Southpaw Backhander

The return of the Liberal Party government in Tasmania with a bare, reduced majority was not an unalloyed catastrophe for the progressive forces in the island State. Labor was returned with an increased minority on an issue of principle, pokies reform. This confirms the strong leadership of Rebecca White, who is arguably well poised to regain government at the next election, circumstances permitting; the Green vote was alarmingly static, not to say worse. There is the consolation that losing with a sound policy at least leaves a legacy to build on. But it is nonetheless a setback for progressive forces in Tasmania and nationally. It once again shows that excessive tension between Labor and the Greens only benefits the Tories, in keeping with the maxim that disunity is death. It is unhealthy that the Hodgeman dynasty administration has been returned to office, with its plans to log wilderness extensively and restrict the democratic right to protest to appease capital. Despite Hodgeman’s denials that the election was bought, there is no doubt that the massive advertising campaign by the gambling lobby, led by the Federal Group which owns the island’s two casinos, was a powerful factor.

Labor and the Greens can now only govern together. Labor’s primary vote has fallen to historic lows, while Bob Brown’s ambitions to `replace the bastards’ are illusory. Labor and the Greens are as doomed to serve the public together as the Liberals and Nationals are condemned to loot the public purse on behalf of vested interests as Coalition partners in crime. As a Tasmanian expat I have been arguing this case like Cassandra since my teenage years in Tasmania during the rise of the Greens in the 1970s. These basic political principles have national implications. As the 2018 Tasmanian General Election shows, they are ignored at the peril of the interested parties and the public, not to mention the environment. And it’s not as if they prevent creative competition and mature political agreements to disagree, so nothing should be allowed to stand in the way on either side. As it is, the Tasmanian electorate has held its nose and marginally voted Liberal after pronouncing a pox on both progressive houses, seeing them as unstable, divided and divisive.

Why have Labor and the Greens defied common sense for so long, destabilizing one another by devouring each other’s vote? Competition from diverse class, philosophical and cultural bases is certainly part of the problem. A certain willfulness too is a common fault; Labor sees the Greens reductively as middle-class, while Green smugness about `old parties’, which must irritate half the electorate over 30, begs the question about the positive value of certain traditions. Both parties must grow out of these bad habits. The progressive cause and the environment itself demand no less.

Dr David Faber Adelaide March 2018