Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Tasmania: January to June 2009

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Politics and History

Tasmania: January to June 2009

Article excerpt

The first six months of Tasmanian politics in 2009 could scarcely be characterised by a single theme or event. Perhaps the one that was expected to provide the dominant motif was the 2009 state budget. This was always going to be a significant feature of the period under review as it would be the last before the next general election. However, there were a series of negative events that undermined the government's desire to regain control of a political agenda that was beyond its control the previous year. The resignation of Paula Wriedt, a hearing in the case against suspended Police Commissioner Jack Johnston, a Legislative Council committee report into executive appointments, abolition of a government department, Legislative Council elections, and a senior resignation combined to keep the government on the back foot during the period under review.

The Political Deck is Re-Shuffled--Again and Yet Again

The protracted saga of former Economic Development and Tourism Minister Paula Wriedt came to its parliamentary conclusion in January when with more than a gentle nudge, she announced her retirement from the House of Assembly. Wriedt's career had been in a downward spiral after an attempted suicide in August 2008 and, rather controversially, being dropped from cabinet some weeks later while still recovering. She claimed her primary motive was to spend more time with her children although there was considerable speculation that Premier David Bartlett had felt she had had sufficient time to decide her future. Wriedt was able to return the pressure to some degree by publicly blaming Bartlett for impeding her recovery by sacking her from the cabinet the preceding September (Mercury, 19 January 2009).

Daniel Hulme, the last eligible Labor candidate from the 2006 state election in Franklin, filled the vacancy left by Wriedt. His election by a recount of Wriedt's preferences under the state's Hare-Clark proportional electoral system was greeted with derision by the Liberal party. Hulme had only polled 620 votes out of an electorate of more than 60,000 voters. Given that her portfolios had already been distributed previously, the election of Hulme did not change the complexion of the government. Nevertheless, again, the loss of experience on the government benches drew attention to the serious consequences of a parliament too small to allow for depth over time.

Almost mirroring the Paula Wriedt saga, Legislative Council Member Allison Ritchie resigned from the parliament in June. Ritchie had been Planning and Workplace Relations Minister for less than two months when she returned her commission in November 2008. Shortly after that resignation, Deputy Premier Lara Giddings rated the event as so damaging to the Labor government that "this Government would fall over" if another should occur before the next election. It may not have been quite what Giddings feared but the next resignation was in fact Ritchie's second shoe falling. Ritchie, the Labor member for Pembroke, appeared to be on the verge of re-invigorating her ministerial ambitions when she was named as Parliamentary Secretary to Economic Development Minister Michael Aird MLC. This appeared to spark a whispering campaign claiming that she had engaged in nepotism. It subsequently emerged that she had employed her mother, two sisters and her brother-in-law in her electoral office over a three-year period (Mercury, 21 June 2009). Ritchie reacted angrily and publicly against what she described as a "Labor plot" against her. The attack on elements of her party may have been well founded but it had a similar effect as that of Wriedt's complaints some five months earlier--it was presented as another example of disunity within the ALP. Worse, Ritchie's resignation from parliament opened the door to a by-election, which would test Labor's support amongst voters when the portents for success were visibly in retreat.

The Legislative Council Elections

On 2 May 2009, the Legislative Council seats of Derwent, Mersey and Windermere were up for renewal at the elections in the annual rotation of election of Tasmania's indissoluble upper house. …

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