Liberals win, Greens lose in Tas elections

Issue 
A forest protest in Tasmania’s north-east last year. Incoming Premier Will Hodgman promised to tear up the forest peace agreem

The Liberal Party swept to victory in the Tasmanian elections on March 15, winning 14 seats of the 25 seat parliament. The Labor Party, which had governed for the past three years in coalition with the Greens, received a swing against of 9.5%. It won only six seats.

The Greens were also heavily punished, losing two seats in an 8% swing against them. Party leaders Nick McKim and Cassy O’Connor managed to keep their seats. Kim Booth looks likely to be re-elected as well.

Counting continued as two seats remained undecided as of March 21, but analysts predicted Labor and the Liberals would pick up one each.

The Palmer United Party had been predicted to win a seat, capitalising on its recent success at the federal level and tapping into the widespread anti-Labor feeling. But its candidates received just 5% of the overall vote — the vote was 7% in northern Tasmania — and failed to win any seats.

New Premier Will Hodgman has promised that the Liberals will implement the 100-day plan they campaigned on throughout the election. This includes tearing up the forest peace agreement between loggers and environmentalists and introducing harsh new laws to jail protesters who stop work on logging operations. It also includes sacking more than 1000 public sector workers.

Labor had been in power in Tasmania for 16 years and the state has traditionally been a Labor stronghold; so what explains the large swing against it?

Tasmania suffers the highest unemployment rate in the country, made much worse by the global financial crisis. Youth unemployment is as high as 21% in northern parts of the state. The logging industry has collapsed and there have been a series of jobs cuts at big companies.

At the 2010 state election, no party won an outright majority. The Greens agreed to work in coalition with Labor. Consequently, two Greens MPs received portfolios in education, housing and transport.

The Greens promised to deliver “stability” in government and cooperate with Labor. This cooperation led to the Greens supporting severe budget cuts to health and education, including closing several schools. They also supported privatising the state’s electricity.

Much like the federal Labor-Greens coalition, the alliance was uneasy and the Greens were dumped from cabinet the day before the election. On the election trail, former Labor premier Lara Giddings promised that Labor would not form an alliance with the Greens again.

The Greens thought their time “proving” themselves as responsible ministers would be rewarded at the election. In a speech during the party’s election launch on March 5, McKim said: "We've done our apprenticeship in government and now we are ready for more responsibility.”

Knowing that there was a deep feeling of hostility to Labor, and with every opinion poll predicting a landslide for the Liberals, the Greens ran on a slogan of “real liberal values”, telling voters: “If you want a genuine liberal voice in Tasmania’s Parliament, vote Green.”

They had hoped to pick up an extra seat and even score more seats than Labor, making them the official opposition party in parliament.

But in the end, their close alliance with Labor and their drift away from core values meant they were deserted by people who voted for them last time around.

The Socialist Alliance ran two candidates in the southern electorates — Shaine Stephen in Denison and Jenny Forward in Franklin. Stephen received 0.47% of the vote and Forward received 0.54%, close to the vote the party received in the 2010 election.

Stephen said: ““The Greens weren’t abandoned by their diehard voters, but swinging voters were convinced by the Liberal’s message that we needed a strong, stable government.

“The issue dominating the media is what will happen with the forest peace agreement. The Liberals haven’t released any details about their plan for the forest industry, if they rip up the peace agreement how do they plan to rebuild the industry? They don’t seem to realise the market is no longer there and we can’t go along with business as usual.”