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Tasmanian voters set the independents loose

Liberal Party leader Jeremy Rockliff… in calling the election a year early, he argued “minority government is destabilising, it destroys confidence, it is bad for our state and it is bad for Tasmanians”. Tasmanian voters rejected this notion. (Rob Blakers/AAP PHOTOS)

“When Canberrans go to the polls in October, it is worth ensuring that the ACT has the most accountable government possible. A really strong cross bench will deliver this outcome,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE.

A “hung parliament” is the term that the major parties love to use. It is deliberately pejorative. 

Michael Moore.

The major parties do not like the notion of answering to the parliament to the extent required through a “minority government”.

The view of Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff illustrates the point. In calling the election a year early, argued “minority government is destabilising, it destroys confidence, it is bad for our state and it is bad for Tasmanians”. Tasmanian voters rejected this notion.

The people of Tasmania disagreed and delivered the very thing in the most recent election. The Westminster system of government will operate more effectively with much more accountability.

The major parties work towards the winner-takes-all perspective. Even in opposition, they effectively wait their turn hoping they will not have to negotiate every piece of legislation with a range of members of the parliament. 

Accountability, and much more effective engagement of all members of the parliament comes when the voters support a strong crossbench that will not go into coalition with one of the major parties.

One of the arguments put forward by major parties to discourage voting for independents and small parties is that a hung parliament puts too much power in the hands of a small number of people on the cross benches. Not so! Their own actions deliver that power to the cross benches. 

The option that governments in minority always have is to seek support from the major opposition party. When this happens, all members of the parliament have an equal and effective vote on issues. This option can effectively neutralise any position taken by cross bench members.

In a similar way, opposition parties have the option of seeking support from either the government or the cross bench members to drive any change that they see as appropriate for the community. This can take the form of motions put to the parliament, review of legislation or the introduction of their own legislation.

Minority governments are entitled to know that they have support for the budget and support if a no-confidence motion is put regarding the leader – whether it be a premier, prime minister or chief minister.

Minority governments do mean a significant shift in power from the government to the parliament. However, going into government as a minority does require some substantial security. 

In the Westminster system, the government is accountable for the money. Therefore, it is appropriate that the government has a guarantee from those backing the minority that they will support the government’s budget.

The second issue is stability. Ironically, leaders negotiating to establish a minority government always seek to have a guarantee of support in a no-confidence motion. Ironic, because there have been so many cases in recent times where a prime minister loses the confidence of his or her own party. 

Over the last decade, majority government has hardly been a recipe for stability.

Tasmanians have delivered a series of clear messages to their members of parliament. Calling an early election is not such a sensible idea. The Liberal premier did not like running a minority government even though his majority was lost when just one of his own Liberal members defected to the cross bench. His attempt to regain a majority government delivered a swing of around 12 per cent against the Liberals.

His other mistake was to revert to a much bigger Legislative Assembly with the 2022 legislation to return to a 35-member parliament from the 25-member one that was established in 1998. 

In contrast to the 25 politicians in the ACT, Tasmania now has 35 members in their House of Assembly and 15 members in their Legislative Council.

On top of this Tasmania (with a population of 540,000 compared to the ACT’s 430,000), has five Federal MPs and 12 Senators along with 29 local councils – each with between seven and 12 councillors. 

The ACT is not over governed. It has a much more efficient governance system with just 25 members of the Legislative Assembly with responsibility for local as well as state/territory functions. Canberrans also have three MPs and two Senators. Just 30 politicians altogether.

When Canberrans go to the polls in October, it is worth ensuring that the ACT has the most accountable government possible. A really strong cross bench will deliver this outcome.

Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.

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Michael Moore

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2 Responses to Tasmanian voters set the independents loose

Palmerston's Lament says: 2 April 2024 at 6:44 am

A couple of points that really need to be amplified. Tasmania is a State, having been a Colony prior to Federation and therefore ranks, for good or ill, above an administrative Territory. State’s rights, as we all know, are enshrined in the Constitution and this includes representation.

The other issue to consider is the Hare Clark system of voting. In the ACT, the Hare Clark system has produced a virtual Gerrymander for 20 years and has failed democracy here. Our population would be perhaps slightly more engaged in the process if there was a greater connection with their representative. Again I suggest the Ward system of the Brisbane City Council which provides for over 1.2 million people and is a system used around the Commonwealth to good effect.

The winds of change appear to be blowing the dust bunnies along the corridors of power in Civic. A wise CM would have retired gracefully in December to let their legacy speak for itself. The Greens, as predicted, have failed yet again to provide the checks and balances required of them. A canny Opposition, hungry for power, would be offering visions splendid and brand differences now.

But our reality appears to be more one of waiting for Godot, or in this case the mythical independents, to arrive a save us from ourselves.

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David says: 2 April 2024 at 7:41 am

One thing worth highlighting is the tendency of elected officials claiming they have a mandate for something they took to an election which they only won because the other side was worse. Rockliff claimed after the election he has a mandate for his ideas but this is clearly not the case. With a 12% swing against his party the only mandate he has it to come up with a better set of ideas and forget the ones he went to the election with. Anyone who claims a mandate in these circumstances should not be governing in their own right. How about Collective Government as a term to describe a situation where the electorate does not trust any particular leader to govern in their own right.

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