Tas Labour-Greens faces tensions

Nick McKim

Since the March 20 state elections and the installation of a power-sharing government between the Labor Party and the Greens, there have been quite a few notable developments in Tasmanian politics.

Tasmania could be the first state to legalise voluntary euthanasia. The attorney-general and deputy premier Lara Giddings told states parliament on June 22 she would work with Greens leader Nick McKim to prepare a private members’ bill about voluntary euthanasia.

McKim's original Dying with Dignity Bill was defeated in the lower house in November. He told ABC Radio National on June 29 he was hopeful that the new parliament would support such a bill.

An EMRS poll of 1000 Tasmanians in May last year, commissioned by McKim, found that 78% of Tasmanians were "in favour of changing the law to allow doctors to meet the patient's wish to end their life". Only 15% were against changing the law.

Charter of human rights

Giddings also told parliament that a charter of human rights and responsibilities would be a priority, as well as reforms to surrogacy and sex industry laws.

"I want to see a charter adopted in this state that acts as a statement about the values and principles of the community, and introduces standards to ensure that human rights are a priority for the government when making laws and decisions”, she said.

In October 2007, a government-commissioned Tasmanian Law Reform Institute report said there was strong community support for a charter.

Education reforms

There have been big upheavals in post-year 10 education. The government has been forced to start winding back its Tasmanian Tomorrow reforms. The reforms divided Year 11 and 12 colleges into separate, centrally-controlled academic and vocational institutes, and separated TAFE colleges into a Polytechnic and a Skills Institute.

Labor persevered with its controversial policy leading up to the March state elections, whereas the Greens and Liberals pledged to reverse the changes.

Many teachers are waiting for more detail to be revealed before commenting, but some teachers are unhappy with the Greens for allowing some of the changes, such as the Skills Institute, to remain.

Integrity Commission

The government has set up an Integrity Commission, after years of public pressure highlighted the need for a body to investigate corruption claims. However, the June 29 Mercury reported that Greens MP Kim Booth said that a senior public servant, Lisa Hutton, who sat on the selection panel to select the head of the new commission, may be investigated in one of the commission’s first inquiries.

Booth said Hutton had been the subject of “very serious findings” in an Upper House inquiry into the “Shreddergate scandal” about the Gunns pulp mill. He said her involvement in the selection panel “has called into question the very integrity of the Integrity Commission”, the Mercury said.

Greens-Labor Coalition

When the Greens accepted two positions in a majority-Labor cabinet, after neither party won a majority in the March state elections, it compromised its ability to act as an independent opposition on many issues.

It also set up an unusual arrangement whereby the two Greens cabinet members hold official ministerial portfolios, while at the same time taking on shadow portfolios in opposition to those held by Labor.

The other three Greens MPs, outside of cabinet, have shadow portfolios in opposition to those of both the Labor and their fellow Greens MPs.

This has led to some divisions within the Greens. For example, the July 1 Mercury said Booth had claimed fellow Greens MP Tim Morris was trying to “shut him down to suit the government”, by discouraging him from asking questions of the environment minister in an estimates hearing.

Booth also accused Greens MP Cassy O'Connor “of failing Tasmania's disadvantaged in her new role as Cabinet Secretary", ABC Online said the same day.

When Booth questioned the government's commitment to public housing, O'Connor said: "We're not meeting demand because demand is always growing and we're working within a finite budget."

In the past, the Greens have said demand could be met if public housing was funded properly. It appears that on some issues the party is tending to provide left cover for a conservative Labor government.