By Tom Flanagan
HOBART — The spectacular failure of Tasmania's minority Labor government to pass its resource security legislation may not mean the end of the bill. Although Labor has made an agreement with the five Green Independents that the bill "cannot be introduced and will not be passed during the life of the parliament", the opposition Liberals have threatened to introduce an amended version, which could pass with Labor Party support.
The Labor government of Michael Field pushed the bill to a second reading in the hope that the Independents would allow it to pass rather than risk an election that might return a Liberal government.
However, the Independents stuck to their often stated undertaking to move a no-confidence motion in the event of the bill being presented.
Opposition leader Robin Gray had said repeatedly that the Liberals would support any motion of no confidence, regardless of its content, so the Liberals supported the motion despite the fact that most would support resource security legislation.
Unfortunately for the Liberals, they didn't realise the Independents' motion was worded to leave the way open for Labor to take a second vote of confidence if it agreed not to resubmit the legislation, which in any case might be turning into an embarrassment for both state and federal Labor parties.
The result was that the Liberals emerged looking very stupid, having voted against resource security legislation and failed to bring down the Labor government. Former premier Robin Gray's position as opposition leader must now be shaky as a result of this blunder, which follows a highly publicised bribery scandal.
For the Independents and the green movement generally, the events around the bill are a big morale booster. In a day on which the other parties took opportunism to new depths, the greens stuck uncompromisingly to their principles.
Faced with the choice of going to an election or withdrawing the bill for the term of the parliament, Labor was forced into an embarrassing backdown from its threat to take on the greens at the polls.
The defeat of the resource bill is the green movement's biggest victory since it stopped the potentially ecologically disastrous Wesley Vale pulp mill in 1989.
The defeat of the bill also deals a blow to the prospect of resource security legislation Australia-wide.