights why we need more independent voices in parliament

With so much to be said in these final days of an election campaign, the problem is always where to begin? It was solved by last week’s release of Toxic, a ticking time-bomb of a book on salmon farming by Richard Flanagan. 

Flanagan meticulously documents how chemicals present in that pretty pink product damage our health, and how the industry’s rotting underbelly ravages ecosystems, destroys livelihoods and corrupts politicians and bureaucrats. His evidence is overwhelming. You cannot read this book without losing all appetite for farmed salmon.

In response, deputy premier Jeremy Rockliff declined to rule out a major expansion by the industry into north-western waters, while Labor’s star Franklin recruit Dean Winter said the party was solidly behind the industry and its jobs. Neither could have been so complacent had they read the book, which should be compulsory reading for all MPs.

That’s just one of a string of issues that the major parties keep ignoring or underplaying – including gambling, the size of parliament, native forest logging, protest laws and climate change – because they can get away with it.

The Greens have consistently called this out. Offering the strongest climate, environment and social justice policies, they also boast a thoroughly consistent and stable voting record in parliament. Yet the two major parties, having each lost a member’s vote during this last term, with breathtaking hypocrisy accuse them of being destabilisers. 

Both Liberal and Labor sternly warn against the “disaster” of a coalition government. This is rubbish. It’s true that unlike the federal Coalition (a government of two parties, a fact the Liberals seem to overlook), Tasmanian coalitions have been short-lived. But by any measure – goals met, bills passed, responsiveness, accountability – their record is as good as it gets.

What premier Peter Gutwein and opposition leader Rebecca White really mean when they raise this furphy is that party diehards don’t like it. Disciplined party voting has made parliamentary voting more predictable, but it has also fostered MPs who dislike close public scrutiny and prefer to leave complex issues to others. We got stability, but at what cost?

Contrary to what Peter Gutwein told the governor, his government was stable. The early poll is purely self-serving: to seize a favourable moment to cement and prolong his grip on power.

In pledging not to govern without its own majority, each major party is saying it won’t accept an election result that forces them to negotiate with anyone outside the party. This is out of place in Tasmania, home of the world’s most democratic voting system, which prevents electoral blowouts and encourages “mix and match” coalitions. 

Right now Peter Gutwein is odds-on to get his wish for another one-party government, but Hare-Clark does tend to throw up close results. If the Liberals don’t get a majority we at least have a prospect of changing the way one or other of the big parties does its political business. 

As a voter, the question I ask is this: which people will help our parliament to be the forum it ought to be – representative, open and inclusive, where good ideas are turned into good laws? It calls for voters to put aside old allegiances and see what’s on offer from the wide variety of candidates outside the big-party tent.

I favour candidates concerned about inaction over carbon emissions, environmental loss and social justice. They include fisherman Craig Garland in Braddon, Sue Woodbury (Animal Justice Party) and independent Roy Ramage in Bass, independent Francis Flannery and Mark Tanner (AJP) in Franklin, and Sharon McLay (AJP) in Lyons.

Clark is rich in quality independent candidates. Sue Hickey is best known for her trenchant criticism of the Gutwein government. Kristie Johnston has been an innovative Glenorchy mayor, while Mike Dutta and Jax Ewin are strong on social justice issues. Mental health advocate Lisa Gershwin also happens to be a world-leading marine biologist.

Besides favouring the Greens, the Flanagan revelations about salmon farming would be a leg up to candidates like Gershwin and Garland. Garland’s 2019 federal campaign against the salmon industry stopped the Liberals from winning Braddon.

There are doubtless candidates I’ve overlooked who can add lustre to our parliament. And I don’t discount individual MPs within the major parties who could shine if it wasn’t for the party heavies keeping a lid on independent thought.

In Tasmania in 2021, big-party politics is unfit for purpose. A parliament attuned to community needs must have more than a sprinkling of people able to think outside the box. It’s the only way to stop the steady decay of our body politic.

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