Scoring position is offside by SUE NEALES
March 26, 2010 12:01am
SUE NEALES: No matter what the Liberal and Labor parties think, the election is no game.
IT is rather startling - and more than a little worrying - that political experts and some wise heads within the Labor Party itself have had to this week resort to reminding Tasmania's two main political leaders that a state election is not a football match.
It may be in the best self-interest, however convoluted their reasonings, for both Labor Premier David Bartlett and Liberal Leader Will Hodgman to perpetuate this myth that the team with the highest score after Saturday's election somehow wins.
But that is not how government works, is not what constitutional conventions dictate, and is not how the right to govern is determined.
As political expert Associate Professor Richard Herr said this week, Bartlett's "promise" during the heat of the election campaign that the political party that won the most seats or the most votes should be in power for the next four years is nothing more than "policy on the run".
Herr said that, regardless of whether the Liberals end up with nine, 10 or 11 seats when vote-counting is completed next week - while Labor has 10 seats locked in - it did not give the Liberal Opposition any more or less right to form the next government.
Yet Hodgman has spent most of this week trying to "force" Bartlett and the Labor Party to repeat his "promise" to hand over the reins of power.
He too seems to mistakenly think that the spoils of electoral victory - if you could the Liberals' meagre likely 10 seats that - are linked to which party "scores" more votes than the other. With it clear that the liberals have 39 per cent of the total primary vote and Labor 37 per cent, and both are likely to end up with 10 seats on the floor of the House of Assembly, Hodgman appears to think this is enough justification for grabbing government with both hands
He is wrong, because there is no legal justification in the "top score" scenario cooked up by Bartlett to confer the right to form Tasmania's next government on the Liberals.
"Frankly, it is not the right of David Bartlett to give government away just because he wants to take Labor into opposition," Herr said. "It was both politically and constitutionally invalid for [Mr] Bartlett to say what he did, imprudent and invalid."
The issue of which party will be offered government will ultimately come down to who can prove to the Governor that they enjoy the majority of support on the floor of the House of Assembly on an ongoing, stable and continuing basis.
And until Parliament resumes, probably in late April, it is likely to be a Labor government, presumably led by Bartlett , that is recommissioned to govern by Governor Peter Underwood in the second week in April.
It will then depend on what happens when Parliament resumes and if the Liberals immediately move a vote of no-confidence in the new Labor government, presumably with the Greens' support.
Herr said it would be a "hugely irresponsible thing" for both parties, but particularly for Bartlett, to refuse a request by the Governor to willingly govern, without first considering an effective relationship with the Greens.
"All of this rhetoric and bluster before the election should now be regarded as non-core and dispensable, and that includes Mr Bartlett's 'promise' about the most seats and votes wining," Herr said. "They all need to take a cold shower and look at where do we go from here, and in my view that means talking to the Greens."
It is interesting that at the same time as these legal and constitutional developments are taking place, the Labor Party is starting to mutter and convulse behind the scenes about why it should want to willingly hand over power to a Hodgman Liberal government.
Despite Bartlett's claim on Sunday after the election that he had the full support and confidence of his party to continue as leader, rumblings are starting about if it is Bartlett himself who may be the problem.
The arguments being put forward by some of Labor's old guard for hanging on to government are fourfold.
Firstly, why give away government, with all its power and perks, when there is no constitutional reason to do so?
Secondly, isn't it the ultimate in disloyalty to the 37 per cent of Tasmanians who voted for Labor - presumably on the basis they wanted Labor to be in power so it could deliver on the multitude of big-spending election promises it made - not to attempt to be the next government? And, as a corollary to that point, isn't it also therefore incumbent on Labor to do all it can to keep the Liberals out of power, rather than assist them into office, as now appears to be the plan.
Thirdly - and this is the achilles heel of Bartlett's strategy to willingly throw the Liberals the "poisoned chalice' reward of minority government - what if the Liberals and Greens together can make such a government work, and it doesn't all end in tears, disarray and an election within 18 months? There is a risk there that Labor might not be able to get back into power - and in a majority, as its renewal and re-election strategy dictates - for a long time.
And fourthly - and this is key - there are many Labor figures who believe the Greens are a very different beast today to the party of the past headed by more extreme figures such as Bob Brown, Christine Milne and Peg Putt.
They argue that the Greens under Nick McKim are working on a long-term three-election strategy - to gradually gain more and more seats at each election until they are in striking distance of becoming Australia's first Green state government.
Under this scenario, which fits in with McKim's tactic of taking the Greens to a middle-of-the road position,
Labor argues that McKim would not pick a fight to the death over forests within the first few short months of any new government.
They reason that McKim will be prepared to compromise sufficiently in his wish to show a minority or power-sharing government can work that Labor will still be able to put enough of its policy agenda in place.
Why then, in the absence of a crash-and-burn scenario ahead, not hang on to power and deal with the Greens instead of rushing into the wilderness of opposition?
That is the Labor thinking now coming to the fore. Expect to hear much more of it in the next fortnight.
It is now up to Bartlett, say these senior Labor figures, to choose if he wants to be part of such a new-look Labor government or not